Andrew Bogut

Forget the Refs: Warriors getting out-worked, out-played, out-hustled by Cavs

They’re only down 2-1. A win in Game 4 would turn things around immediately, as the Warriors would have home court advantage in a best-of-three.

But it sure feels like this is the Warriors’ comeuppance, the playoff misery we’ve heard about for years. It’s the NBA Playoffs Way, right? Teams and players have to experience true heartbreak before they can reach the top, and the Warriors were hoping to skip a lot of steps and a lot of heartbreak this month.

But that explanation isn’t enough while this is going on. So here’s another: the Cavaliers are following the lead of LeBron James, who knows all about NBA Finals heartbreak. The Warriors don’t have one player who had experienced a minute of the Finals, which is why Luke Walton described to the team what happened when he and his Lakers teammates were in the same situation.

“Luke told us,” said Green. “The first time they went to the championship (in 2008), he said they were so excited about being there, and the only person that had been there was Kobe. So Kobe was locked in, but everybody else was just excited with being there. And they lost. The next year, they were past that excitement and they were locked in and ready to go. That’s the point where we need to be. So he shared that with us, and that’s what we look forward to doing.”

The Warriors were supposed to skip that “excitement” step and dominate the shorthanded Cavs. Instead …

— Tristan Thompson is doing everything in his power to win a title. He’s 24.

— Timofey Mozgov is doing everything in his power to win a title. He played in just seven playoff games over the first four years of his career.

— Mike Miller and James Jones are doing everything in their power to win a title. They’ve got rings and barely play. Miller diving to save that loose ball will be ingrained in my mind forever.

— Iman Shumpert is doing everything in his power to win a title. He came back from what looked like a very painful shoulder injury.

— Matthew Dellavedova is doing everything in his power to win a title. He hasn’t experienced any sort of NBA heartbreak. He wasn’t even drafted. Is he dirty as hell? Absolutely. But he’s crushing the Warriors with play after maddening play, too.

Besides Andre Iguodala, who’s matching these guys? That’s not to say the Warriors have no heart, but they look like a team that’s almost too versatile right now. The Cavs know who they are and what they’re doing, and they’re fully committed. The Warriors are a team that’s going with the flow, and in the process they’re getting sucked into the Cleveland riptide. The Cavs have a singular purpose and LeBron James is living that in every second he spends on the court. Stephen Curry isn’t shooting well? LeBron isn’t shooting well, either.

The first quarter was a disappointment from the Warriors’ perspective. The Cavs looked like they did in the first two games of this series, with James driving and making layups, Dellavedova contributing in a variety of ways, Tristan Thompson grabbing offensive rebounds (and actually converting this time). 

By the time halftime came, the Cavs were up by seven. It seemed like 17, because the Warriors only had 37 points after their “horrible” offensive performance two night earlier. The only player who seemed like he was at Cleveland’s level was Iguodala. If Golden State’s roster played like Iguodala throughout this series, they’d at least be up 2-1. 

The third quarter was dreadful, until the Warriors fell behind by 20 points and a light turned on. They became frantic, and as a result they showed glimpses of their full offensive potential. Granted, the Cavs were probably in protect-the-lead mode, but the Warriors started moving with the kind of blistering speed on offense that should be the norm throughout this FINALS series. They dropped a deficit that seemed insurmountable to just one point in the fourth quarter. But that’s as close as they would come to a lead.

Dellavedova made that crazy shot despite being completely off balance while weathering a little contact from Curry. Curry compounded the situation with a ghastly turnover, followed by a LeBron three.  It was much like Game 2, in that the Cavs should’ve probably won this game without as much stress at the end. The Warriors deserve credit for making both games interesting, but that’s about it.

As a collective effort, this was not Finals-worthy. The Warriors still have two chances to keep their season alive, as well as their hopes of avoiding the same pitfalls of so many inexperienced teams before them. Well, they have one chance, and it’s on Thursday. 

Dub Steps

— I’m surprised we’re hearing about this right now. 

It wasn’t an excuse, as RGO tweeted later that Green also said “everyone’s banged up, gotta grind it out, it’s the Finals.” Still, the Warriors are getting no sympathy when they’re facing a team without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, with a guy who’s played two career’s worth of games in James playing 47 minutes per contest on average.

— David Lee came in and helped making the game close. I’ll happily admit I was wrong there! Does he have it in him to perform as well against a Cavs team that’s prepared for his presence on the court? We’ll see on Thursday, as Steve Kerr said he’d play. If Green’s back injury is serious, maybe Lee will play 25+ minutes. 

— Harrison Barnes went 0-for-8 with three rebounds, no assists and three turnovers in 19 minutes. Being completely overmatched against James for parts of three games has crushed Barnes’ spirit, it appears.

— Curry hit 7-of-13 threes and scored 27 points, but he committed six turnovers for the second straight game. But the way he figured out how to shoot again in the fourth quarter is what provides hope for this franchise. 

— The Warriors had 18 offensive rebounds compared to just 6 for the Cavs. The Warriors had 21 assists … not great, but better than the 16 they had in Game 2. The stats don’t seem to matter as much right now. In an environment where the officials are looking to reward aggression (like LeBron’s insane slide-tackle of Curry, which was clearly a foul), the Warriors are getting dismantled. LeBron attempted 12 free throws in Game 3. So did the Warriors. Lee attempted five of those.

— Festus Ezeli played one more minute than Andrew Bogut. 

— Every possession is a struggle for Golden State. Kerr keeps saying “it’s the Finals” when faced with questions about the Warriors’ difficulties, but we aren’t seeing that on the court. Is this a situation where LeBron is in the midst of a career-defining postseason run and the Warriors just happen to be the unfortunate team in the way, or is this when we’ll see what the Warriors look like when they’re the wounded animal (or whatever cliche one wants to take from all of the analysis that came after Irving was knocked out for the season)? Are the Cavs going to win two of the next three games and send the Warriors into the offseason angry, or were the Golden State comebacks that fell short in Games 2 and 3 enough to turn the Warriors into a squad full of raging Dellavedovas? This series has been difficult to stomach for Warriors fans, but no matter what happens it’ll be impossible to turn away. 

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