We saw the first blowout win of the series, a 103-82 rout for the Golden State Warriors to even up the Finals at two games apiece with the Cleveland Cavaliers. With no shortage of plot twists to discuss, the WTLC staff breaks it all down.
1) First blowout win of the series - 103-82 for the Warriors. What was your initial reaction to Game 4?
R.K. Anthony: It is strange going into the fourth game of a seven game series to feel like a team that was leading that series was playing almost a must win game. Unfortunately for a depleted Cleveland squad, that is the way I looked at Thursday's game.
The first 3 games of this series reminded me of the climatic rumble scene in S.E. Hinton's book, "The Outsiders". Socs vs Greasers, the haves vs the have-nots. Being injury free, the Warriors seemed to have all the advantages, but the school of hard knocks and experience carried the day and the Cavs went into Thursday night up 2 to 1.
The Cavs have made the fatal, and possibly inevitable error of letting the Warriors get back up and if Hinton had written a sequel, Game 4 would have probably mirrored it.
Golden State has too many healthy bodies and ten versus seven is proving too much for the Cavaliers to overcome. When Steve Kerr finally started Iguodala, then continued to get productive minutes from David Lee, a valiant Cavs comeback faded late in the third and the Warriors cruised to the first double-digit win of the series.
The Cavs, specifically LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova, look more than just tired and the Warriors don't, it is just that simple. If a team ever needed a three-day break between games it is the Cleveland Cavaliers and that still may not be enough.
If the Cavs are to win this series, they must regain the same relentless defensive intensity they displayed in Games 1 through 3. They cannot win if these games turn into a shootout and now that Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green have finally joined the party and with the series moving back to the west coast, it will take a heroic effort for Cleveland to stem the tide at this point.
Marina Mangiaracina: Golden State got the the line 27 times in Game 4, a series high. The Warriors only got to the line 12 times in Game 3. To me, that was the difference. David Lee obviously played a huge role in the increase, but so did Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Shaun Livingston. I think those three guys were a bit more aggressive because Andrew Bogut wasn't in the game. When Bogut's in the game, the Warriors run around, set screens, and try to get open shots. Bogut is kind of a Perk at this point, in that he's absolutely no threat to shoot or roll to the rim. When Cleveland has the size advantage in the paint, that means they can just play the shot every time Bogut is on the floor. Without Bogut (or Ezeli) on the floor, every Warrior is a threat to score. That gives the Warriors greater room to exploit mismatches, which they did today. I mean, Mozgov had to guard Iguodala, and Iggy made Moz pay.
Of course, the strategy didn't come without drawbacks. The complete lack of rebounding on Golden State's end was apparent from start to finish. Thompson and Mozgov were just eating Golden State alive on the boards all night. Case in point: The Cavs won the rebounding battle by 5, despite losing by 21 points. As a Warriors fan, I'm totally cool with it, because it means that the dubs are doing all they can to play strong interior defense. I mean, this team may have the size of a Don Nelson-run team. But these Warriors don't play pressureD and try to force turnovers. Instead they stay in position, play the shot, and let the rebound go where it may. I like it, because these Warriors are so offensively versatile that they can trigger the break whenever they get the ball. David Blatt will sometimes do the dumb Euro-foul to stop Golden State's break, but that just leads to Golden State free throws anyway.
In any case, I really don't know what Blatt has in store for Game 5. At the end of the day, he's only got 7 guys. Nobody on the bench looks ready to step up, and he has to rely on guys like Dellavedova and Shump to hit high pressure shots. The only way I see the Cavs coming back is J.R. Smith. He could catch fire, or he could just start making good basketball decisions. Either way, both are long shots. LeBron is too tired, and the Cavs just aren't offensively versatile enough to dominate the paint.
Chris Hanneke: I watch every basketball game not involving the Thunder through the lens of the Thunder, and for that reason my reaction was "Man, if only OKC stayed healthy." As good as Cleveland - and by Cleveland I mostly mean LeBron - looked in the first three games, that incredible effort and energy they expelled was bound to catch up to them. That's to the good fortune of a team like the Warriors, who spent an entire season dominating teams and figuring out exactly who they were and what they did well.
That's how you get a guy like Andre Iguodala as a legitimate Finals MVP candidate, and that's how you get a guy like Shaun Livingston to step up and make a series-altering effect on the defensive end. The beauty of a 7-game series is that it weeds out fluky performances and gives a pretty clear picture who the better team is.
