The Warriors’ most glaring issue in this series had been not getting their usual production from the two-time MVP Curry (above, 38 points) and Thompson (25 points). But those two found their touch in a big way, first by finding driving lanes to the basket, then later by torching the Cavaliers from outside when they were given too much space.
By Peter Gleason
It’s all over but the pouting.
Halfway through last night’s Game 4, it seemed as if the Cleveland Cavaliers were well on their way to tying this NBA Finals series at two games apiece.
Their two best players, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, were shooting well, and Cleveland was seemingly inhaling every rebound there was to be had.
But that third quarter may end up proving to be as close as Cleveland—a city that hasn’t won a professional sports title since 1964—gets to winning it all this year.
The Golden State Warriors, who had waited all series for sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to catch fire, drilled six 3-pointers in the third quarter—including five triples from their star-studded duo—which helped lift them to a pivotal 108-97 victory in Game 4.
The Warriors’ victory, an NBA-record 88th win when combining their regular-season and postseason victories, left them needing one more to claim back-to-back titles. With a 3-1 advantage, and the series headed back to Oakland for Game 5 on Monday, their odds of completing the task would seem great. No team in NBA history, in 32 different cases, has come back from a 3-1 series deficit in the Finals to win a title.
That is the hard math facing a Cavaliers’ team—one routed by 15 points and 33 points, respectively, in Games 1 and 2 at Golden State—that looked spent by the end of Friday’s contest. In particular, James (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Irving (34 points) both played the entire second half for Cleveland, with those two taking 33 of the Cavs’ 38 shots after halftime.
It didn’t help the Cavs’ case that the Warriors were using their so-called “death” lineup—a fast-paced, small-ball lineup in which every player can handle the ball and shoot from outside—which commonly runs even the most athletic opponents ragged. With that group, keyed by the versatility of Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, Golden State went on a 12-1 run over a six-plus-minute span in the fourth to take a 93-84 advantage that essentially sealed it for good.
“[Fatigue] could have played a part in it,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged. “But going into the fourth quarter, being down 2-1, we’re down two points. They brought their bench in, so I thought if we could keep our starters in for a few minutes, we could kind of make a run and then get guys out slowly. But [Golden State] was able to go on a run, so it hurt us.”
Lue, who decided to bring forward Kevin Love off the bench in his return from a concussion suffered in Game 2, may have to consider making other tactical changes in hopes of forcing a sixth game. The Cavs lacked capable ballhandlers—explaining James’s and Irving’s fatigue—and didn’t have enough fresh wing players to match the Warriors when they went small.
There was an extracurricular moment worth monitoring late in the game. Specifically, James and Green got tangled with just under three minutes left to play, and replays appeared to show Green—who’s become an increasingly polarizing figure in this postseason—hitting James in or near the groin, agitating the Cavaliers’ superstar.
The players were separated, and a double personal foul was called. If league officials choose to retroactively hit Green with a flagrant or technical foul, the All-NBA forward would be suspended for Game 5.
Truth be told, even if Green is held out, Golden State—which seemingly found its footing in Game 4 of last year’s Finals, too, after using its small-ball lineup—has to be feeling good.
The Warriors’ most glaring issue in this series, before Friday, had been not getting their usual production from the two-time MVP Curry (38 points) and Thompson (25 points). But those two found their touch in a big way, first by finding driving lanes to the basket, then later by torching the Cavaliers from outside when they were given too much space.
The Splash Brothers, nicknamed for their historic prowess from distance, finished 11-of-22 from behind the three-point line, and combined for 63 points. They entered the game having averaged 28 combined points a game in this series, and helped the Warriors set an NBA record with 17 threes in a Finals game.
In doing so, they put the pressure squarely back on James—who faces constant questions about his legacy, despite his numerous historic achievements—and the Cavs, while also owning the opportunity to close out the series in Oakland after winning last year’s title on Cleveland’s home floor.
“If you don’t get up for that, there’s something wrong with you,” Thompson said, acknowledging that the Warriors will still have to play hard, despite their comfortable series lead. “[The fans] won’t ever have been as excited as they will be when we get to Monday.”