The head was right, the heart was wrong. The Cavs, riding two of the most exhilarating Finals performances in NBA history from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, stole the game and the celebration from Oracle Arena last night. However, if I’m the Warriors, I don’t start panicking. They are still up 3-2 and have won convincingly in Cleveland as recently as last Friday. Also, as poorly as they played, they were still down only six points with an opportunity to win late in the fourth. Here are some observations from game 5 and what they mean for game 6.
- Hats off for LeBron and Kyrie. They turned in some heroic performances. Look at this combined shot chart. It’s cliché to say this is a make-or-miss league but after shooting so poorly from the outside, LeBron nailed a bunch of mid-range Js and 3-pointers to keep the Cavs alive. And many of Kyrie’s jumpers and floaters were well-contested. In the words of Mark Jackson, “Great offense beats good defense.”
- Speaking of defense, during the first half of the shootout, the Warriors played some pretty shitty defense. They played better in the second half but by then James and Irving had found a rhythm – it was too late. Not having Green on the backline really hurt the Warriors at the rim as you can see by the finishing percentages in the restricted area for the Cavs’ two stars. I’d expect that to change with Green back in the lineup.
- As good as the Cavs played, they were playing with serious fire with their defense. Golden State shot 16/44 (36%) on uncontested looks. Considering their average tends to be closer to 45%, this is a huge variance. Their defense improved in the second half but what killed them was their inability to hit open shots. The key stretch was when they closed the gap to 6 points and proceeded to miss four straight wide open 3s while getting stops on the other end. Most of these came from Barnes but Steph, Klay, and Barbosa also missed some easy looks during the Cavs runs in the third and fourth quarters.
- Iman Shumpert should be on the court more than JR Smith. Smith was forced out of the game due to foul trouble and the Cavs defense improved markedly when he was on the bench. Shump is a solid defender who can guard all perimeter positions comfortably. Smith was behind many of Klay’s open shots in the first half and his foul trouble was a blessing in disguise for Lue’s continued questionable rotations.
- Anderson Varejao has quietly become Golden State’s most consistent back-up center. He has his limitations but he’s a smart player, works tirelessly, and is arguably the greatest actor this league has seen. I’ve been hating on him all playoffs but these last two games, he’s shown tremendous value.
- Harrison Barnes could have been the difference maker. Going 2-14 with many of his looks being uncontested was not the way to get a max contract. But you want him to shoot those shots and he had been playing well up until this point. I’d be far more concerned if he didn’t take those 14 shots. But I just don’t think he’s meant to be more than what he is: solid defender, role player on offense.
- The loss of Bogut for game 6 is not going to have a tremendous effect on the Warriors. He’s been playing poorly on the road since March and this will probably force Steve Kerr to start the Death Lineup. He does play well at home and should it go to game 7, that’s where the Warriors will miss his rim protection and his killer off-ball screens.
- It can’t be said enough that Steph is still a bit off. He’s well enough to play but saying he’s 100% is just wrong. He looked off scoring 38 in Game 4 and he looked off last night. His shooting will save him periodically but he doesn’t have the little explosiveness to shoot around picks and create space the way he did during the regular season. It’s not an excuse, just a fact. The Warriors should still win because they are more than just their MVP.
- Some white noise stuff that probably means nothing but will fuel fire to the NBA ref conspiracy theorists out there: McCutchens has been a ref in three out of the four Golden State home losses this season. Considering that two have come in the playoffs where the referee rotations are shorter, that doesn’t mean too much to me. But just a hilarious piece of information. My opinion: Scott Foster is the only truly terrible ref in the league.
- Kevin Love is going to get murdered after this game by fans and the media. But while his offense looked ugly, he made some serious effort plays on defense when he wasn’t guarding Steph Curry. Not a great game but he was not the overall minus that some would assume. Unfortunately with Green coming back he will revert to being unplayable. It’s too bad because he seems to be a genuinely nice guy who works hard and this will further build the narrative that he’s not a good player. This is just a terrible match-up for him. Also, how do these pictures happen?
The Warriors should still be the favorites here. I think what’s being missed is it took two historic performances from LeBron and Kyrie for the Cavs to beat a Warriors team without its (arguably) most vital player. The Cavs should feel good about the win but make no mistake, both Cleveland and the Warriors know that it’s the Dubs who are in the driver’s seat for this series. With Draymond coming back with what I imagine to be an Everest-sized chip on his shoulder, expect the Warriors to enter a hostile Cleveland crowd swinging hard and fast. I originally predicted Warriors in 6 and I think they come through on Thursday. I love Steph but I think game 5 was his last shot at Finals MVP. He had his shots, they just didn’t fall. Barring a 40+ point barrage from Steph, Game 6 is going to belong to Draymond and with the return of his defense, he’ll be my pick for Finals MVP.