Another do-or-die Finals game for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the Golden State Warriors, in the lead heading into game 6 of the series, are getting Draymond Green back.
Trying to figure out whether or not the Cavaliers can pull this off depends on the analysis of game 5: Was it a one-time thing of James and Kyrie Irving (82 combined points) having a unique scoring performance that is almost impossible to emulate, combined with the Warriors uncharacteristically missing wide open shots, or have the Cavaliers figured out how to beat the Warriors, regardless of Draymond Green’s place in all of this?
One thing is quite clear: The Cavaliers are shedding role players one by one in favor of James and Irving doing their thing. Kevin Love might be a factor in this series, but it isn’t showing up on the stat sheets, especially not offensively. The bench isn’t a factor. It comes down to James scoring and doing a lot of everything, Irving making shots, good and bad ones, attacking Stephen Curry as much as possible, and Tristan Thompson being a disruptive force under the basket. Now that Andrew Bogut is out for the series, how much does Green’s return change things?
It might mean we’ll see a lot more of the “death lineup” the Warriors have, with Green at the ‘5’, and the Warriors having the lineup that can defend anyone while all its members can stretch the floor. That specific lineup didn’t do all that well against the Oklahoma City Thunder, getting destroyed on the boards, but against the Cavaliers, it seems to leave Cleveland clueless and stuck. And again, maybe it’s all about making shots.
With Green back, Andre Iguodala can defend James a little bit closer, knowing he has the zone defender in Green to cover him. Underneath the basket might be a bit more vacant, but in last year’s finals Steve Kerr simply took out Bogut from the series himself. He said he doesn’t think it should have such an effect on game 6, and he’s probably right.
So, back to making shots. Thompson did score 37 points, and Curry finished with 25, right? Well, in the fourth quarter, as the Cavaliers turned a tight game into an easy one, both of them kept missing easy ones. Combine that with their poor way of handling Irving (it wasn’t just him making tough shots. He put them in the spots he felt comfortable with), and the Warriors couldn’t keep up – especially not when James is making his jump shots.
And that is what puts the Cavaliers on equal footing with the Warriors: James hitting the shots Golden State give him. If he doesn’t have to muscle through two and three players on every basket to put points on the board, the Cavaliers are in this. It frees up Irving for one on ones without outside help, and changes the whole way the Warriors defend. This is still the Warriors game to lose; they’re the overall better, deeper, more talented team. However, the Cavaliers have an opening to make history. Don’t be surprised if they try to get to Green early by baiting him to do something stupid. His maturity and patience could be the most important thing the Warriors have going for them in this game.