Tonight was yet another example proving that the Warriors are indeed a defensive team first, but their identity is quite fragile. All it took was losing Draymond Green temporarily, plus a whole lot of nada from every player not named Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala, to lose 112-97.
It’s clear at this point that if the Warriors hold the Cavaliers under 100, their chances of winning are pretty damned good. That’s why it took all the air out of Oracle when they seemed powerless to stop an 82-point onslaught that was evenly divided between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
“I think from a mental standpoint it wasn’t about anybody that was on the floor,” said James. “We just had a mindset that we wanted to come in here and just try to extend our period and have another opportunity to fight for another day.”
James might not have thought about Green while the game was going on, but he had to feel so much more comfortable tonight, knowing Green wasn’t there to get a body on him, steal the ball, or block his shot. That goes for Irving as well.
After this game, it’s fairly clear. The league MVP might be Stephen Curry, but no one is more important to Golden State — particularly against a team like this — than Green.
After one of the most balletic, connected defensive performances we’ve seen from this team in Game 4, the Warriors looked like the finesse team we all know they aren’t … with Green on the floor, anyway. After a nice first few minutes, when the crowd had them juiced and the Cavaliers couldn’t stop turning it over, reality set in — in the form of James jumpers and Irving floaters. The Cavs were shooting 60% through much of the first half, and even though the score was tied at halftime (61-61), the Warriors got there by making 11-of-21 threes. In the second half the bottom fell out, as they went 3-for-21 on threes in the final two quarters.
Golden State missed Green’s screens and playmaking ability, but the Cavaliers drooled every time James raced with the ball downhill, knowing there wouldn’t be nearly as much resistance as in Games 1, 2 and 4. Andre Iguodala is an incredible defensive player, but no one can guard James or Irving one-on-one, especially when they were as hot as they were tonight.
The Warriors have a Big Three, and despite some amazing shooting by Klay Thompson in the first half, two-thirds of their star power wasn’t enough to come close to the Cavs’ Big Two (Kevin Love finished with two points and three rebounds in 34 minutes — his career has taken a very strange turn).
Give credit where it’s due
James asserted his dominance early, mostly with the kind of accuracy from outside that has vanished for long stretches over the last few years. He finished with 41 points, 16 rebounds and 7 assists, and even though his move to bait Green into two stupid retaliatory slaps/smacks was dishonorably brilliant, he deserves credit for shutting up a rabid Oracle Arena crowd that looked forward to booing him on every touch. After the game, a group of 15-20 fans chanted “Bron’s a bitch” repeatedly, and they just looked as sad and weak as they wanted James to feel. Instead, James was triumphant.
“You just don’t take these moments for granted, no matter if you’re at home or on the road.”
However, the Cavs wouldn’t have won by a score of 112-97 in Game 5 without an amazing, brutally efficient game by Irving. He went 17-for-24 and 5-for-7 on 3-pointers, including the final dagger — one from the elbow over a contesting Andre Iguodala.
“Kyrie was great tonight and had my number. Hit some tough shots, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you put your hand up and it goes in,” said Thompson.
Steve Kerr didn’t exactly chalk it up to unstoppable offense.
“We weren’t very good defensively. We obviously knew we were without Draymond, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn’t,” Kerr said.
“Both those guys played terrific games, shot the ball well. I thought our defensive communication was lacking. We had some plays where we didn’t pick up in transition, and we had some cross matches that we didn’t identify and they got free, especially Kyrie, and made a lot of shots in transition where we just weren’t there.”
Centers go MIA
It wasn’t a surprise that the defensive communication Kerr referenced went lacking, because Green and Andrew Bogut are the team’s defensive quarterbacks/centerfielders. I called out Bogut as the Warriors’ key player if they wanted to keep the series from heading back to Cleveland, and he had a nightmarish game.
He started OK, grabbing three rebounds and blocking two shots, one from Love and one from James. Then he picked up two fouls within the span of four seconds. He reentered the game late in the second quarter and picked up his third foul seven seconds later.
Bogut was called for his fourth foul just 19 seconds into the third quarter, then he blocked J.R. Smith’s shot a couple minutes later and appeared to injure his knee pretty badly. With the way that he held his knee and writhed in pain under the basket, and had to be helped off the court by two people, his series is probably over. He’ll have an MRI tomorrow.
