Golden State finally got back to playing their style of basketball by dictating the pace and forcing the opposition to ultimately play into their hand in their big Game 4 win.
I mentioned in a short article on Thursday that the Warriors were being out-competed by the Cavs and seemed to be playing a bit tentatively. Draymond Green was passing up open three's and was not getting any calls when taking the ball to the basket which was usually in a clogged lane. The Warriors looked shell shocked by the animalistic physicality the Cavs have been bringing to this series.
As Draymond put it best, "I told you guys the other day that we've been soft, and it's all my fault," Green said. "This is just a street fight ... I think if we played as hard as we were playing the last couple of games, we would have won probably 67 regular-season games, but we would have lost the Finals 4‑1. That's what we had to change." (Mahoney, Sports Illustrated)
And that is exactly what the Dubs did — fight back. The Warriors were finally the aggressor for the first time in the series since the overtime period of Game 1.
Not having Andrew Bogut on the court gave the Dubs the right amount of spacing that allowed the ball to move quickly and efficiently thus leading to open driving lanes and eventually open 3-pointers. Golden State did a great job of putting the pressure on the Cavs defense with their spacing and ball movement — apparently, Timofey Mosgov has not mastered the art of verticality, as he was finally called for a foul and was subsequently told to shut up by referee Joey Crawford for whining. The Warriors played with an extra step and an edge that Cleveland has not really seen all series.
It was nice to see Draymond beat his chest and yell all over the court. It was also nice to see Andre Iguodala break out his crouched 3-ball pose a couple of times. Hell, even Steph Curry is finally starting to punk Matthew Dellavedova.
So are we finally starting to see the weary Cavs wear thin? While the Warriors' rotation basically only included seven players much like the Cavs, it is the overall depth of the team that is grinding down Cleveland — having the ability to pluck a multiple all-star from the end of your bench who has everything in the world to prove on the games highest stage. Saying DLee has "everything in the world" to prove is quite the subjective evaluation, but the basketball player ego inside me feels that Lee wants to prove his worth to both the fans and his teammates that he is every part important to the success of this team in the playoffs due to his play now and not just work completed in years past.
Regardless, David Lee is healthy and well rested, which can be overwhelming both mentally and physically for Cavs players who have been exuding the necessary extra effort that is needed to beat the Warriors. Lee has given this Warriors group a shot in the arm starting back in Game 3 by coming off the bench with solid focus and inspired energy. Lee fought tooth and nail with the Cavs superior frontline all game long including a couple of nice finishes in the paint due in part to his good floor spacing. I have been on record as not being sold on Lee's overall importance to this team, but DLee deserves all the credit in the world for coming off the bench with intensity and a desire to make a positive impact on the series.
What exactly makes the Cavs seem like they are running out of gas? One thing to make note of was the amount of open shots the Warriors saw in game 4 which was probably more than they saw in the first three games combined. The longer this series goes, the more it plays into the Warriors favor.
Keeping Up the Tempo
With Kerr inserting Iguodala into the starting rotation, the Warriors were clearly committing to their smaller and quicker lineup. Kerr remained committed to keeping the tempo up which obviously plays to the Warriors favor, and this was done by using the quicker and slightly smaller players throughout the entirety of Game 4. The small lineup creates a more frantic pace for the Cavs, allowing the Warriors to move more freely on offense, creating mismatches via defensive switches in the pick and roll game. I would not be surprised if the Cavs try to double team Steph Curry after coming off of the pick and roll.
Shaun Livingston also played a huge game off the bench as his length bothered the Cavaliers guards all night long. In 25 minutes, Livingston stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists as well as a steal and a blocked shot. The Warriors small lineup puts Cleveland head coach David Blatt in a bind, forcing him to make a decision to either leave Timofey Mosgov in the game to play big or counter with a small lineup. Trying to run small against the Warriors would be the equivalent of David Blatt digging his own coaching grave.
With the Warriors going small, Timofey Mosgov was able to be extremely effective on offense by scoring a career high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. But while the Warriors are outmatched down low, they gain an advantage on offense by basically placing Mosgov on an island defensively as he is forced to guard smaller and quicker players like Shuan Livingston and David Lee for periods of time.
"I always want to stay in the paint and protect the paint," Mozgov said, acknowledging Kerr's strategic move to go small. "I need to learn how to play with a small lineup if coach wants me on the court." (Mahoney, Sports Illustrated)
Defensively, the Warriors' small lineup took the ball out of LeBron James' hands, which ultimately sped up the tempo and pace of the game. While the Warriors gave up some easy buckets inside, it was something they were willing to live with.
"You're going to want Mozgov to beat you," Green said. "You're going to take the chance on Mozgov beating you before you take the chance on LeBron beating you. He had a good game, but we were able to slow LeBron down a little bit, and we made [Mozgov] have to run the floor with us, and it worked to our favor." (Mahoney, Sports Illustrated)
Forcing LeBron to pass more did indeed work in the Warriors favor as Cleveland shot 4 for 27 (14.8%) from 3-point land and 33% overall for the game. J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova went a combined 5 for 26 from the field including 2-17 from 3-point range, as well as a negative 39 efficiency rating. Can we credit the Cavs poor shooting a result of tired legs or stingy Warriors defense? I would have to say it is a little bit of both. Dellevadova has yet to prove himself as a consistent role player alongside Smith who has yet to have a big game in this series.
Dubs Return to Oakland Swaggering Boisterously
Steph Curry delivered a solid performance in Game 4 with 22 points and six assists as he finally looked comfortable roaming in the open court and creating shots for himself. The Dubs needed to win Game 4 and to accomplish that goal in the form of a 20-point blowout on the road carries with it the juice needed to take control of this series. A deflating win (including a monstrous 27-12 4th quarter) puts all of the momentum in the Warriors corner which will be felt reverberating off of the walls in Oracle Arena come Sunday evening.
Will Steve Kerr run with the "Nellie-ball" lineup in Game 5, or was he possibly just planning on giving Bogut some much needed rest? Will we even see Bogut on the court for more than 5 minutes at a time for the rest of the series? The Australian big man played only 2 minutes while Festus Ezeli did not play at all, unlike Mo Speights who got in a couple of minutes during garbage time.
If Kerr does go small, how will LeBron and David Blatt counter, if they do at all? Should the Warriors be content with Mosgov eating all day down low, if it means the pace will play to the Warriors favor?
Hopefully all these questions will be answered in Game 5 which will be played at Oracle Arena on Sunday, June 14th at 5 pm PST on ABC.
Just some quick hitters to leave you all with:
- This has been the highest rated NBA Finals of all time through the first 4 games.
- Warriors committed a season low seven Turnovers in game 4. Are the Warriors being less careless, or is there less defensive pressure by the Cavs?
- Klay Thompson scored only nine points, his lowest total of the post-season. But in my opinion produced the picture of the game as he sushed the already quiet Quicken Loans Arena in the final moments of game 4.
- Steph Curry passed Rick Barry for the most points scored in a single post season in franchise history with 532.
- The Warriors have still not lost three consecutive games all season and are 57-0 when leading by 15 or more points in a game.
- Steve Kerr when asked about changing the starting lineup right before tipoff: "I lied," Kerr disclosed in his game 4 presser. "Sorry, but I don't think they hand you the trophy based on morality. They give it to you if you win."
- Breaking news - Steve Kerr is the man.
In the words of the late and ever so great king Al Davis, JUST WIN BABY!
For more on the Warriors' big win, check out our Game 4 storystream.