Posted on June 11, 2017, by Travis Pulver
When the Cleveland Cavaliers destroyed the Golden State Warriors in Game Four Friday night, a sense of déjà vu swept over the NBA Finals. While it didn’t happen in the same order, the stage was strangely like what it was last year after four games. Golden State led 3-1. Cleveland dominated the one game it did win.
But no one was concerned that the Warriors could lose Game Five. Few (if any) picked the Cavaliers to keep the series going—which they obviously did and then some. Few are giving them a chance to win Monday night in Game Five this year either.
Is that a mistake? Can the Cavaliers pull off another miracle? Or will the Warriors put on a show for the ages in front of the home crowd?
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It would be easy to say this is Golden State’s game to lose, but that would not be fair to the Cavaliers. As NBA fans know all too well, you can never count on LeBron James. If anyone currently in the NBA can will a team to win, it is him.
Can he do it all himself? Of course not. He is going to need Kyrie Irving to have a hot hand again. Kevin Love needs to be at his best, and it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith could chip in another five three-pointer kind of night.
Will that be enough? If you ask Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, he’ll probably say no. He wants his team not to be so nice and respectful. He wants them to play meaner—like they did in Game Four:
“Our mindset has to be winning games and not smiling back and forth or talking and playing…. I don’t see anything’s funny or anything’s to smile about. So, hitting and being physical and just everything they do to us in the first three games, we have to do that. Last game, in Game 4, I thought that’s who we are. Got to be physical. If it’s talking trash or knocking guys on the floor, whatever you got to do, you got to do it.”
If that is what it takes to get the Warriors to miss as many shots as they did Friday night in Game Four, then that is what they should do. But is that all they need to do? Get physical. Play with less respect. Don’t be nice.
Yes—especially against Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
The key for the Warriors will be to get out to a quick start. They are going to want to build a lead and get the home crowd into it (you know because folks that pay $90,000 for a pair of tickets are not going to be into it). They will do so not by having Kevin Durant drive the lane but by doing what the Splash Brothers do best—make it rain from behind the arc.
When the Cavaliers defense tries to clamp down on Curry and Thompson, Durant will go to work. So—to avoid that, the Cavs need to take away Curry and Thompson first. But that will just open things up for Durant, right?
Durant has a history of struggling with his shot when he is needed most in the postseason. He let the Warriors down Friday night in Game Four. He let the Oklahoma City Thunder down when they had a chance to close out the Warriors last season. To be fair, he wasn’t terrible against the San Antonio Spurs back in 2014, but against Memphis, in 2013 he was downright awful.
It’s a risky proposition to challenge Kevin Durant to beat you, but the Cavaliers will need to do like they did in Game Four if they want to bring the series back to Cleveland. They need to start strong (set NBA Finals record with 49 points in the first quarter) and win the three-point battle (they hit 24-three-pointers; another NBA Finals record).
Golden State can handle being down after the first quarter, but if they don’t win the three-point battle, it is hard to see them winning the game.