Previously, on "Warriors vs. Cavaliers"…
Well, this one came out as expected. For as much as one could expect, in a series with Matthew Dellavedova acting as a potential tipping point and no 7-footers to be found.
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J.R. Smith, free of pressure, started out hot before failing late as the weight of expectations demanded he actually act as a consistent offensive force.
Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green – players drafted eight years apart – acted as the all-around forces that helped drive a wedge between NBA orthodoxy and the new regime that’s calling.
All in a night’s work, apparently, in a series that is just about without precedent.
The NBA will face perhaps its final game of 2014-15 on Tuesday, when the Cavaliers attempt to extend the team’s season to an all-in Game 7 with a Game 6 conquest at home. The Cavs, to be kind, looked rather worse for the wear in their Game 5 loss on Sunday, falling to Golden State 104-91 as Curry led a fourth-quarter charge. His 17-point run during that period outpaced James by only a single digit, but he looked far more dominant in the spell he cast as opposed to LeBron – who missed out on several opportunities to keep things closer with short misses in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers once again reminded of a hockey team trying to kill a power play.
Cleveland made its adjustments. The Cavs barely paid attention to Shawn Livingston on the perimeter while forcing Andre Iguodala’s jumper to beat them once again, but they could not overcome the fact that Smith, Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert just cannot be trusted to act as anything nearing a second banana at this point. Those three combined to miss 23 of 33 shots, weary from either the acclaim, the need to follow Curry around the width of a circle, or the idea they would be counted upon to step up as Vice LeBron.
LeBron was not perfect, he missed some shots, but he also had to attempt to calm an entire season with his singular brilliance in Game 5 while on his way toward 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. Curry, meanwhile, broke out with 37 points in the face of a dragging Dellavedova, prior to being treated for dehydration following the game.
All while rotations shortened and no player above 7 feet was allowed to board this ride for more than nine minutes at a time.
In a season filled with repeated teachings about what works, what doesn’t, and how to make every possession count, Game 5 seemed like a suitable extension. One can only hope that both sides have the legs to give us one more fantastic example of pattern in Game 6.
(Or even another, in Game 7.)
Three Things to Look For in Game 6
Good gravy, there are always adjustments.
The most jarring turn was still almost expected in the moment. Golden State went small throughout Game 4 in its needed, home-court-clinching win, all while going against the script most expected prior to the series: James wasn’t asked to beat the Warriors on his own, and Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov had the game of his life with 28 points and 10 rebounds in the loss, mostly off scores that were derived from the attention toward LeBron. The 19-point loss, worst in the series for either team, also included James being held to his worst game of what could be a legendary Finals.
Mozgov played for all but five first-half minutes after starting Game 5, he didn’t start the second half, and was given four token minutes (and rather cold and surprising minutes for someone who hadn’t played for 90 minutes of real time) in the second half. All while Cleveland prepped for Livingston’s all-around impact and the idea that, in Golden State, Draymond Green will be getting all the calls now.
The issue here, as we move toward what could be the deciding game, is that there might not be many more major adjustments to make.
Cleveland freed Mike Miller for one 3-pointer in Game 5, but by and large his impact was mostly neutered. The retiring Shawn Marion might want to play – who could blame the man for as much? – but outside of some curried favor from the referees defensively (Scott Foster will officiate Game 6, after all) it’s hard to anticipate what sort of impact he’d have in what could be his 26th minute of the postseason.
There’s not a lot Cleveland can do to squelch Leandro Barbosa’s pell-mell game, which was crucial in Game 5. Festus Ezeli should play better for Golden State after an iffy turn in his team’s last win. Andrew Bogut could bound back for what could be a clinching few minutes midway through the third quarter. Shumpert might be asked to do more offensively on his own, as was the case in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but those were the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Both Steve Kerr and David Blatt will attempt to anticipate their counterpart’s hopes to act prescient in guessing at the other side’s adjustments, but with these limited rotations there is only so much room to move.
Long, tough, shots.
For all of Curry’s brilliance, for all of the attempts at misdirection alongside the fantastic screening put together by these Warriors down the stretch of Game 5, and for all of the shocking immediacy of both his footwork and quick release (go back and watch that fourth quarter, it will still leave you gobsmacked), his tailored outfit still had to rely on its 6-foot-2-ish star nailing shots from 23 feet (at best!) away toward a 10-foot goal when it comes to those 3-point daggers.
This is sustainable, and Curry has proven as much. Golden State is going to play Game No. 103 on Tuesday, and is still kicking ass. If this isn’t your 2014-15 NBA champion, something will have gone wrong.
It’s still just one game, though. Great shots from great players can spin out, as a one-game sample size puts an entire season on the line.
Cleveland has basically been forced into a Spahn-and-Sain-and-Pray-for-Rain situation with these Warriors. Golden State will back-cut you endlessly on its way toward 109 points and a win, and don’t think Steve Kerr and Co. haven’t attempted to determine every feasible way toward edging away from the one-on-one brilliance that pushed them away from Cleveland late in Game 5. They know that, while Curry’s 3-point shooting should be sustainable, the way that he worked toward those flourishes in Sunday’s win might not be.
For all the planning, though, and all the open looks? The shots still have to go in. Cleveland, in a way, is relying on what it forced Atlanta to do in the Eastern Conference finals – miss open shots.
The Hawks ain’t the Warriors, though. June is different.
It got you all the way to the Daley Center, this brilliant Mopar-powered piece of machinery did, but the end might be near.
Presuming we haven’t seen it already, LeBron James might be ready to do this:
If you think we’re making excuses for this guy, fine. Enjoy watching sports chatter on cable TV during the daytime, when it’s sunny out in June and you should either be at work or blowing the petals off of dandelions. Enjoy drawing strict lines in the sand about who is best and who is the worst.
It’s different, now. LeBron James entered the NBA when he was 18. He played for Team USA the following summer, prior to being asked to average 40 minutes a game (and lead the NBA in minutes) at age 19. The guy’s initial, minutes-heavy run in Cleveland wound up at the same age he was legally allowed to rent a car.
It is quite appropriate to have tired of his ubiquity. It’s another to not be able to understand just why this is remarkable.
Not all the crazy stats; those tend to happen when great players play huge minutes alongside terrible supporting casts. Just the workload. Michael Jordan talked up retiring throughout 1992-93, and following his third straight Finals win (and lone Team USA appearance as a pro), he did. Larry Bird’s body was shot to hell by the time he hit James’ career minute mark, and Magic Johnson was acting as the old man in the low post around the same stage.
James, meanwhile, is still being asked to work that Larry-meets-Michael-meets-Magic-meets-Karl-Malone game, for 45 minutes a night. Even if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were around, it would be a bit much.
There is a good chance LeBron James could work his butt and a car-selling smile toward a Game 6 win. This was still a one-possession game late in Game 5, on the road no less, for these Cavaliers.
There’s also a pretty good chance that there is nothing left.
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