The Steve Kerr Golden State Warriors are a (insert favorite sports car here). High-performance output, sleek and dangerous in the passing lane, expensive (ask Joe Lacob's wallet, and patrons of Oracle Arena). They also require tune-up, and constant attention from mechanics in order to achieve that nirvana of peak performance.
The check engine light came on in Game Three in Cleveland a couple nights ago. The balletic Splash Bros. were roughed up around the perimeter, though that was far from a groundbreaking scheme against them. The entire defense seemed a step slow and untalkative, though that was exacerbated by Cavalier role players hitting shots better at home versus on the road. Draymond Green nearly airballed a free throw in the first quarter but... there was a draft in the building?
stooges announcers Jeff van Gundy and Mark Jackson openly expounded tonight on what went wrong in Game Three, as they watched the Warriors put forth a much grittier, hungry performance in Game Four en route to a victory and a mountainous (but not impregnable) 3-1 series lead. It was the Cavaliers defense. Or their heart.
The Cavaliers absolutely snatched the opportunity presented to them and blasted the scissor-doors off the Warriors' sports car. They need to be credited for that. But they did little to proactive create that opportunity for themselves. The Warriors simply broke down on the side of the road. Mentally, and a little bit physically.
Game Four was not like Game Three. The Warriors seldom break down mentally on their own. The single most terrifying sight in the modern day NBA is to see a frustrated Stephen Curry bow his head and chew on his mouthpiece as he trots down the court. The second most intimidating sight is to see a muzzled Draymond Green bite his tongue, when his motor mouth stalls out in sheer indignation.
The Warriors channeled their frustrations, with themselves and their performance, into sharper execution. It wasn't a magnum opus performance by any means. It was gritty, not clean. There were open shots that clanked; behind-the-back passes thrown into wine-and-gold jerseys; missed defensive switches that resulted in painful open Cleveland shots. The margin of error is relatively large with these Cavaliers, though. The Warriors did enough.
Draymond Green was fantastic on defense. As the prescient coach Kerr texted Green on the eve of a dominant Game Two, this is a Draymond series on both ends of the floor. He was fantastic as an omnipresent ghoul on defense, mopping up his team's mistakes on multiple possessions. Stephen Curry shot a bit like Stephen Curry. He still doesn't seem to be hitting top speed on either side of the floor, and a couple traps caused him to recoil to the point where it didn't seem as if he thought himself physically able to break them himself. But he did enough.
Harrison Barnes was the one Warrior to have a strong showing in both Cleveland games. He did enough.
Anderson Varejao might have just swung the momentum in an NBA Finals game. James Michael McAdoo played commendably in his role, especially considering the caldera Kerr threw him into. Say what you will (and some of you will say quite a lot), but the Tarheels on this roster stay prepared to play.
The Warriors broke down on the road in Game Three. They didn't quite hit top speed in Game Four. But they did enough to pass LeBron James' puttering Winnebago on the shoulder. Now the two traveling bands of superstars and castaways are racing down Interstate 880. They'll play Game Five on Monday at 6 PM.