A historic scoring performance by Kyrie Irving and LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 112-97 win over the Golden State Warriors in game 5 of the NBA Finals, now trailing 3-2 behind the defending champions.
The Warriors and the Cavs were deadlocked without anyone breaking away through the half and early in the third quarter, but a 7-0 run by the Cavaliers generated some distance which the Warriors couldn’t cover. It wasn’t just Draymond Green missing, throwing their entire defensive and offensive rhythm off. Besides Klay Thompson who scored 37 points, the Warriors didn’t have anyone stepping up. Andre Iguodala couldn’t do both his and Green’s work, Stephen Curry missed quite a few open shots in the second half to end up with 25, Andrew Bogut didn’t do much and was injured in the second half, and Harrison Barnes, the x-factor for the Warriors in this game, shot just 2-for-14 from the field, scoring only 5 points.
Role players? The Warriors bench outscored the Cavs’ 15-12. Didn’t do them much good. The Cavaliers didn’t need anything from their role players – not J.R. Smith, not Tristan Thompson, not even Kevin Love, finishing with 2 points, taking only five shots in 33 minutes. They got it all from James and Irving, both scoring 41 points, in the first ever Finals 40 & 40 performance by teammates. Green missing helped, but it was mostly them.
The game plan from Tyronn Lue? Attack the paint, and do it again, until the Warriors give them enough of a distance on the perimeter. The Cavs shot a good 10-for-24 from beyond the arc, with James knocking down 4-for-8 from three. Theories about defending him and wearing him down sometimes come true, but when his jumper is dropping, Green or no Green, it’s close to impossible to stop him. He also had 16 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks in a mega performance from him many didn’t think he had in him anymore.
Where did Green’s absence get felt? Anytime Irving and James took their man to the basket. Green is often playing like a quarterback spy, or defensive free agent. He helps out whenever someone struggles with his man, and is the main force behind the traps and the defensive squeezes the Warriors have. Without those, they weren’t able to go on their famous killer runs that can end tight games with a flurry of threes in less than two minutes.
Irving had his biggest playoff game to date. He didn’t really care who was guarding him. Not all of his shots were good ones, but he didn’t make shots with a hand in his face. He made the midrange jumpers, the long range ones (5-for-7 from three) and had no problem taking Klay Thompson to the hole, backing him up and scoring on him time after time. Irving is a special offensive talent, and it all sorta came out in one go.
The Warriors looked bad. This wasn’t just a bad shooting day. It was a bad game, but they probably feel that with Green it all changes. In any case, I think the Cavaliers know what it’s going to take for them to make the impossible happen and win this series, or at least force a game 7: James playing like it’s 2012, and Irving joining him in performances that might be talked about for a very long time. If their defense doesn’t fall apart and their offense doesn’t fall into the ruts it has in previous games, who knows, they might actually pull it off.