- PG: Stephen Curry
- SG: Klay Thompson
- SF: Harrison Barnes
- PF: Draymond Green
- C: Festus Ezeli
The 2016 NBA Finals are officially interesting, as the series kicks back to Cleveland for an intense game six at Quicken Loans Arena. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were unstoppable in a game five win in Oakland, each pouring in 41 points and taking advantage of a Draymond Green suspension in the process.
The Cavs were supposed to be finished off at the Oracle Arena, a spot where the Warriors lost just twice during the regular season and once in the playoffs. Instead, the Dubs fell flat with a horrific offensive display in the second half and Draymond Green’s absence was heavily felt on the defensive end.
It was clear Golden State were not themselves without a player many would agree is their “heart and soul”. To add injury to insult, the Warriors also lost center Andrew Bogut to a sprained knee, and though he reportedly traveled with the team to Cleveland for Thursday’s game six, it is still unclear if he will hit the floor.
Bogut’s absence could pave the way for an emotional Green to return and dominate, however. Fittingly enough, the Warriors have been an emphatic +54 with Green playing center in their small ball “death lineup” and that may be the approach head coach Steve Kerr will be forced to roll with in a game the Dubs won’t want to lose.
The Warriors fought hard in the first half of game five, keeping things tight with a 61-61 tie at the break. They just couldn’t make up for the loss of Draymond Green for an entire game and as good as the Warriors were offensively to start the game, it paled in comparison to a ridiculous dual performance by James and Irving.
Green should look to be the missing link for the Warriors, who can still end this series in six games if they can manage to hand Cleveland just their second home loss of these playoffs. That’s a tall order, but if the Dubs fall here, that would give them two straight losses and hand the able Cavs all of the momentum – and a chance to win their first ever NBA title – at Oracle Arena in a game seven no one thought would come.
Getting Green back is huge for Golden State for so many reasons. He pulls emotional and energy strings no one else on the roster does (or can), he stops penetration in the paint, he blocks shots, he rebounds and he can mirror defensively with the best of them. He’s another outside shooting threat offensively, while his ball handling and driving ability gives the team an extra guard on the floor at all times.
There was a feeling the Warriors had such a strong home court edge that they could wrap up the Finals with Green watching the game on a television, but that wasn’t to be. Instead, their story will need to be Green returning from a one-game ban to come to the rescue.
Unfortunately, it can’t be just about Green. Harrison Barnes fell off the face of the earth in game five, shooting 2-for-14, while league MVP Stephen Curry also shrunk in the face of adversity at the worst possible time. It was Klay Thompson (37 points) who tried to put the team on his back and win a second straight championship for the Warriors – but he couldn’t get it done alone.
For the Warriors to close this thing out in Cleveland on Thursday, they need a full team effort. Their defense needs to be back where it was in games one, two and four. Green needs to make LeBron James and Kyrie Irving think twice about driving as much as they did in game five. And possibly more important than anything, Curry needs to play like a guy who just won his second straight MVP.
The Cleveland Cavaliers probably aren’t thrilled that they got themselves in a nasty 3-1 hole, but considering the circumstances, they have to like the spot they’re in. LeBron James and co. are in a similar spot that the Warriors were in a round ago, except in game six they’re on their home court trying to force a game seven.
James has proven throughout his career that he will not go quietly into the night. His 32 points per game in elimination games showed us that and his 41 points on Monday made it even clearer.
The problem is that can’t stop. Cleveland gets a boost with the series shifting in front of their home crowd, but the Cavs have not been getting enough support from their bench and their defense hasn’t always been spot on. Truth be told, their defense was not nearly as great as some would suggest it was in game five. Rather, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed several wide open looks and Golden State also made numerous sloppy passes.
With Draymond Green back and the Warriors likely to be more dialed in than ever, the Cavs can’t afford to take a step back. One might point to added effort from a supporting cast member like Kevin Love or J.R. Smith, but they simply haven’t been reliable.
Instead, if Cleveland is to accomplish the unthinkable and force a game seven, James and Irving may need to be just as unstoppable in this game as they were on Monday. The good news is they are at home and Vegas doesn’t see a win here as “unthinkable” at all. It’s winning game seven that is up in the air. Of course, the Cavs need to get there first, and to pull it off they’ll probably need another epic onslaught from their two best players.
If you really think about it, this series has gone exactly as it should. The Warriors are amazing at home, play better defense and have a deeper, more active bench. That all panned out as we thought it could, and Golden State went up, 2-0.
Game three shifted the series to Cleveland, where a desperate Cavs team refused to lose for the first time in these playoffs, leaned on their home crowd and amped up their defense to keep these Finals from trending into sweep.
|6/13/16||Cavaliers 112, Warriors 97|
|6/10/16||Warriors 108, Cavaliers 97|
|6/8/16||Cavaliers 120, Warriors 90|
|6/5/16||Warriors 110, Cavaliers 77|
|6/2/16||Warriors 104, Cavaliers 89|
|1/18/16||Warriors 132, Cavaliers 98|
|12/25-15||Warriors 89, Cavaliers 83|
|6/16/15||Warriors 105, Cavaliers 97|
|6/14/15||Warriors 104, Cavaliers 91|
|6/11/15||Warriors 103, Cavaliers 82|
|6/9/15||Cavaliers 96, Warriors 91|
|6/7/15||Cavaliers 95, Warriors 93 (OT)|
|6/4/15||Warriors 108, Cavaliers 100 (OT)|
The Warriors battled back to show they were indeed the favorite and that The Splash Brothers couldn’t be contained forever, pulling away late for a convincing game four win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Then came game five, where Draymond Green was suspended, the Cavs got the edge they needed and LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played out of their minds. Just like that, the series was cut to 3-2, we’re headed back to Cleveland and there is a very real chance at a seventh game.
On paper, the Warriors remain the better team. They’ve won in Cleveland before, they’re getting Draymond Green back and as fun as it’d be to win a title on their home floor, they have to know allowing this to go another game severely works against them.
As we’ve seen across this series, though, starpower, home court edge, would-be x-factors – none of that really matters in the end. Defensive intensity is always what wins out when these two teams battle. Can the Cavs limit Golden State’s elite shooting and/or stop them from getting easy baskets? Can James get past the Warriors’ collection of defenders and have an impact on the game? Can Irving’s mid-range game take over, or will Klay Thompson force him into a slump?
Over the course of this series, stretching all the way back to 2015, the loser has been held under 100 points in every game but one (an Overtime battle in game one of last year’s Finals). That could tell us this game (and series) may come down to the fourth quarter in game six and who can execute when it matters most. Will the return of Draymond Green sway Golden State’s odds and hand them another title, or will James step up and get past the Warriors defense to prolong the series and push Cleveland one step further to accomplishing the impossible?
Here’s the skinny: Either the Warriors are going to end this thing in game six at Cleveland, just like they did a year ago, or the Cavs very well might pull off the first comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. Cleveland winning two in a row and getting to game seven would only benefit the Warriors on paper, as they’d have a third chance to win their second straight title and they’d get to do it at home.
The Dubs are better than waiting for that third opportunity, however. They get their heart and soul back in Draymond Green and two things happened in game six that probably won’t happen again: Cleveland’s top two players played out of their freaking minds and Golden State completely disappeared in the second half. Stephen Curry will show up, Klay Thompson will help out and Draymond Green will fuel the elite Warriors defense we’re used to seeing. It should be close and it should be intense, but this is Golden State’s title to lose. Look for them to go get it on Thursday night.
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