LeBron James opened up the window just a crack with his lobbying after the Cavs lost Game 4, and he smashed that sucker in Game 5. Then he ripped the frame out and threw it at the Warriors bench in Game 6.
This series has been a circus since Game 4 ended, with slaps toward the nuts taking over the conversation and the Cavaliers dominating play for most of the minutes since. Kyrie Irving’s shooting overshadowed everything in Game 5, but the truth is something clicked for James after falling behind 3-1. And if the Warriors don’t find some way to stop him from:
- Scoring 41 (two games in a row — really?)
- Making jumpers
- Driving past multiple Warriors defenders like ski slalom poles before laying it off the glass
- Throwing down lob dunks
- Making lob passes that Tristan Thompson converts for dunks
- Running over Warriors defenders who won’t get the charge call, no matter how hard they try (fall)
- Stealing errant passes
- Blocking shots under the basket from behind
… they’re going to be on the wrong end of a comeback from down 3-1.
All this must be done without Andre Iguodala at full strength, and here’s where we can probably lay some blame on Draymond Green. The Warriors have gone to great lengths to keep Iguodala healthy for the postseason, navigating hamstring and knee injuries along the way. (What, you think Steve Kerr really thinks Harrison Barnes is BETTER than the guy he keeps calling one of the smartest players he’s ever seen?)
Iguodala had to play 41 minutes in Game 5 because the Warriors were still in it until close to the end, and Green was sitting in a suite next door. He could’ve injured his back at any point, sure. But some sort of injury was inevitable for Iguodala, who’s 32 but has a body that’s gone through a lot of punishment — he played 82 games in five of his first six seasons, averaging 40 minutes per game over much of that time.
So, the Warriors are really up against it.
Other than Game 7 being at home, that is.
- They lost Andrew Bogut. Not a big loss? One could argue that, but Festus Ezeli is useless and Anderson Varejao is a dramatic screen-setter who spends about 33% of his minutes lying on the floor. Some minutes (10-12, even) from Bogut help the Warriors handle the job, even if he doesn’t score and picks up quick, cheap fouls.
- They lost Green for a game, and he wasn’t himself in Game 6. He played solidly. He defended well (that time he was guarding Irving, and Irving’s attempt BOUNCED on the floor before it was rebounded by Cleveland near midcourt, was beyond infuriating for Golden State). He only turned it over once. But there were times when you forgot he was on the floor. And he got boxed out by Dahntay Jones. That’s not the Green we know.
- Barnes is 2-for-22 since playing one of his best games on Friday. He went 0-for-8 in Game 6 while only playing 16 minutes, which shows how often the Cavs left him open. I’m not sure what the Warriors can do to snap him out of this — have an Iowa state senator call him and remind him that voters don’t like losers who forget how to shoot when their team needs them most?
Warriors need to grow up … quickly
Forget the officiating. Yes, Scott Foster and his crew seemed a little too enthusiastic about the way they fouled out Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter. And the most cynical Warriors fan could say the same thing about how quickly Kevin Love got in foul trouble, when that was the only way Tyronn Lue would stop playing a former star who has been in way over his head throughout this series.
But Game 6 was lost at the very beginning, when the Warriors missed their first seven shots and committed two turnovers in the first five minutes, and found themselves behind 8-0. Then they started making shots, and Curry picked up his second foul. From there it was a mess of turnaround jumpers and 3-pointers missed, more turnovers, and defense that looked unrecognizable compared to the last time they were in Cleveland. Suddenly, the horn sounded to signal the end of the first quarter. The Warriors were down 31-11.
Did any of us expect Golden State to get a friendly whistle in Game 6, on the road, in a series where we’ve seen James’ power right in front of us? No, which is why the Warriors should’ve been smarter, and more composed, throughout this game.
After the first quarter from hell, the Warriors did their best to avoid garbage time. The most exciting points of this game where when they brought Cleveland’s lead down to single digits, but those moments were short-lived. The most memorable big swing was Curry’s missed reverse layup in the fourth with the Warriors down 8, followed by Irving missing that 3-pointer, James getting the rebound, and taking it in for a layup.
