Making adjustments on the fly meant the world to the Golden State Warriors, taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their 108-97 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, turning the game around in the second half, while LeBron James finds himself one loss away from losing a third consecutive finals series.
Stephen Curry fired back after being dissed for his performances in the first three games, scoring 38 points in 40 minutes, including 7 three-pointers and 6 assists, giving his best finals performance over the last two years. The Warriors didn’t look too bad while he was resting either, and maybe for the first time in this series it looked like the Cavs had no idea what to do against him and Klay Thompson (25 points), or the Warriors pick and roll in general, especially in the second half.
The Cavaliers scored 42 points in the second half, but a lot of that came in garbage time, after the Warriors turned an 8-point deficit into a 10-point lead, mostly thanks to Andre Iguodala. His defense, his decision making (except for one weird behind the back pass that proved to be costly in that possession) and his calm. Iguodala finished with 10 points 7 rebounds, but also with the highest +/- on the team (+15). His hand quickness near the basket, and being the responsible adult on the court for the Warriors made the difference.
What happened to the Cavaliers, who looked to be playing the right kind of basketball for 24 minutes, in the second half? Their defense broke down. The Warriors have options off the bench. The Cavaliers had Kevin Love starting off of it, but he sometimes proves to be an Achilles Heel for them against the Warriors. The usual starters for Cleveland scored 90 points. The bench? Only 7. It’s impossible to win a game that way, even if Kyrie Irving attacks everyone in front of him and scored 34 points.
The Cavaliers forgot what worked for them. They went back to isolations, while James looked tentative or afraid half the time to take smaller players to the basket. He kept going for contested jump shots, not his strong suit. He finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists. But he went to the line just four times (Yes, the Warriors keep getting the benefit of the doubt under the basket) and was shy, or some other explanation, from taking the ball to the rim. If you’re going to play a primitive isolation game, at least use your best player.
One huge change in the second half also came from two centers: Andrew Bogut, who was taken off early in the first and played only 10 minutes, and also four minutes of Anderson Varejao. Their +/- doesn’t tell the whole story, but it helped the Warriors suddenly grab rebounds and slow down, or kill off momentum the Cavaliers had going for them. Tyronn Lue, on the other hand, forgot Tristan Thompson on the bench, or simply was tired of him missing free throws (0-for-5).
As the series heads back to Oakland, one has to wonder if the Cavaliers weren’t finished for good in this game. They’ve looked bad in the two road games of the series, and looked defeated the moment the game started slipping away from them. Their defense looked clueless in the second half, and although they’ve been able for most of this series to contain the Warriors two best scorers, it now feels that unless LeBron James plays like a man possessed, it’s over. The thing is, he may not be able to anymore.