The Golden State Warriors have evened the series at 2 games a piece, triumphing over The Cleveland Cavaliers 103-82 Tuesday night. That scoreline flatters them slightly, this was a competitive game through three quarters. Here I will look at where the game was won and lost.
The phrase must win was created for game 4 of The 2015 NBA Finals. The Warriors came into this game off the back of 2 soul-crushing losses, going down in both games by the narrowest of margins. Lose game 4 and they would be staring into the abyss, trailing 3-1 and needing to win 3 straight games to win the title.
Opinions were divided on what adjustments Steve Kerr and his staff needed to make. LeBron James had torched them, setting the all time record for most points scored through the first 3 games of an NBA Finals. Kerr decided a lineup change was the best solution, inserting Andre Iguodala into the lineup and going super-small by playing the 6 foot 7 Draymond Green at center.
Steph Curry has been playing below his MVP status, struggling to impose his will on games. In my game 3 recap(insert hyperlink- https://www.punditarena.com/basketball/comahony/how-the-cavs-won-game-3-the-adjustments-gsw-must-make/)
I wrote extensively about how The Cavs succeeded in nullifying the threat of Curry, and what Curry needed to do to counteract this. Essentially my point boiled down to the need to remove the big man screener from the equation. Don’t give the Cavs the opportunity to over help on Curry on the pick and roll, instead use him in a 1-4 isolation play where he just has to beat Mathew Dellavedova to get into the paint. Curry made this slight adjustment in game 4 and it paid dividends. Although he himself only scored 22 points, by getting into the heart of the defense consistently he drew help and was able to make the correct passes to get his team mates baskets.
Staying The Course
The Cavaliers came out with a tonne of energy early in front of their home crowd. Tristan Thompson was wreaking havoc on the Warriors super small front-court, by getting 3 offensive rebounds early in the game. After 4 and a half minutes of play Kerr felt compelled to call a timeout, his team trailed by 7 points and had only scored 7 points. Kerr prophesied that Cleveland’s lack of bench depth would catch up with them later in the game. The ESPN cameras caught him telling his guys
They are playing 7 people, they are going to wear down late
The Warriors weathered that early storm and their small ball lineup allowed them to find their scoring touch. What was lost in rebounding,was more than made up for in the shift in pace of their offense.
The game had a much more offensive feel to it, which obviously suited The Warriors. The Cavaliers won game 2 and 3 by playing outstanding defense and doing just enough on the other end. In game 1, 2 and 3 Cleveland allowed 19, 20 and 21 points respectively, outstanding defensive numbers. The Dubs dropped 31 points in the 1st, playing fast paced, downhill basketball. That is the only way the Warriors can win the series.
The starting 5 of Curry, Klay Thompson, Iggy,Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green all can get out and run. The Warriors only played 1 orthodox big man extended minutes, David Lee. Kerr turned to forgotten man Lee because the team needed scoring. Lee has been more or less a 20 and 10 guy all his career, but a variety of reasons* led to him falling out of the Warriors rotation. He stayed ready however, and in game 3 gave the team a much needed boost offensively.
The fall guys were Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili, Bogut normally plays over 30 minutes a night, but in this game found himself barely topping 2 minutes. Ezili has been Bogut’s back up, but saw no action in game 4.
Downsizing gave The Warriors the impetus to play that 7 seconds or less type of basketball that gave one of the top offenses in the NBA. By half time the team had only committed 2 turnovers and held a 12 point lead. The Cavs would cut the lead to 6 points by the end of the 3rd, but Warriors survived the barrage and ran out comfortable winners
Warriors defense on LeBron James
In game 1, 2 and 3 The Warriors showed LeBron single coverage, refusing to send a help defender his way. The Warriors thinking here clearly was to let James get his points but play every other Cavalier tight and they will not have enough scoring. The tactic makes sense, they successfully employed a similar scheme to defend James Harden in the Western Conference Finals. The normal rules of basketball do not apply to the man some call “The King” however. He totalled 123 points through the first 3 games, a number good for the most points ever scored through 3 games of an NBA Finals. The video below gives the reader some idea of the all time great level LeBron has been playing at.
