Game 6. A championship within reach. An exclamation point to a historically great season. Their emotional and defensive leader back in the lineup. The opposing crowd roaring. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving seething to end 52 years of Cleveland misery. All that and the Warriors came out of the gates flat, reckless, discombobulated, and completely unprepared to meet the Cavaliers’ force with a pressure of their own.
Golden State got outscored by 20 points in the first quarter of a game they eventually lost by 14. In that first frame, they totaled a franchise playoff-low 11 points on 5-of-22 shooting and were out-rebounded 16-to-7 (Tristan Thompson had nine boards on his own). They had four turnovers against three assists. That the deficit wasn’t over 20 was a minor miracle.
The Warriors spent the final three quarters of the contest mounting mini-runs, but were met each and every time by James, who was content to lay in wait before swatting away the feeble attempts. No, Game 6 wasn’t the finest moment for the Dubs, but that’s why they worked so hard all year to get the top seed in the playoffs. Game 7 is set for Sunday night in Oracle Arena.
Here are 10 thoughts on the lackluster Game 6 loss:
1. LeBron James was great. Hands down, no-doubt-about-it, unanimously great on both sides of the court. In addition to pouring in 41 points on an ultra-efficient 27 attempts, he had the Cavs offense humming. He patiently waited for double teams and smartly found open shooters in every corner. His lobs to Tristan Thompson were brilliant, filleting the narrowest seams in the Warriors D like a chef’s knife. He was a jet readying for takeoff in transition. And his fly-swatting defense in the paint had the Warriors hearing ghosts in the lane. In back-to-back elimination games, Lebron has totaled 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, and 7 steals. Even if the Dubs manage to win the Finals, LBJ would be deserving of the Finals MVP.
2. You ever see a guy play blackjack where every hand turns up 21? That was Tyronn Lue’s night. Every diagrammed play worked, every substitution was a success. He dusted off Mo Williams(!) and Dahntay Jones(!!) in an elimination game and got nine points and a perfect 3-for-3 shooting combined from them. And Lue got a gift from the basketball gods when Kevin Love picked up his second and third fouls which forced him to go small (their best defensive lineup) early in the game.
3. Steph has been playing defense by slapping at the ball all season long (that’s partially how he was able to lead the league in steals this year), but with the refs calling the games tighter on reaches and with the Cavs actively seeking him on offense, Steph needs to pull back. Yes, some of the foul calls were dubious, but he can’t put himself in a position where he’s vulnerable to those dubious calls. Steph is too valuable to the offense to be sitting most of the first quarter.
4. Leandro Barbosa (14 points, 4-6 FG) was the second- or third-best Warrior in a closeout game. That probably isn’t going to get it done.
5. The world according to Lebron: Trash talk like this is all good as long as you don’t use the “B” word.
6. Listen carefully. You hear that? That’s the Cavs politicking for a Steph suspension for throwing his mouthpiece.
7. I called Harrison Barnes’ 2-of-14 Game 5 performance “John Starksian” but at least Starks hit two shots in that memorable Knicks-Rockets game. HB was 0-8 last night.
8. But not playing HB (16 minutes) has a consequence too. With Barbosa taking Barnes’ minutes late in the fourth when the Warriors were trying to mount a comeback, there was no one to body-up Thompson, who got two easy lobs from LeBron.
9. Concerns: Andre Iguodala’s back. Another Kyrie-Lebron explosion. Cavs’ momentum. Tristan Thompson (15 boards, 16 points, game-high plus-32) making like Wilt Chamberlain in the post. Warriors defense going MIA. Steph not playing at full strength. No contribution from the center position. HB’s horrific struggles. Klay taking bad non-set shots when the game gets tight. Game 7 nerves.
10. Buuuuuuuuut: Home teams in Game 7s are 101-24. The Warriors haven’t lost three games in a row all season. Games 5 and 6 were lost in part to the Warriors’ abysmal shooting, something that is liable to regress towards the mean. Klay and Steph have yet to have an awesome shooting night in the same game.
The Dubs’ role players have played better in Oracle (remember Games 1 and 2 where the reserves carried the team to victory). The Oakland crowd will be in peak form. And most importantly, these Warriors have shown all year that when the doubters are at their loudest, and the odds are stacked against them, they can summon their best and find success. It took until the last game of the season to hit win number 73 and the Dubs were on the ropes down 3-1 to OKC before mounting a historic comeback. If there’s ever a time to believe in these Warriors, it would be now.
The momentum of the series is against them, but the momentum of the season is on their side. One game is all they need to quiet the whispers and enter the “Greatest of all time” pantheon. Sure, the Cavs can pull out the upset, but there’s no reason for fans to expect anything but the best from these Warriors on Sunday night. #Webelieve.