Cleveland made the on-going NBA Finals a bit interesting by scoring a 137-116 win at home to prevent Golden State from sweeping the best-of-seven series. Now 3-1, Game 5 of the series moves back to Oakland on Wednesday morning here in Manila. The Golden State Warriors (GSW) blasted the Cleveland Cavaliers (CLE) in Games 1 and 2 at home by an average winning margin of 20.5 points. And in Game 3, held in Cleveland, the Warriors made an amazing comeback in the final few minutes, after trailing for the most part, to hack out the 118-113 victory for a 3-0 lead in the series.
At that point, most everyone spoke about a probable sweep by GSW, except the Cavs. With their backs against the wall, Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – the Cavs’ Big Three – had to take matters in their hands to avert a shut out in the finals, especially at home. It was the first time in the series that the three superstars all had NBA All-Star numbers together, with Irving exploding for 40 markers, and James posting his ninth career triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, and Love shooting 6-of-8 treys for 23 points.
Even more amazing was the Cavs’ record-breaking 49 points in the first quarter. 49 in just 12 minutes of play? You only see that in an All-Star game. And to think that they did that against the league’s third best defensive team.They had 86 points by halftime too, before finishing the game with 137 (the all-time single game record is 148 set by Boston in 1985). These are all NBA record numbers. Oh, and they unloaded 24 three-bombs on GSW, with a remarkable 53.3% shooting clip, again against the NBA’s most popular three-point sniping squad.
GSW wasn’t so bad offensively, even surpassing its Game 1 output. But Stephen Curry, the former MVP, only came up with 14 points, just half of his playoffs scoring average. Klay Thompson only had 13 points. Kevin Durant, another former MVP and the likely 2017 Finals MVP, led the Warriors with 35, followed by Draymond Green’s 16.
I wrote in my previous columns that for CLE to beat GSW, James and Irving would need to have 30-plus games, and Love, Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson would have to contribute substantial numbers. Smith added 15 crucial markers in Game 4 and it helped a lot.
But despite Cleveland’s extraordinary game, the Warriors kept clawing back in the game, and up until the final minute, nobody was too sure the Cavs would pull it off.
The question now is if the Cavs can repeat this sort of greatness in Game 5, to be able to extend the series. It will be tougher, of course, to do the same feat in hostile grounds. But CLE can boast of once being able to rise from the ashes, when they were down 1-3 last year and still managed to covet the championship. Well, that’s exactly on the Warriors’ minds. And redemption is their battle cry.
Now that Golden State tasted a loss in the playoffs, the pressure on the Warriors eased off a bit. Their last taste of defeat was way back April 10. Going into the finals, they swept the playoffs 12-0. And yes, they were looking at a 16-0 sweep of the entire post-season. But the Cavs are also a great team, and they just had to will the win to avoid disappointing the home crowd.
Expect Game 5 to be very physical. Game 4 already gave us a glimpse of the physicality, like Green’s elbow on Iman Shumpert in the head (which the refs failed to call a technical foul on Draymond), and Zaza Pachulia’s groin shot also on Shumpert. The defense won’t be like in Game 4, that’s for sure. And the Cavs are unlikely to score in the 140’s, or the Warriors in the 130’s like in Game 2. We cannot expect another All-Star game-like contest in Game 5.
For the Cavs to force a Game 6, they need another superb game, at least close to what they did in Game 4. If not, GSW could win it all on Wednesday.