Kerr and his coaching staff were forced into a serious rethink. Harrison Barnes was mercifully removed from the duty of starting games defending James. This dubious honour fell to Iguodala, the one player who has had any form of success against LBJ.
The Warriors elected to send a second man at James in this game, doubling him as soon as he received the ball on the entry pass to the post. The Dubs also sent the second defender towards LeBron on the pick and roll. This forced the ball into the hands of players who are not as adept at creating offense as LeBron is.
Mathew Dellavedova’s man was often the second defender LeBron saw, so inturn Delly received many of James’ passess out of the double team. In essence, Kerr was saying to Delly “We think your performance in Game 3 was a one-off. We are comfortable with you taking 20 shots a game. I love this strategy, Delly has faced 2 days of insane media hype around his display in game 3. Every piece of apparel bearing the name of the man from Australia was sold from The Cavaliers merchandise store.
Dellavedova is a nice rotation player, but his scoring in game 3 was an anomaly, he is not someone who is going to consistently get you points. The Warriors banked on all the media coverage of him getting in his head and him trying to be over aggressive offensively. This proved to be sound strategy, Dellavedova went 3-14 from the field, and had 4 turnovers. To be fair to Delly he struggled with cramps and had to come out of the game in the 2nd quarter, and the task of defending Steph Curry coupled with cramps may have played into his sub-par offensive performance.
Shaq coined this phrase, to describe the players who are not elite players, but need to play well for their teams to win. For the Warriors, Iggy had a huge game. His defense on LeBron was game changing. More surprisingly he led the way for The Warriors on offense, top scoring with 22 points, and most crucially pushing the ball at every opportunity. Kerr gave Iggy a vote of confidence by selecting him to start this game, and I think this manifested itself in us witnessing a more offensively poised performance. His shot looked great, and he went an outstanding 4-9 from the land of 3.
Draymond Green also stepped up, showing us the form that made him one of the top 25 players in the league this past season. In yesterday’s column I wrote that Green needed to use his head more on the offense end, too often in game 3 he was driving into the lane and hoisting off balanced, contested shots over The Cavs defense. Green is still not hitting his 3’s, but played more heady basketball, picking his spots on the way to scoring 17 big points.
Harrison Barnes is another player who showed us his what he is capable of by chipping in with an invaluable 14 points. Barnes shooting has really hurt GSW to this point, but Kerr stuck with him and Barnes rewarded this faith by hitting 2 big threes and knocking down some nice mid-range shots. David Lee gave The Warriors solid minutes also. He is an established scorer, and you have to respect him in the post. He is ambi-dexterous, finishes very well around the rim. He put up 9 points and 5 rebounds in a productive 15 minutes.
The Warriors needed all those guys contributions because the “Splash Brothers” only managed 29 points between them.
For The Cavs, not enough “others” stood up.
LeBron James was held in check(as much as that is possible, he still scored 20 point.) Timofey Mozgov had the best game of his NBA career and was a match-up nightmare for the undersized Draymond Green, and defensively hapless David Lee. His ability to get in good position down low, catch the entry pass(no mean feat for a big dude, just ask Cavs veteran Kendrick Perkins) and then finish caused The Warriors problems. That coupled with his ability to keep the defense honest by knocking down the mid-range shot makes him a tough guard. The undrafted big man out of Russia led Cleveland in scoring with 28 points,all the while displaying a soft touch at the line, going 10-12 from their.
The ever bashful Green had this to say on Mozgov
At the end of the day you’re going to take the chance on Mozgov beating you and not LeBron.“Our intensity level was much better on defense. We battled. That’s what was winning games for them: outworking us. We decided to play our pace and outwork them.
Tristan Thompson continued to show why he is the best offensive rebounder in the business, grabbing 6 of them in this game. He also gave The Cavs an unexpected lift on offense, scoring 12 points.
That is where the good news ended for Cleveland fans however. I dealt with Dellavedova’s lack of an impact on the game above, so there’s no need to mention him here.
