The Cleveland Cavaliers are back in their original position before this series began. They have no chance. Despite basically controlling the first three games completely with Golden State rarely having the lead and the fact that the Warriors were ¾ inch short of being behind 3-0, the Cavs can’t possibly have an answer for the Warriors brilliant move of going small in game 4.
When you parse all of this out, it simply means that the major media and pundits now can return to the narrative that was written before the Finals began. LeBron James was being replaced by Steph Curry as the face of the league. The already crowned Warriors would take their rightful place as NBA champs. The scrappy and outmanned Cleveland team were just that, inferior mosquitos simply making GS uncomfortable before they were inevitably squashed. And anyway, the opponent was from Cleveland who has a curse and can’t possibly beat a team from the vaunted Bay Area.
The reality is that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the better team through the majority of the three games preceding game 4 even without their All Star point guard and power forward. They controlled the tempo. They controlled the score. They were barely an inch short on Shumpert’s put back that would have turned the narrative around. The interesting thing is that this narrative might have been written similarly even if the Cavaliers still had their two injured All Stars playing. Amazingly, the Warriors would still be considered the better team and prohibitive favorites. So, for all of those people drinking the elixir of the magical narrative that is the Golden State Warriors, reality might creep into your dream so be prepared.
I saw nothing in the first four games to change my belief that the Cavaliers are the better team at handling adversity and overcoming challenges. Golden State did win a desperate game that they had to have, so I give them props for that. They finally manned up and came out swinging. They made an adjustment that did cause some difficulty temporarily and enough to finally get a lead. Big leads allow the Warrior role players to play free and gives Curry (who didn’t have a particularly good game) and Thompson the freedom to let the game come to them. When that occurs, the advantage shifts to the Warrior game of up tempo, pass and shoot basketball and they look “cute and pretty” as LeBron indirectly and mockingly called them.
With the way the Cavaliers came storming back in the third quarter after just a halftime to adjust only to “burn out” in the fourth, does anyone honestly think that the Cavs have no answer to that strategy? I think the reality is that the Cavalier coaching staff and players already have an answer but didn’t have the energy to pull off the comeback playing their third game in 5 nights. That scenario will not play out again in these Finals. If this goes to a game 7, it will be the third game in 6 nights. That is a major difference and a game 7 is always unpredictable anyway. Of course, the Cavs plan is to finish this off in 6 games and that plan just might have some legs.
It was very clear before game 4 that the Warriors might be a desperate team. They kept saying over and over that they had to play harder. They knew their backs were against the wall. At NO TIME before that game did the Warriors play like or act like they had to play hard to win the NBA Finals. They clearly believed in their press clippings and allowed the Cavaliers to basically control three games, almost to lose them all.
Now that the “brilliant” move of going small has made them prohibitive favorites again, I doubt you see a desperate Warriors team tonight. They now view this as simply the Memphis series and will discount the fact that Tony Allen did happen to get injured in that series, creating a huge gap in the Memphis defense. Tonight the Cavs will be the desperate team not wanting the series to go seven games. The only way to make that happen is to win tonight.
This NBA Finals will not be won or lost simply on strategy or whether Curry and Thompson might “go off” together, or whether JR Smith might find his stroke just in time to torpedo the Warriors in one game, or whether LeBron will score 50. It will be won by the team with the most heart and determination to win. The Cavaliers proved that their strategy was good enough to virtually control 3 games. The Warriors proved that, if desperate, they could finish one off with a strong fourth quarter. How game 5 will go is anyone’s guess. But I think the least likely scenario is a repeat of game 4. I don’t think that being on the road has any effect on the Cavaliers. They were one 10 foot put back away from winning in regulation in game one. Without a furious fourth quarter comeback, game 2 would have been put away easily by the Cavs. It wasn’t, and that might be the only pause for Cleveland fans about that game and the series.
The Cavaliers must find a way to control the game and the tempo as they did in the first three games. They have a player called LeBron James that has a proven capability to do just that. It seems that the Cavaliers would have a problem coming back from way down to win, even though it is possible if they have the energy. So the Warrior role players need to be contested “slightly” to make the game less likely to get out of control. They shot for an uncharacteristically high percentage and did so on some completely uncontested shots. The Cavs have revealed their strategy pretty clearly as they are absolutely happy to have Green and Iguodala crank up shots and threes keeping the ball out of Curry’s and Thompson’s hands. However, they need to contest them slightly and not let them shoot like they are in warmups. So, if the Warriors rely on the exact same strategy as last game, the result could be quite different as long as the Cavs adjust.
Obviously game 5 is a key game and could be the turning point in the series. For the Warriors, they feel that they have already had their “turning point” game. For the Cavaliers, they see game 5 that way. As I said, the Finals will be won by the team with the most heart and determination to win. For tonight, I give that advantage to the Cavs and I think the Cavs “break them” in game 6 as they did every other team in these playoffs. No one other than Cleveland’s fantastic fans expect them to win. A few stragglers in the media persist but they are the vast minority.
I absolutely believe that not one Warrior player has any fleeting thought that they can lose this series. I also fervently hope that every Cleveland player knows they will lose if they don’t play every second to win. That is the Cleveland Cavalier’s unquestioned edge in a tight series. I think I am right. I still have Cavs in six.