The Golden State Warriors had set this Game 5 up at home for the stuff of legends. They had reacted to LeBron James' bait of Draymond Green in a way that was equivalent to Babe Ruth calling his shot down the right field line. Despite James' stature as one of the greatest players of all time, and other than a miscue in 2011, one of the clutchest and greatest big-time spotlight players of all time, the Warriors shot their shot. On Tuesday night, it backfired.
James completely controlled the game throughout the first three quarters. Despite Klay Thompson's hot shooting, Andre Iguodala's steady decision-making, Anderson Varejao's crowd-amping heroics, the Warriors fell feebly. They did not score in the last six minutes and could only watch in defeat as Kyrie irving ran up, around, and through them in the fourth quarter as James took a backseat.
The Warriors had a chance to add to their vast lore by clinching a title at home without their heartbeat. Instead, the story became the Cleveland Cavaliers ability to harness their superstar's shot making to steal one on the road before bringing it back home. In a season full of arrogant speech, nonstop chatter, and the taunting of opponents, the Warriors got a taste of their own medicine in a game where they sorely missed their own identity. This was reality without Draymond Green and the Warriors found out on the highest stage.
After the game, the Warriors and Cavs both declined to add much more ammo to the pregame fireworks from the days before. Klay even admitted that Irving got the better of him all game. Irving later added that this would be a performance tough to match. A performance that James admitted was one of the greatest he's ever seen. And despite the silent locker room and the dismayed looks, one can start to understand the difference between these two teams.
The Cavaliers made tough shot after impossible shot, with 29 unassisted field goals. Yes, they were all spectacular and one of the best performances I've ever seen at Oracle Arena, but how sustainable? The Warriors will always live with the process over the result. The Cavs seem intent on thriving with the result no matter the process. Or yet, not worry about the process as long as the result comes out to their liking. And that is perhaps what makes the Warriors coaching staff so great. They are willing to ride through the rough patches of unsustainable failures.
About 48 percent of their shots in Game 5 were uncontested. They made 16 out of those 43 shots and 14 out of 41 total three pointers. Considering this Warriors team is quite good at making shots, those seem to be numbers that would appear to right themselves if not by simply going into the basket, but with an easier rhythm with Green back on the floor.
This approach -- trust the process, trust the open looks you've generated, take stock of the situation and find something to use to your advantage -- has been the Warriors' trademark these past few years. Never truly threatened and on the brink until the Oklahoma City Thunder series, they have instead referred back to their calling card during losses. It usually isn't the other team that's outplayed them. On the other hand, it's their own missed shots, turnovers, and defensive breakdowns that have contributed to these losses. On Tuesday night, all of those remained true, if not amplified by the giant gap in the middle of their world-class defense.
When they were down to the Memphis Grizzlies, it was their defense that shifted the balance of the series. Against the Cavs last season, it was their shooting and floor balance that brought them back. Finally on the brink, it was their defense and miraculous shooting against the Thunder. Now after failing to complete the shot they called against LeBron and the Cavs, the Warriors will take solace in their own lack of shot-making, and the return of Draymond Green.
For them, the 3-2 lead still holds some margin of error. Against one of the greatest players of all time, compounded with Andrew Bogut's injury, and a shakier bench after Game 5, that comfort starts to slash itself a little more. With just two total games left in the season, and the next one in Cleveland, the Warriors hope that the their process can trump the Cavs' result.