Which brings me back to the Thunder. Who knows if a fully healthy OKC team actually makes the leap this year, but it's hard not to watch this series and think, "Man, if they got out of the West, they would have had it." Of course, the Cavs are facing serious injury issues too, and that's just the way these things go. So, bitter as I may be, hanging on to hypotheticals like that only goes so far.
Although, that's before you get into the fact that Kerr made a drastic change to the starting lineup that looks like it may alter the series - as decision that opens up an old wound for Thunder fans. Basically, what I'm trying to say is, I've been pretty grumpy watching these Finals. Even though they've been great!
J.A. Sherman: To quote Agent Smith, "That is the sound of inevitability."
I have a basic rule of thumb when it comes to both games and playoff series where one team is superior to the other. The underdog will be presented with opportunities to shock the system and pull off the upset. There won't be many, but they will be there. The superior team remains superior because they know how to manage through those risky moments, but you can never eliminate them entirely. Cleveland's opportunity to pull the upset of upsets was in LeBron's hands as he let fly with that terrible jumper at the end of game 1. Get a better look, get fouled, or have Shumpert's desperation heave go in, and game 4 would have been a closeout sweep game. That would give the Cavs 4 straight cracks at winning just one more game.
Instead, the Warriors tied up the series by dominating the Cavs in Cleveland, and they look like they've finally adjusted and awoken to the task at hand, just like they did against Memphis. Golden State is going to get better, and the Cavs are going to get worse. After a spirited attempt at recovery in the 3rd quarter, they simply had no energy left in the 4th as the Warriors pulled away. Dellavedova is ailing, Shumpert and J.R. Smith are missing the mark, and LeBron is gassed. Outside of offensive rebound put-backs, he couldn't find the range from any spot, with every jumper fading away and coming up short.
It is the beginning of the end.
2) Who was the MVP of the game? LVP?
Golden State - Andre Iguodala. His veteran leadership was clear from the opening tip. First helping the Warriors weather Cleveland's early lead and then completely shutting LeBron James down in the 1st quarter. Why did Kerr wait this long to start him? He has been Golden State's best player the entire series.
Cleveland - Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson look like the last two Cavs left standing but Mozgov's 28 points gets him the nod.
Golden State - Andrew Bogut only contributing two minutes and 46 seconds to the Warrior cause. However, if knocking the best player on the planet flying into press row to split his head on a camera were his sole duties, maybe I am being too harsh.
Cleveland - J.R. Smith shoots a horrendous 16% and puts up the dreaded goose egg from beyond the arc. Really JR? Two stinkers from JR have turned into two Cavalier losses. This one clearly isn't all on J.R. but Cleveland needed a lift tonight, not a dud.
Marina: My MVP has got to be Andre Iguodala. Curry was terrible until the second half, and it looked for a while like Golden State would dig themselves another first half hole. But then, bam, Iguodala was 4-7 in the first and leading Golden State's offense. Iggy also hit a couple of really demoralizing shots in the fourth to help keep Golden State on top. None of his shots were particularly impressive-looking, but he knew exactly where to be on the floor. And of course, his defense on Lebron was amazing as always. By my count, Iggy only got burned twice.
For LVP, I hate hating on J.R. Smith. Everyone knows J.R. is a basketball knucklehead who makes bad decisions. I guess it's just frustrating because we all know J.R. can be so much better. Where's the guy who scored over 20 points 13 times this season? Where's the guy who was essential to a couple victories in the conference finals against the Hawks? I just keep getting the feeling that J.R. is only out to make himself look good, and it's really dragging himself and the Cavaliers down. Bad fouls, bad shots.
Chris: Of the game? Iguodala. Though Livingston's defense was pretty impactful as well. As for LVP's, I'd list them as follows: J.R. Smith, J.R. Smith's segway, Joey Crawford, the camera dude that gashed LeBron's head, the camera dude that stayed on LeBron and got the already-infamous dick shot and Joey Crawford one more time.
Sherman: Iggy is the popular choice and for good reason, right down to the fact that he was apparently mocking LeBron over a faux-injury.
Draymond Green is another great choice, because he finally made everyone aware at how he can singularly swing games with his all around play. He finally knocked down some jumpers and avoided foul trouble, but it was his handling the middle of the court on offense, similarly to the way Blake Griffin does in Los Angeles, that spelled Cleveland's doom. Green made the right passes (6 assists), finally forcing the Cavs defense to succumb to helping, which led to more open looks for Harrison Barnes (2-5 from three) and Iguodala (4-9 from three). Massive impact.
