HANG TIME BIG CITY — For most of the first four games of the 2015 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors watched helplessly as the Cleveland Cavaliers threw an anchor around the series and slowed the tempo to a crawl. But in Game 5, the Warriors went small and stayed that way, and they made the pace seem like the fast forward button was stuck, as Golden State ran away for a 104-91 win. Now, in 48 hours, the series will shift to Cleveland, where the Warriors will have a chance to win their first NBA championship in four decades. Before we reach that point, here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 5.
Right: After four games in which he played well if not transcendent, Stephen Curry looked like the NBA’s MVP down the stretch during Game 5, finishing with 37 points on 7-of-13 from behind 3-point range. He started slow but built to a crescendo, scoring 17 in the fourth quarter to lead the Warriors to the win. Curry makes shots that most players get benched for even attempting, where he over dribbles, pump fakes multiple times, waits until a defender gets closer to him, and then still drains the shot. His game is unorthodox, but the results are valid. “I thought from the very beginning when they went small, had their shooters out there, I thought, ‘This is Steph’s night,'” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr. “‘This is going to be a big one for him because he has all that room.’ He took over the game down the stretch and was fantastic.”
Right: Only once in the history of the NBA has the NBA Finals MVP come from the team that lost the NBA Finals (Jerry West in The 1969 Finals, the first year of the award). If the Cavs lose these Finals, LeBron James should still become the second player to be acclaimed even in losing. LeBron James finished Game 5 with 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, his second triple-double in five Finals games this postseason, even in a losing effort for the Cavs. No player in this series has meant as much to his team, night after night, play after play, as James has meant to the Cavaliers — even in a losing effort. Even if Golden State wins this series, LeBron James has been the most valuable player.
Wrong: It’s a weird NBA when you get benched for being too tall. And yet, that’s essentially what happened to Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov. In Game 4, Mozgov finished with 28 points and 10 boards against Golden State’s smaller lineups. But even though he started Game 5, Cleveland coach David Blatt benched Mozgov after five minutes and he didn’t see the court again until the second half. Mozgov finished with no points and no rebounds in nine minutes. Sometimes coaches make moves in reaction to what the other coach is doing. Sometimes coaches make moves and demand the opponent react. Mozgov getting benched seemed completely reactionary. “Listen, when you’re coaching a game, you’ve got to make decisions,” said Blatt. “I felt that the best chance for us to stay in the game and to have a chance to win was to play it the way that we played it. It’s no disrespect to anyone, certainly not to Timo who has done a great job for us. That’s just the way that we played it tonight, and Timo will be back and he will not lose his way or lose his head just because he didn’t play a lot tonight.”
Right: Draymond Green has been Golden State’s most versatile player this season, with the ability to defend multiple positions and attack multiple players offensively. While Green struggled early in The Finals, he’s continued to find his footing as the series has progressed. In Game 5 he was at his best yet, finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists. More importantly, Green pressed the action and made plays instead of watching them made, including a double foul early on involving Matthew Dellavedova and drawing a charge on J.R. Smith.
Wrong: While this Cavs team is obviously ravaged by injury, when they’ve won games they’ve had to rely on contributions from supporting players like Dellavedova and Smith. But after Delly and Smith combined to go 2-for-17 from three in Game 4, they followed that up with another uneven effort in Game 5. While Smith started hot, with 14 points in the first half, he didn’t score in the second half. Meanwhile, in the first few games Dellavedova had proven his worth as a player who could contribute without always posting big scoring numbers. But in Game 5, Delly finished with five points and a -19 plus/minus rating. The man who was the toast of Ohio early on in the series seems to be coming back down to earth.
Right: Warriors coach Steve Kerr moved Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup in Game 4, and he responded with 22 points as he helped the Warriors win. Tonight in Game 5, Iguodala stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. On defense, Iguodala guarded James throughout, making things as tough as one can make them against the most complete player in the League. “[Iguodala] does everything for us,” said Kerr. “He’s our best defender on LeBron. He’s an incredible decision maker. I mean, seven assists, no turnovers. He rebounds. He guards everybody. When he’s off LeBron, he goes on to a shooter and stays at home with the shooters and challenges shots. He’s a brilliant defensive player.”
Wrong: In every game of this series, the Cavs have been within striking distance heading into the fourth quarter, but haven’t been able to expand their lead. In Game 4, the Cavs were outscored 27-12 in the fourth quarter. In Game 5, the Warriors outscored the Cavs 31-24, leading to their win. No team ever likes to use fatigue as an excuse, but the cavaliers and clearly tiring, night after night, as the games reach the latter stages. But at this point, while squeezing every second of time out of an eight-man rotation, the Cavs don’t have many more options available.