CLEVELAND — Trailing 2-1 in the NBA Finals, it was natural to expect Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to make some sort of adjustment heading into Game 4. He did, alright, deploying a handful of moves that tipped Game 4 into Golden State’s tempo, helping them defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 103-82, evening the series at 2-2.
Here’s a look at what went right and wrong in Game 4…
Right: After allowing Cleveland to dictate pace and progress for the majority of Games 1 through 3, in Game 4 the Warriors shook things up by benching center Andrew Bogut and instead starting forward Andre Iguodala for the first time all season. Considering the Cavs had been dominant on the boards, going small had potential to work against the Warriors. Although Cleveland got off to a 7-0 start, The Warriors quickly bounced back and closed the quarter by outscoring the Cavs, 31-17. Kerr also had the Warriors double-team LeBron James more often, and inserted David Lee into the rotation, all moves that helped the Warriors regain the tempo and swagger they played with throughout the season.
“We controlled the tempo and the rhythm of the game,” said Steve Kerr. “But that, I think, had more to do with us competing and getting to long rebounds and loose balls. I thought the first three games they were the more competitive team. Maybe it’s our first trip to The Finals, we thought we can play hard. It’s not just about playing hard. It’s about playing every single possession like it’s your last. And I thought tonight our effort took a step up and that’s why we were able to win.”
Wrong: With the Warriors focused on making LeBron give up the ball, James finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists. That’s a terrific line to be certain, but James’s lowest scoring total of the Finals. While James is happy to play the role of facilitator, his teammates weren’t able to do their part, combining for just 22 made field goals. Although he scored 20 points in Game 3, Matthew Dellavedova finished Game 4 with 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting with 3 turnovers. After arriving for Game 4 on a hands-free scooter, J.R. Smith went 0-for-8 on 3-pointers. He also left on that scooter. “I think also the fact that we didn’t make shots tonight from outside, that really had an impact on [LeBron’s] ability to find seams and to score the ball,” said Cleveland coach David Blatt. “Because there is a dynamic to that. When you’re constantly, constantly on the defensive end, it’s just like in football with possession time. When your defense is on the field all the time, you know you’re in trouble.”
Right: Before this season, Andre Iguodala had started every game of his NBA career. This season, he didn’t start a single game. So when Steve Kerr moved Iggy into the starting five on Thursday, it was nothing new. Iguodala reacted as such, finishing with a team-leading 22 points in 39 minutes, and contributing 8 boards and tough defense against LeBron James. The front line of Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green gives up size to the Cavs, but also provides the Warriors with a versatility and ability to stretch the floor they don’t have when Bogut is in the game.
Wrong: It’s no surprise to note that the Cavaliers’ depth is being tested right now — with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao all out injured, the Cavs’ roster was sure to be tested. But the Cavs aren’t able to get anything of value out of Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins, Joe Harris, Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion. It’s nice to have veteran leadership and locker room presence, but it would probably be nicer right now for Cleveland to get some minutes out of these guys. The Cavs were reduced to using a 7-man rotation for the majority of the game, including 18 minutes from James Jones, a 3-point specialist who only shot one trey. Against the newly revitalized Golden State offense, the Cavs looked increasingly slow and worn down. And there are no options remaining to be played for coach David Blatt from the bench for the Cavs.
Right: Through injury and necessity, the Cavaliers have discovered a nice two-man team in the post in Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. And in Game 4, Mozgov had his most effective game of The Finals, finishing with 28 points and 10 boards. Golden State went small, and the 28-year-old seven-footer made them pay, repeatedly backing the ball in and finding easy buckets, and also displaying a nice sense of timing within the offense and understand when to flash to the rim. The Cavs had to give up two first-round picks to get Mozgov, a haul that seemed questionable at the time. If he keeps playing like this, it might even seem like a bargain.
Wrong: Just before halftime, LeBron James took a foul and landed among the cameramen on the baseline, slicing open his head and requiring stitches following the game. “I was just hoping I wasn’t bleeding,” said James. “But obviously the camera cut me pretty bad. Our medical staff did a great job of stopping the bleeding. I knew I had to shoot the free throws or I wasn’t going to be able to come back into the game, so it didn’t matter what was going on with my head at that point in time. I had to go up there and shoot those free throws so I could continue to play.”
Right: One more right, at least for tonight, as Golden State’s Shaun Livingston came off the bench and scored only 7 points, but he finished with a plus-minus rating of +25 in 24 minutes of play. Livingston is in many ways emblematic of all the things that made the Warriors so dangerous this season. At 6-foot-7 with guard skills, Livingston is ideal as a secondary defender, coming over to double-team and distracting a ball-handler. He’s also big enough to switch on screens, and at least momentarily defend James until help arrives.