Golden State Warriors

Warriors can go back-to-back, at home, after signature Game 4 win

stephklay

CLEVELAND

This 108-97 win, which gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, should and undoubtedly will make Warriors fans extremely proud, much like Golden State’s remarkable comeback in the Western Conference Finals. The potential reward for their efforts in Game 4 could come on Monday, when they have a chance to clinch a title in Oakland for the first time.

Monday. Monday. Usually a maligned day saved for complaints and pithy comments, now it has the potential to bring an entire community together.

“I mean, if you don’t get up for that, there’s something wrong with you. We can’t wait to get to Oracle on Monday. I’ve been fortunate to play there for five years and we really do have the best fans in the league. They probably won’t have ever seemed as excited before as when we get to Monday,” said Klay Thompson, who scored 25 points in his best game of the series.

His Splash Brother also had his best game of the series by far, torching the Cavs with 24 second half points on his way to 38 for the night. What an answer to those who’ve been questioning him for the last two days. Draymond Green called it “slander.” Curry’s response to the noise was an incredible fourth quarter, capped by his steal of James’ bad pass in the final seconds — James’ seventh turnover on a night when he put up the hollowest 25-13-9 game you’ll ever see.

From playing “soft” to “feeling threatened”

The Cavaliers dominated the glass early, with Tristan Thompson leading the way. But the Warriors were the aggressors in every way as the game progressed. What happened? How did this jump shooting team look tougher than the team that “punked” them in Game 3, according to Green?

They made a mental adjustment.

Steve Kerr explained:

“We felt threatened. I think up 2-0 we came in here and for whatever reason we thought, “Okay, we’ve got this,” and they kicked us in the teeth, obviously. For whatever reason our team’s personality, and it’s been this way for two years, we can’t stand prosperity, you know? We start winning and then we let our guard down, and I thought we did that the other night, and Cleveland played a brilliant game, and tonight we were threatened and we responded well.”

Kerr didn’t run his stars ragged, and the reserves he chose gave them a lift.

James played nearly 46 minutes. Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith played over 43. Green led the Warriors with 42 hellacious minutes, and the Warriors’ defense, rebounding and ability to secure loose balls improved as the game went on. The Cavs got tired, and the Warriors were beyond wired.

It helped that Anderson Varejao(!) and James Michael McAdoo(!!!) came in and gave the Warriors key minutes when they needed someone, anyone, to secure rebounds and give the starters some breathers.

“I thought we got some really good minutes off the bench from McAdoo and Varejao,” Kerr said. “It may not seem like much, but just a handful of minutes where you’re scrapping and clawing, that was important.”

The Cavs scored 42 in the second half and 20 in the fourth quarter, but even that’s misleading since James and Irving combined for eight garbage time points with layups in the final minute (when Cleveland should’ve been attempting threes). Maybe Cleveland’s two best players knew their legs were gone — James’ last attempt at a jumper was WIDE right — but the Warriors frustrated the Cavaliers with their defense, which started out pretty strong and got better throughout.

By the end, James had lost his mind. He knew the chance to win his third title was slipping away, and his animosity toward Green, the refs, and even Curry, was evident in the closing minutes. That’s because the Warriors drove The King batty … with defense.

Once again, not to sound like a skipping CD, but at its best Golden State is a defensive team, and they aren’t even close to finesse. That’s why Kerr was so pissed off when they played like little softies on Wednesday, and why they were angry with themselves as well. Sure, the Warriors went 17-for-36 on threes, but it was more important that they held Cleveland to 6-for-25.

“The main focus has to be defense on every possession. We did a really good job of defending the 3-point line after the first few minutes,” said Kerr.

“Anytime we’re defending like that and competing, we just feel like over the course of the game we’re going to have enough offense. It will come our way to win the game.”

Dub Steps

— Green does not deserve a flagrant foul for what happened between him and James, but I’m going to save that for another post.

— The key stretch of the game, and the time when it was obvious that James was tired and the Warriors sensed victory would soon be theirs: Green blocked James’ layup attempt as a help defender, and after Curry threw a terrible pass that was intercepted by Irving, Thompson recovered and blocked Irving’s layup attempt in transition. The Warriors were up 93-84 with 5:33 remaining when Green started the block party, and neither team scored for almost two minutes afterward. Golden State’s defense was too good for Cleveland to have any chance of mounting a comeback, especially since they didn’t attempt any threes for whatever reason.

— Was this Harrison Barnes’ best game as a Warrior? He helped his team absorb the Cavs’ opening punch with 8 quick points to start the first quarter. He grabbed 8 rebounds. He didn’t commit a turnover in 40 minutes. He was 4-for-5(!!!!) on threes, including an absolute dagger that preceded the blocks mentioned in the previous paragraph. This is going to sound wild, but tonight made me question whether it’s inevitable that he finds himself on another team next season. Maybe he’s priced himself out of the Warriors’ plans, but if he takes a little less money with an eye on the endorsement dollars that come with winning … (OK, I might be getting a little ahead of myself.)

— Rich Twu, Ethan Sherwood Strauss and myself spoke with James Michael McAdoo after the game. Strauss asked a great question about McAdoo getting a haircut, perhaps with the potential for Game 4 minutes on his mind. I asked McAdoo about the shirtless guy who ran onto the court in the fourth quarter with “TRUMP SUCKS” painted on his chest.

https://youtu.be/Oxc_gZtsyUE

“I felt bad for him. He definitely got leveled, though,” McAdoo said.

— Andre Iguodala was probably the true MVP of this game, as he not only did a fantastic job defending James, but he was everywhere on the offensive end. He ended up with just 2 offensive rebounds (6 overall), but it seemed like 10 because he was constantly tipping loose balls to teammates. He finished with a team-high 7 assists and was a game-leading +15 in 37 minutes.

“I just happen to be one of the guys that can try to fulfill any void a team needs on any given night,” he said. “I’ve been in the league a good amount of time, and I just feel like I have a good understanding of the game and what my team needs for me to bring to the table.”

Yeah, uh, that’s kind of an understatement.

— Finally, a close game in the NBA Finals! I’m so glad I made the decision to fly out, because this game was TENSE. The crowd was great, although the game operations department at Quicken Loans Arena is obtrusive with the music and the hype man and the screaming and the Ohio State stuff and all of the silly pandering to fans who reside in “The Land.” They really should just let the fans speak for themselves, because they make plenty of noise.

But this game was incredible in how it showed the world (again, but the world needs to have it proven again and again) what this Warriors team is. After a lull in the second quarter, when they only had 3 assists and made several mental errors — particularly near halftime — they scored 29 points in the third quarter and 29 more in the fourth. They only turned it over 9 times, which was indicative of their style of play — Golden State took no shortcuts in Game 4.

If we remember nothing else from this game, we should recall the Warriors’ toughness. This isn’t a weak-minded team; even though they don’t handle success incredibly well all the time, they’re among the best set of closers the NBA has ever seen. Like Thompson, I can’t wait to get to Oracle on Monday to find out if they can respond like champions should with an opportunity like this in front of them. Back-to-back? At home? They played too hard tonight not to get it done.

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