But in the end I'm giving MVP to Shaun Livingston, who kept the bench potent after having Iggy move to the starting line-up. Livingston is making it happen despite having a jump shot that barely makes it past the FT line. But in 25 minutes, 7 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block. Livingston has come a long way to make it back to this level of competition, and I am very happy for him.
LVP: J.R. Smith. He's the one Cavalier wild card who can flip the storyline. He lit up the Bulls and Hawks, but he's drawing nothing but iron now, and his 0-8 shooting from three makes him useless on offense.
Then again, he did do this before the game:
3) On that topic, who the heck wins Finals MVP if the Warriors pull off the series win? Could LeBron pull off a 1969 Jerry West and win it even if the Cavs lose?
R.K.: There are at least two games left and possibly three, so there is still more drama to come, and I do mean drama. If the Warriors win the series, the MVP title is Iguodala's to lose at this point. He has been the Warriors best overall player and his footprint on Game 4 is undeniable.
Forever the optimist and champion of the underdog, and even though all indications point to the Warriors ending this in six, I am not ready to concede the championship to the Warriors.... yet. There are two three-day breaks left in the series. Unfortunately for the Cavs, the breaks end on the Warriors' home court, but Cleveland has already won a game in hostile territory once. If the Cavs can somehow force a Game 7, LeBron would be a strong candidate to pull off a "Jerry West" if the Cavs keep a Game 7 loss close.
Marina: That was another era. Could you imagine a Warrior trophy ceremony where the MVP isn't presented? There's millions more people watching and caring about the Finals than there were back then, so decisions like that have to be made a lot more carefully.
Of course, if LeBron takes this to seven and goes down like a champ, there's a tiny chance. But if it did happen, I'd probably hear about it on the BBC and NPR the next day. That how huge of a surprise it would be.
Chris: Yes. I'm sure it won't happen that way because we've reached this weird point where winning carries more weight that transcendent performances. I just find it hard to believe that, no matter what Steph or Klay or Iggy would do over the next 2-3 games, it would be anywhere near as MVPish as what Lebron is doing. He's taking a truly terrible roster and carrying them to a competitive series against one of the best teams of the past decade. It's absolutely incredible, and if he can't get another ring for it, he should still get an MVP out of it.
Sherman: There is no way LeBron wins in losing, because the MVP is as much a marketing tool as anything. It's practically the WWE championship belt. You put it on the guy who will make people the most happy.
There are still two games left where Stephen Curry can go full NBA Jam and take it from Iguodala, but up to this point, no Warrior has made as big of an impact on this series than he, and I expect he will follow in the steps of Kawhi Leonard in that a role player wins the day.
4) How freaking gutsy of a move was it for Steve Kerr to start Andre Iguodala in Andrew Bogut's place? Thoughts on how it worked?
R.K.: Gutsy? Smart is more like it. Iguodala is the Warriors' most effective defensive weapon against LeBron James and their most consistent offensive player as well. Add giving Andrew Bogut's minutes to David Lee to Kerr's list of smart adjustments. The Warriors need David Lee's offense more than they need Andrew Bogut's size. Both Iguodala and Lee have been effective because they have gone at these games with no fear.
Marina: It was the only move to make. Iguodala's stats were up, Bogut's were down. Earlier in the year, Iguodala had been benched in favor of Draymond Green, simply because Green was playing out of his mind. Iggy wasn't happy about the benching at the time, but took it like a champ. Plus, the Warriors had seen a good deal of success with that small lineup in the past. Rebounding was definitely a concern, but using the board-happy David Lee off the bench helped to offset some of that.
Chris: Again, this opens up some old wounds in Thunder land. Even more fascinating was this story about the 28-year old video coordinator that came up with the idea. I don't know whether that revelation makes me respect Kerr even more, or question him entirely. It was clear they needed to do something, and this seemed like a logical move. It seems insane that it took a random kid in the video booth to see that.
Then again, it takes even more for a coach to trust his people enough to use their ideas. You think any video guys in 2012 texted Brooks at 3 in the morning? I feel like if I was on that staff (a boy can dream) I would have just sent him link after link of the columns roasting him, begging for some sort of change.
So, credit to Kerr for having good people on his staff, credit to that staff for actually being thoughtful enough to think of new ideas this late in the game, and credit again to Kerr for being a cool boss and shouting out the employee that helped him out. Hopefully Billy Donovan answers his texts.