But we’ll remember the fourth quarter not just for James’ utter brilliance, but Curry continuing to test the officials and leaving after throwing his mouthpiece at a fan.
Steve Kerr, who now faces the most difficult coaching challenge of his life (and that may continue to be the case for the rest of his career), stuck up for his players.
Q. Steve, do you think your team lost its composure, specifically Steph with throwing the mouthpiece and getting ejected?
STEVE KERR: Well, that had nothing to do with the outcome. The outcome was decided. But he had every right to be upset. He’s the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous. He steals the ball from Kyrie clean at one point. LeBron flops on the last one. Jason Phillips falls for that, for a flop. As the MVP of the league, we’re talking about these touch fouls in the NBA Finals.
Let me be clear, we did not lose because of the officiating. They totally outplayed us and Cleveland deserved to win. But those three of the six fouls were incredibly inappropriate calls for anybody, much less the MVP of the league.
Q. So are you okay with him throwing his mouthpiece?
STEVE KERR: Yeah, I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece. He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There are fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.
Kerr isn’t going to throw a wrench into an already broken engine and call his guy out after the game, and he’s right. It was a good moment for Curry to finally let go. The anger has been building for a while, as he’s been grabbed and tugged throughout the playoffs and the officials don’t seem to think he’s capable of stealing the ball cleanly anymore.
However, the Warriors as a whole need to be the grownups in this series, figure out ways to defend James, and flip the frustration pendulum. Wasn’t it just a week ago that James was the one losing his cool? None of these guys are robots, and even though the Warriors are so upset that their plans to win the series in five games were sullied, there’s a chance to make James angry once again.
(It’ll help if the Game 7 crew lets both teams play. The Warriors are much better when the games aren’t called too closely, as we’ve seen recently.)
“Play angry, but don’t play with so much emotion it takes you out of your focus. But 100% play angry. We feel like we could have closed it out a long time ago, but here we are. It’s tied up 3-3, and we’re going to be going back to home. So we’re going to play angry because we know if we play with that emotion and we channel it the right way, we’re a really, really good team,” said Klay Thompson.
— It’s tough to show composure when you’re worried about choking away the best season ever.
“We expected to win the NBA Championship coming into the season. It’s either win the whole thing or bust for us. I mean, it’s no fun getting second place. So it would be a great season, but at the same time to us, the players, we’re so competitive, we’d feel like we failed. So that’s all right. A lot at stake, but that’s when we’re going to rise up and be at our best,” Thompson said.
— Kerr’s comments and Curry’s frustration — totally understandable. However, the Warriors need to change something in Game 7. Too many of their drives and off-balance jumpers are attempted with the intent to draw a foul. That goes for Curry, Thompson and Green, in particular. Those calls haven’t come often enough to say that it’s a good strategy, and the officials are going to let them play on Sunday. Guaranteed.
— Leandro Barbosa was nails in this game, at least offensively. He didn’t feel any pressure at all. The Warriors surely wish he and Barnes could trade brains for Game 7, because the Warriors need Barnes to help out on James.
— Curry had one assist and four turnovers.
— It looks like Brandon Rush is going to have to play minutes in Game 7, which we all knew was going to happen (uh, sure).
— This is all people will talk about tomorrow (err, today because I’m taking forever to write this):
She deleted the tweet (a little late for that) and said, “tweeted in the heat of the moment because the call was uncalled for.” She also claimed that the group of Warriors families she was with weren’t allowed inside the arena until tipoff, and her father was “racial profiled” by police who “told him to remove credentials and tried to arrest him.”
I’m not sure how much of a story this should be — most people would respond the same way if their significant other was almost tossed from an NBA Finals game. Sure, life would be easier for the Warriors PR staff (and perhaps Ayesha’s husband) if she didn’t tweet or kept her social media updates nice and diplomatic. But her opinions are no less valid, just because her husband is a two-time MVP and they don’t have to worry about money.