Before the historic Cleveland Cavaliers shooting performance, there was a feeling the Golden State Warriors would cap off the revenge tour by annihilating their rival in a perfect postseason. A team with the greatest collection of talent ever seemingly infused at the right moments would take their game to a greater plane, and a higher existence. Instead, it was LeBron James and Kyrie Irving’s night.
The referees should never see the side of a basketball court again but they were not primary offenders on defense, leaving shooters open repeatedly, turning the ball over on offense with ball movement a foregone preclusion. Iman Shumpert baited fouls and got the Warriors off tilt. Kevin Love and JR Smith railed every shot possible. Kyrie Irving torched Klay Thompson to the tune of 40 points yet again and stuck right to Stephen Curry’s hip. And LeBron James, in a feat of pride, would not get swept in the Finals again, and not by his greatest foe. His 31/11/10 triple double and a complete control of the pace of play would lead to an otherworldly 137-point performance, with 86 coming by halftime.
The Cavaliers’ game plan is to push the pace, but to also do it mainly in the first half. They’re not foolish, they know that they will wear down with their small rotation by the second half. But what if they can gain a large lead, like the 18-point one in Game 4? Then they can slowly push the pace back down in the second half, cutting down the possessions so the run-and-gun Warriors can’t come back quickly enough. It isn’t a foolproof plan but it’s the best any team has ever managed against the Warriors.
Ty Lue and LeBron knows the Warriors will not change their own style unless they absolutely need to. Up 3-0, there certainly wasn’t any real urgency or desperation in Steve Kerr’s script. They could rely on a turnover-prone team that lapses in concentration, an overamped Draymond Green in foul trouble, the same lax rotations, and what they truly need to see to win the series, a passive Stephen Curry.
While the Cavs force their stars in Kyrie and LeBron to aggression out of necessity, the Warriors do not. If Curry struggles, the Warriors are and can be fine winning with the efforts of Kevin Durant (the only aggressive Warrior on offense), Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and even the bench. The talent gap and Kerr’s insistence to sticking to their system allows the Cavaliers to play and excel within their world.
The Warriors scored 116 points, perhaps should have got Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia ejected in a wild 3rd quarter, with an entire team shook similar to last season’s NBA Finals Games 3 and 6, and got blown out the water. While Kevin Durant was brought to Golden State to push the Warriors back to the top, Draymond likely the reason they lost last year’s Game 5, it’s Kerr’s gameplan and Stephen Curry’s singular ability to warp a basketball court that can mysteriously go missing.
This isn’t to say that Curry is having a bad Finals. Instead, he’s likely third in Finals MVP voting and was step-by-step with Durant before last night. And while Kerr’s offensive structure doesn’t allow for his total aggression and dominance, there has be to a moment in time where he allows himself the ability to take over a game. Forget the flow, screw the criticism that’s going to come regardless, and go out there and be the two-time MVP. He doesn’t have to look further than the other side of the court to see Kyrie Irving doing the same thing. There’s no slowing down despite the struggles in Game 1 and 2, just the constant ability to try and dominant, out-execute, and out-shoot the opposition.
The slander will come Kerr’s way from Warriors fans but this series that’s begging for the dominance that’s apparently never occurred on the biggest stage now turns to Oracle Arena for another closeout game. Draymond is playing this time, Durant is in place of Harrison Barnes, but most importantly, Stephen Curry is completely healthy. There are no more excuses, no more easy blowouts against a struggling Cavs team.
It’s fitting that the redemption tour would find its way back to this spot, a closeout Game 5 at Oracle, with the Warriors title in focus, and one great Stephen Curry performance to end it all.