Sherman: We knew that he'd have to do something. The Warriors have adjusted in too many ways throughout the playoffs to think they'd keep rolling out the same campaign that fails in the same way (oh Lord). He's pragmatic and he listens to his very good coaching staff. I personally thought the switch would involve David Lee in some way, maybe to get the pace flowing and let Draymond come off the bench and keep Iggy where he was getting the job done. But credit again to he and Livingston, who showed that the coaching move had little downside and turned the game into a rout.
5) Make your call for Game 5.
R.K.: Steve Kerr has made his move, now it is David Blatt's turn. When I saw the trainers trying to rub the cramps out of LeBron's legs after the fourth quarter alley-oop dunk in Game 3and read about Dellavedova being hospitalized after Game 3, I felt the Cavs were in serious trouble going in Thursday night.
The Warriors have the best home record in the NBA this season so the chances of winning 2 more on the road would be a pipe dream for the Cavs so they have to win game 6 no matter what. At this point the Cavs need a miracle so my suggestion to David Blatt is to go "old school". Old as in experience. The Cavs have 2 aging NBA Finals veterans in 35-year-old Mike Miller and 37-year-old Shawn Marion and both are very likely looking at their last chance at a ring.
It's time to wipe the dust off these guys in Game 5 and tell them to use every veteran trick in the book to frustrate the Warriors as much as possible. Obviously, their best days are behind them and the strategy is not necessarily to win game 5 but sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war. Blatt needs to tap into these "old dudes" primary value at this point..... minutes. Valuable minutes that may allow LeBron James and Dellavedova time to recover from the effort they put forth in the first 3 games and be ready to go all out to win game 6 and then game 7 after the last three-day break.
"If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected ."
The Cavs are running out of options and who knows. maybe the "old dudes" can get in a few licks and teach the Cav's youngsters a trick or two along the way but the Warriors win game 5 at home.
Marina: Gotta go with my Warriors. Golden State just has too many options at this point. If they want paint defense, Bogut and Ezeli are there. Need rebounds? Go to David Lee. Need points? Go to the Speights cadet. Heck, if the Warriors needed a guard, Justin Holiday is an excellent defensive option that no one's seen yet.
Granted, Curry and Klay have looked very, very human over these past couple of games. The Cavs perimeter defense has been on point, the Warriors have had to spread their offense around, and it's possible to lose to a one-man show like LeBron in the playoffs. But unless the Cavs can find a way to score in the paint more consistently, I just don't see their rebounding advantage becoming a huge factor.
Chris: I don't know anyone in their right mind that would take Cleveland after that game. The way they looked in a loss versus the way Golden State looked in a loss was night and day. Now they're exhausted, going into the toughest arena in the league, and they're just going to bounce back and regain what they had in the first three games? Don't see how they do it.
Which is why I'm picking Cleveland, because this league makes no sense and things happen all the time that make you question why you even bother trying to understand it.
Sherman: I honestly don't know what adjustments Cleveland can even make at this point. They run a 7 man bench and the only player outside of LeBron who can actually create offense (J.R.), isn't.
The Cavs have 2 things working for them right now. Mozgov is playing out of his mind, and they are still crashing the ORB's. The rebounding can keep them in a game for a half and Mozgov will make up for the lack of offense from other role players, but the big worry is that LeBron is clearly wearing down. He is soaking up a ton of usage and shots because he has to, yet he's been doing it without his historically great efficiency. He's taking 32 shots a game and only making 38.8% of them. The Warriors offense doesn't even need to be great; they just need to be average, and there will be no way that the Cavs can make up the difference.
So yeah, Cleveland wins game 5.
BONUS) Kendrick Perkins has made his in-game return to the NBA Finals. How done are the Warriors now?
R.K.: It's not nice to kick a man when he's down and a really nasty old silverback mixed into my game 5 strategy might be a plus.
Marina: Perk looked so sad! I'm just glad he got a couple of shots on offense. Seeing Perk on a basketball floor makes me very happy, because his game is just so fun to watch and unique. If I were a really rich person, I'd commission Bennett Berry (our photoshop guru) to make me a painting of every made Perk jumper. They are all truly masterpieces. I'm also holding out hope that Perk can come back to OKC and be the 15th man next season (after some draft day trades clear up roster space, of course).
Chris: I always supported having Perk around but, now that he's gone, it is pretty insane that it was only 3 years ago that Perkins was on this very stage playing a major factor in getting Lebron James his first ring... as a member of the Thunder. Now, there's no way in Hell he plays any role in Lebron getting a 3rd. Life comes at you fast.
Sherman: This will be Perk's breakout game. I just know it.