The Warriors are on the brink: one victory shy of capping the winningest season in NBA history with a second consecutive championship. They’ve survived Stephen Curry’s litany of postseason injuries and a near-death experience at the hands of the OKC Thunder. They watched as media and players alike questioned their MVP’s credentials and the validity of their 73-win season. It has been an arduous playoff journey, fraught with dramatic turns and breath-taking highs, but here Golden State sits, 48 minutes away from the franchise’s third title and the first one that can be clinched in the Bay Area.
The Warriors have made it this far due in large part to their incredible three-point shooting, their rabid and smothering defense, and an unshakeable confidence, one that helped them follow up a 30-point demolition three nights ago with a gutsy 108-97 win in Game 4.
Draymond Green and Andre Igoudala led the defensive charge doing yeoman’s work on the Cavaliers’ Lebron James (25 points, 7 turnovers), while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were able to find their Splash Brothers form on offense with a combined 63 points and 11-of-22 shooting from long distance.
Game 5 is set for Monday evening where the Warriors can legitimately lay claim to “Greatest Team of All Time” status with a win and another Larry O’brien trophy.
Here are 10 thoughts on Game 4 and (hopefully) the championship to come:
1. Steph and Klay finally found their offensive footing in this series as they were able to score nearly as many points in Game 4 (63) as they did in Games 2 and 3 combined (64). But the win came largely on the back of a smothering defensive effort that held the Cavs to 11 points in the fourth quarter (before a few gimme baskets in the final minute when the game was out of reach). Draymond was the linchpin of that renewed defensive intensity. The forward-sometimes-center was ubiquitous on the court, boxing guys out for rebounds (12), sealing the rim on drives (3 blocks, multiple altered shots), and deftly pestering after guards on the perimeter. And when Dray snared a rebound in traffic, he was great at attacking the Cavs on their heels by racing the ball up the court and creating open shots for his teammates (4 assists). Through four games, and despite the dud in Game 3, I have Dray as the Finals MVP favorite for his monster two-way play. (Plus, he had the temerity to try this in an NBA Finals game. I love Dray with all my heart.)
2. Steph was able to drop 38 points, five boards and six assists, but that doesn’t mean he’s all the way right. He was still missing his floaters and layups, and the burst of speed he showed during the regular season to get open three-point shots was still absent in this contest. But that he was able to muster the wherewithal to get his team buckets at less than 100% should be validation of his MVP trophy. Without the usual explosion to get free, Steph relied on guile and smarts, like on the play where he pump-faked Channing Frye out of his shoes for an open three to put the Warriors up 10. MVPs do whatever it takes and Steph is stapling and duct-taping his team to wins right now.
3. The defense wasn’t all Draymond. Andre Iguodala was again excellent guarding Lebron. James finished with 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting, but wasn’t able to fully dominate the game offensively because Andre was successful in forcing him to take tough shots in the lane while daring him to settle for jumpers (where LBJ wasn’t able to make him pay shooting 2-of-8 outside the paint). Andre had three gorgeous swipes of the ball out of James hand, with one coming in the fourth quarter where James was wide open for a dunk. Iggy was a game-high plus-15.
4. During the pivotal stretch of the fourth quarter where the Warriors ripped off a 17-6 run, eight out of 11 Cavs’ possessions ended with Kyrie shooting the rock. Some of those shots were dictated by the Warriors defense, but on six of those attempts, the “point guard” never made a pass, attempting to play hero-ball instead.
5. Harrison Barnes, the only Warrior to have a good Game 3, was able to summon that same power in a quietly fantastic Game 4. HB was great getting after rebounds (8) and scored 14 points with 4-of-5 shooting from distance. His three-pointer with the bench unit early in the fourth quarter quieted a Cavs rally and gave the team a 1-point lead. And his second long ball in the stanza pushed the advantage to nine. Barnes’ ability to play 40 two-way minutes at both forward positions is exactly what the Cavs are lacking.
6. Cleveland began the fourth quarter down only two points. They were at home and had Kevin Love around to buoy the second unit’s offense. Despite that, Tyronn Lue was unable to find Lebron or Kyrie a single minute of rest in the second half. For the game, James played 45 minutes and Irving went 43. This is the playoffs. Where every play is amped up and every player is going balls to the wall. With that kind of effort and energy required, it was borderline insane that Lue couldn’t sub out either guy for 90 seconds or so at the end of quarters or before a TV timeout, which would net about seven consecutive minutes of rest time while barely missing two minutes of game time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the pair shot a combined 4-of-15 in the final frame (before some stat-padding in the final minute). They looked gassed even on TV. (I mean, Steve Kerr found minutes for James Michael MacAdoo and Anderson Varejao and Lue couldn’t give Frye or Love or “Curry stopper” Mathew Dellavedova some more burn?)
7. I’d understand if the league suspended Dray for Game 5 given his leg’s previous run-in with Steven Adams’ crotch, but what is he supposed to do in that situation? If we want Dray to be a professional and not retaliate, then we should also want Lebron to not be disrespectful and go out of his way to walk over a player that’s laying on the ground. I love watching Lebron’s game, but that was a sophomoric move from a guy who repeatedly claims he’s the leader of the team.
8. Where does Draymond rank in the all-time “I’d love him if he were on my team, but I absolutely hate him ’cause he isn’t” scale? I have him just ahead of Dennis Rodman but definitely behind Bruce Bowen — somewhere around Kevin Garnett at his peak of hatedness.
9. The fastest closeout of the game came from a Quicken Loans Arena security guard.
10. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the NBA Finals. The Steve Kerr-era Warriors are 6-1 in closeout games. Oracle Arena will have 19,596 fans screaming like crazy people. There’s history to be made and the two-time MVP is locked in and ready to bring it home. Chant it with me now: Waaaaaaaaaaarriorsssssss!