The Cavaliers needed their 2 perimeter players, J.R Smith and Iman Shumpert to hit open shots when LeBron found them off double teams. Last night neither player appeared able to hit water if they fell out of a boat, never mind a three pointer. In 28 and 39 minutes of action respectively, they shot a combined 4-21, scoring 9 points.
They doubled me a lot more tonight, but we couldn’t make any shots from the outside but we’ll take those looks again,” James said. “We all struggle at times a couple games here and a couple games there, but we don’t give up on anyone and give up on ourselves.
Shump to give him his dues did a solid job on Steph Curry, and he is a defender first, but regardless of that needs to offer more on offense.
J.R is a frustrating talent, besides LeBron he is the only other body
the Cavs have who is capable of creating offense for himself. He has a large bag of tricks; Smith has the ability to take guys off the dribble and score at the rim, create shots for others by driving and finding the open man, and he is also a streaky 3 point shooter who when hot can drop 15 points on you in a quarters. Not forgetting the fact that he is one of the more athletic guys in the league, and has pulled of some of the most amazing in game dunks of anyone over the past few years.
His career has been a collection of peaks and troughs, over the last 5 seasons he has gone from falling out of the league altogether and playing in China* on to signing a contract with the Knicks where he would win the 6th man of the year award for the 2012/13 season, then to partying too hard in the “city that never sleeps” to the detriment to his play in New York.
He eventually landed in Cleveland, in a deal in which The Cavs were portrayed as “taking a hit” by taking on J.R as part of getting Shumpert. As it worked out, Smith has been very good in Cleveland, becoming a key role player in their run to the title. However the inconsistencies have remained, and last night they loomed large. J.R went 2-12, and a pitiful 0-8 from three. To be fair to Smith, he took good shots late in the 3rd and during the 4th quarter, but his 3 point shot would just not fall. The Cavs need J.R to be better however, simple as.
James Jones had a monster game 3, but went scoreless for the 2nd time in 4 games. Jones is on the court to hit shots, something which he did not succeed in doing. If I was David Blatt I would consider giving a portion of Jones’ 18 minutes to Mike Miller if he starts off cold again in game 5 Sunday night.
The Final Score Lies
I said at the outset that the final score flattered The Warriors. For most of the game the Warriors played the game at their pace and in the first half even out-hustled Cleveland, something which cannot happen. The Warriors are unquestionably a team with more talent, for the Cavs to win they simply cannot be outworked. During the half time “Locker room look in,”we heard David Blatt make that exact point.
“Hustle is all we got guys”
The Cavs responded , and in the 3rd quarter did manage to muck things up. The pace slowed down noticeably, and the Warriors only managed 22 points. The Cavs made a little run and by the end of the quarter put themselves in contention by cutting the lead to 6. But Steve Kerr’s prophesying about The Cavs running out legs late proved to be the case as The Warriors steam rolled Cleveland in the final quarter.
You don’t need me to tell you how important game 5 now becomes. The team that wins game 5 goes on to in the series over 80% of the time. I called The Warriors winning game 4, and with them heading back home I am going to pick them again, but I expect it to be very close.
*Smith’s spell in China has enough material to be the focus of a memoir. It is unlikely that Smith will ever write that memoir however, as it would likely only serve to turn the basketball community against him. Regardless I think it worth giving the reader a snapshot of what Smith and his entourage got up to during the Chinese odyssey. The hitlist looks something like this.
- Smith missed 80 practises over a 4 month period, displaying a disdain for the concept of training scarcely seen since the great Allen Iverson played in the league. Smith often bolted for Beijing, Shanghai and even as far as The U.K , all the while giving no heads up to his team.
- The team demanded that Smith stop allowing his sister attend the games after she and Smith’s girlfriend at the time, sparked a pair of ugly brawls with opposing fans
- Perhaps his greatest excess of idiocy had been a weekend of running a room service bill into the proximity of $3,000, a source with direct knowledge told Yahoo Sports. He kept ordering food, stacking piles of trays upon trays – “just to see if they would keep bringing it to the room,” the source said.All uneaten, all on the franchise’s tab – all a window into a fool. –
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