Festus Ezeli and James Michael McAdoo (who isn’t really a center) always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whenever Mo Speights was guarding James, one day after Speights tweeted a baby bottle emoji most considered an insult, James made him pay. Anderson Varejao probably had the largest impact on this game of any Warriors center, but he did it while flopping and going 3-for-8 from the line.
“We just wanted to attack the basket. Other than the bigs, they don’t have any shot blockers,” said J.R. Smith, who wasn’t really necessary in Game 5 with the Cavs’ two best players going off.
Harrison Barnes was awful
Well, so much for what I wrote about him after Game 4. Barnes went 2-for-14, missing at least four WIDE open looks while going 1-for-6 on threes. As the game wore on, his touches became so painful to watch. The misses weren’t close, and the crowd murmured a little more with each one. He got scorched by Richard Jefferson on a few occasions, too.
If it wasn’t for some occasional solid defense late in the game on James (who looked to be tiring in the fourth quarter, just a little) and a stat line that included no turnovers in a game where the Warriors gave the ball away 17 times, this would’ve been an all-time lousy performance from Barnes.
Curry isn’t right
He wasn’t terrible — he scored 25 points and grabbed 7 rebounds while somehow blocking 3 shots. However, there’s no way he’d have such a difficult time separating from Tristan Thompson if his knee was even close to healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear after the Finals ends that he’s going to have some sort of procedure done. A Grade 1 MCL sprain isn’t all that severe, but if Curry isn’t making threes, there isn’t a lot he can do offensively. His shots close to the basket have been less than Curry-like ever since he got hurt. Often he gives up if anyone’s around and passes out to the corner, and when he forces the issue it usually results in a blocked shot or a loose ball out of bounds.
And after a 4-assist, 4-turnover game, he absolutely must figure out a way to not throw sloppy passes. Those are tolerable during the regular season, the all-too-familiar one-handed floaters and no-look flings, but the Cavs are desperate. They’re going to pick off just about every one of his zip-free passes.
Can the Warriors win this series without Bogut?
Absolutely. In games during these playoffs when Bogut has played 15 minutes or fewer, the Warriors are 6-6, but he was a non-factor in Cleveland during Game 4, and seemed to be running out of steam ever since Game 2 ended.
Here’s the bigger question: The Warriors are clearly the better team with Green in the lineup, but if they lose Game 6, can Curry’s body handle yet another tense, physical game? This is where Green’s split-second decision to retaliate against James really bites the Warriors.
No one thought this series was heading back to Cleveland. The Quicken Loans Arena employees were saying goodbye to season ticketholders as I headed toward the locker room after the final buzzer. But let’s also remember that the Warriors played terribly tonight.
- They’re getting Green back for Game 6, and perhaps he’ll avoid making contact with the Cavaliers’ junk from here on out.
- Barnes couldn’t possibly play worse than he did in Game 5 (I think).
- Shaun Livingston quietly played a very poor game by his standards on both ends, and we’ll probably see a better performance from him as well.
- Curry summoned something from within in Game 4, and he’ll get every kind of treatment (wink, wink) in the book before Game 6.
The Cavs are 2.5-point favorites going into Thursday. However, with Green back and the Warriors surely looking to prove their defensive worth yet again, I would sooner make that bet (on the Warriors) than I would’ve before Game 5, when the Warriors were favored by a ludicrous 6 points. Does Green really create a 21-point swing in a Finals game? The math might say that’s ridiculous, but I’m inclined to believe that’s the case.
— Why was Iguodala on Love during some of this game? No one asked Kerr, but I assume it was to save Iguodala’s legs. He played 41 minutes.
— James called Irving’s game “probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live.”
— James pretended not to know about what Mo Speights said/tweeted yesterday.
“First of all, I’m not on social media right now, so I don’t even know what Speights said, and I really don’t think that even matters,” he said. Then he laughed, the same forced guffaw he emitted after he was asked about Thompson’s comments yesterday. “You guys make me laugh. I swear, you guys do.”
— “Well, it’s the NBA Finals. You have two great teams, and I kind of like our position. It would have been nice to win tonight, but we didn’t win. We didn’t play very well. They played well,” Kerr said.
“So we go back to Cleveland and tee it up again. But I like our position a lot better than theirs.”