It was hard to know which of the two starting centers in the 2015 Finals, Golden State’s Andrew Bogut or Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov, had a rougher night Thursday in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Bogut certainly qualified because he wound up as the Warriors’ not-starting center when coach Steve Kerr opted to “go small” to put more spacing and pace in his team’s offense. Bogut, the veteran 7-footer who had been touted all season as an indispensable defender in the paint and a gifted passer and screener in Golden State’s attack, wound up playing in his team’s 103-82 victory for just 2:46.
Even Kendrick Perkins, the Cavaliers’ deep-reserve big, played more than that Thursday.
This came on the heels of a Game 3 performance in which Bogut played only 17:07. His time has diminished with each game and he’s chipping in only 2.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game after averaging 6.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 23.6 mpg in the regular season. Bogut had called himself out, in fact, prior to Game 4 for not doing enough to help.
“I need to play better,” Bogut had said. “There is no excuse for it. To say you’re tired, injuries, Finals, minutes, there’s no excuse for it. Just be aggressive and hopefully have a good game.”
Adding insult to inactivity. Bogut took heat from some precincts for his post-Game 4 comments stating that LeBron James jumped into the baseline cameraman on the play in which the Cavs star suffered a gash on his head. The Australian center fouled James under the basket and his sprawl into the area behind the basket where photographers sit drove his head right into an NBA Entertainment camera lens.
“Yeah, I think he came down and took two steps and then fell into the cameraman,” Bogut said. “I definitely, definitely didn’t hit him that hard.”
Ordinarily Mozgov might figure to be the reason for Bogut’s struggles. The 7-foot-1 Russian had gotten the better of their clashes early in the series. But with Bogut yielding to Andre Iguodala in Kerr’s reconfigured lineup, Mozgov had a career night – 28 points, 10 rebounds.
Mozgov couldn’t fully enjoy it, though, beyond the Cleveland defeat. He felt his points were due, at least in part, to Bogut’s absence and a sense that the Warriors were conceding some things to him and Tristan Thompson to better hold down James and others. Also, Mozgov got visibily frustrated having to defend, or chase anyway, Iguodala and other wing far from his comfort zone.
“I always want to stay in the paint and protect the paint,” Mozgov said. “They tried the stretch defense, whatever they’re doing. We’ve got three more games and we all have to learn something from this game.”
Said James: “When your big is accustomed to guarding a big for three straight games and there is a change, now our big, meaning Timo, has to make a change. He has to guard a smaller guy, which he’s not been accustomed to ever.”