The Golden State Warriors are one win away from consecutive championships after emerging with a frenzied effort in Friday’s Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, eventually winning by a 108-97 score.
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Here are three reasons why the Warriors are now up 3-1.
In Game 1 the Cavaliers frittered away their chances down the stretch of what seemed like a winnable game by falling back on bad habits – too much isolation play, just as much option-killing screen-and-roll basketball. That was the Cavs' first game in six days and their first contest against an all-world opponent in the defending champion Warriors, though, so they were excused somewhat for needing a little time to adapt on the fly.
The team has no such excuses for how it started to play basketball just a minute into the fourth quarter of Game 4. All the nasty stuff came back.
Cleveland opened the quarter with a Kevin Love post-up score and LeBron James layup, finishing off a run that turned a 79-73 Golden State advantage (at the time, GSW’s biggest lead of the game) into an 81-79 Cleveland lead. From there, however, the Cavs went dormant, diving into possessions slowly, telegraphing plays, failing to push the pace on Warriors misses and generally giving the game away on their home court.
It wasn’t as if the cards weren’t in Cleveland’s favor, because with the season on the line coach Tyronn Lue decided to start Love, LeBron and Kyrie Irving to begin that quarter, a space that he usually gives at least one and sometimes all of his Big Three a blow. The Cavs would go on to score just three points between the 10:24 and 3:44 mark of the fourth quarter – an Irving free throw make and later a lay-in – while the Warriors slowly added to their advantage.
To run scoreless 6 1/2 minutes of a fourth quarter in an NBA Finals game is inexcusable on paper. To run just as long on the court, a court featuring stars and talent and smarts like this, is a basketball art crime. Credit Golden State’s defense for talking out loud and covering all angles, but the Cavaliers made it far, far easier on the champs than Cleveland had to.
Midway through that fourth quarter ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen, upon calling a pair of Tristan Thompson free throw misses, wondered aloud if any of his five clangs from the line “would come back to haunt [Cleveland].” Well, yeah. At that point, they already had – the Cavs were down 86-83 at that juncture, and had Thompson made slightly above his average on those five freebies, Cleveland would be working a tie game.
The Cavs didn’t set any records for free-throw futility in missing 11 of 26 from the line on Friday night, nor were they shamed by some white hot night at the stripe from Golden State – the W’s needed garbage time to pad out a 25-of-31 night on gimmies.
There may not have been any garbage time, though, had Cleveland taken advantage sooner. No need to press and fall back on the bad habits listed above, to try and play Hero Ball in attempting to douse a seven-point deficit via one possession. When LeBron James split a pair from the stripe with 72 seconds to go in Game 4, he denied his team a chance at a two-possession game – not exactly the best situation for the Eastern champs, but still a manageable deficit considering the team’s offensive firepower.
It also bears mentioning that referees Danny Crawford, Mike Callahan and Jason Phillips worked a terrible game, with some of the worst calls and non-calls on a Finals stage that we’ve ever seen. All three are good refs and we all have bad days at the office, but this was a miserable performance that did a disservice to both teams on an equal scale, and certainly the fans watching at home.
It was so obvious that even ABC – a broadcast company whose sole purpose in production in the Distracted Era is to encourage an 18-to-35 consumer to lift his or her head up from a cell phone – pointed it out: Stephen Curry can’t go to his left anymore. To drive to your left you need to push off your right knee, and Stephen Curry sprained his right MCL a month and a half ago. Curry just won’t be right until the offseason hits.
This is why the Cavaliers switched on screens and treated Curry as if he was Jerry Stackhouse as the Warriors guard attempted to drive past Tristan Thompson. It didn’t exactly work to perfection to start the game, Curry did have 14 points in the first half, but the league’s MVP would have torched that defense and its scheme for twice as many in a half had these feints come pre-injury.
Instead, Curry had to rely on tough 3-pointers, and when he squared his body right (instead of falling to his right, as he did on a few misses early in the contest), the shots started to fall. By the time Cleveland’s defense failed it in the second half, Stephen was taking advantage of turned heads and too much time – the MVP finished with 38 points on the night, making 7 of 11 from long range as compared with 4 of 12 from inside the arc.
The line was typical for his team, the Warriors finished with more 3-pointers (an NBA Finals game record 17) than twos (16), as the fourth-quarter introduction of Channing Frye to the Cavalier lineup served only to wet Curry’s whistle.
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