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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Put Away the Brooms: Feisty Cavaliers Defeat Warriors

Put away the brooms. Shelve the greatest team of all-time talk--at least for three days. The Golden State Warriors were one win away from completing the only perfect postseason in NBA history but the Cleveland Cavaliers set a boatload of Finals scoring records en route to posting a 137-116 win. The Cavaliers now trail 3-1, the same deficit that they faced last season before rallying to claim the franchise's first NBA title. Of course, last year the Warriors did not have Kevin Durant, so it seems improbable that the Cavaliers will win four straight games against this team--but a game like this is a lot more satisfying as a fan than just watching the Cavaliers lay down and die, which many observers thought/feared might happen in game four.

Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with a game-high 40 points on 15-27 field goal shooting but this was a true team effort for Cleveland. LeBron James had 31 points, a game-high 11 assists and 10 rebounds; his ninth Finals triple double broke the previous mark of eight, set by Magic Johnson. James posted an eye-popping +32 plus/minus number, easily the best total on either team. Kevin Love added 23 points. J.R. Smith had 15 points on timely 5-9 three point shooting.

Kevin Durant had another big scoring night (35 points) but he shot just 9-22 from the field and he had a pedestrian floor game (four rebounds, four assists) compared to the standard he set in the first three games of the series. Draymond Green had 16 points and a game-high 14 rebounds; he is a talented player but he is also a hothead (and cheap shot artist) who is allowed to get away with way too much complaining/gesturing. He claims that he is remorseful for getting suspended during last year's Finals but he almost got ejected (and should have been ejected) in this game, so it does not appear that he really has learned his lesson. Stephen Curry did not make his presence felt, finishing with just 14 points on 4-13 field goal shooting, though he did have 10 assists.

Perhaps the two biggest stories of the game were (1) Cleveland's record-setting three point shooting (24-45) and (2) some very uneven officiating. Cleveland has been a great three point shooting team all season, so it is not surprising that the Cavaliers could make a lot of three pointers but it is surprising that they made 13 more three pointers than Golden State considering how well the Warriors shoot and how well they (usually) defend. The officiating did not decide the outcome but it was disappointing nonetheless: obvious calls were missed (not in a biased way but just in an inexcusably sloppy way) and Draymond Green was clearly whistled for a technical foul in the first half but when he received another technical foul in the second half--which should have resulted in automatic ejection--one official bizarrely insisted that Green's first technical foul had actually been assessed to Golden State Coach Steve Kerr.

After Cleveland's late collapse in game three, it was reasonable to wonder if the Cavaliers had any fight or spirit left--but any doubts about that were erased very early in the game: Cleveland led 49-33 after the first quarter, setting a record for most point in one quarter in Finals history--and the Cavaliers missed eight free throws! Cleveland's Big Three had their fingerprints all over the fast start, with Love scoring 14 points, Irving adding 11 and James contributing eight points plus six assists.

The Warriors are such a potent offensive team and such an excellent defensive team that one wondered if they could/would make a run but instead Cleveland led 69-49 by the middle of the second quarter and 86-68 at halftime. Cleveland broke the record for most points in one half of a Finals game (81, set by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982). Irving (28 points), James (22 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and Love (17 points) led the scoring barrage.

The third quarter seemed like it was played in mud: a lot of pushing and shoving and skirmishes and replay reviews but in the end Cleveland won the quarter 29-28 and the Warriors never seriously threatened the rest of the way.

It is difficult to know what to make of this game, because so many odd (and probably not repeatable) things happened. This is what I believe: Golden State is the better team but Cleveland has enough talent to compete with and, if the Cavaliers execute the correct game plan at a high level, beat the Warriors. If both teams play their best, then the Warriors will win this series but if Cleveland somehow takes game five on the road then this series becomes very interesting; the members of last year's Warriors would then start to feel the pressure of a flashback from last year's collapse versus Cleveland in the Finals, while Durant (who has yet to win a title) could have flashbacks of his own from playing a major role in the Thunder's collapse from a 3-1 lead versus the Warriors. A comeback from a 3-0 deficit is unlikely, to say the least, but by all rights Cleveland should have won game three and the Cavaliers dominated game four, so the idea touted by some that Golden State is unbeatable is demonstrably false. Kyrie Irving is a basketball assassin, particularly in games when his team faces elimination, and it is apparent that no one on the Warriors can contain him off the dribble. The question, as always, is what kind of tone James will set and whether or not he will sustain his energy/effort throughout the game; he did so in game four and we see the result.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:46 AM

7 comments

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7 Comments:

At Saturday, June 10, 2017 2:11:00 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

David,

Spot-on analyses on this series as usual.

It took a performance of historic proportions and right combination of factors for this Cavaliers team to beat the Warriors. The Cavs came to play tonight and made their shots so proper kudos to them. That being said, I don't want to hear the media or fans say that LeBron has no help. I know on this blog we recognize the greatness of both teams but the mainstream narrative of creating excuses for LeBron's shortcomings are plain sad.

This series should end on Monday with the Warriors coming out early to set the tone and put up a better defensive effort.

In addition, hopefully we get a more professional officiating crew as this was one of the worst called games I have seen in recent memory. The debacle regarding Draymond's rightful ejection will create more whispers amongst people that the league is rigged.

I think Charles Barkley said it best in tonight's postgame regarding Green. He needs to seriously re-evaluate his emotional barometer and ride on to the next play. This whole series he has been ineffective due to foul trouble and due to his own lack of discipline. And this is the supposed leading contender for this year's Defensive Player of the Year. It reminds me of peak Dwight Howard on the Magic getting into ridiculous foul trouble when he was considered he best defender in the league.

I think on Monday, the Warriors core and their bench will deliver the knockout blow to end the season and hoist the trophy. If not, I see this series being a coin-flip in seven games.

 
At Saturday, June 10, 2017 5:23:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I agree regarding Green. For some reason the excuse for Green is that you need to take the good with the bad, and that these outbursts show his "passion." The guy needs to shut his trap. This is the NBA, it has never been perfectly officiated. I haven't seen a game without calls I didn't agree with (never mind the fact often he is in the wrong).

 
At Sunday, June 11, 2017 1:22:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

Fun Fact. Both Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have each blown 3-1 leads in the playoffs. Now that they've combined forces, does that mean they'll blow a 3-0 lead?

 
At Sunday, June 11, 2017 2:15:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

FYI in case you missed it, breaking news from ESPN's "Stephen A.": Warriors don't want to lose 3-0 lead.

 
At Sunday, June 11, 2017 2:40:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

I make a point of missing whatever Screaming A Smith says :)

 
At Sunday, June 11, 2017 9:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL!!!! Now THAT'S funny!Everyone's a comedian,indeed!

 
At Monday, June 12, 2017 1:16:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

It's very unwise of Draymond and the Warriors to fall back into the sort of gloating and roughhousing they displayed in last year's finals. I thought they displayed an improvement in mental toughness by being professionally minded and focused in the first three games. More than anything I thought the fact they mentally coaxed LeBron out of his slumber last year contributed more than anything to their defeat, so I think it'd be a major error of them to do so again even if they were up 3 - 0.

 

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