Game 5 of the NBA Finals came down to the last quarter, when Stephen Curry managed to hold off LeBron James, who has obliterated all playoff series standards. Here is how the WTLC crew breaks it all down.
1) What was your initial reaction to Game 5?
R.K. Anthony: Golden State came out hot and took a 6 point lead early in the first quarter, but Cleveland did a good job of controlling the pace and finished the quarter two missed Iman Shumpert lay-ups away from being up by 4. J.R. Smith started off his night making his first two 3-point attempts, scoring 11 points in his first 9 minutes and mixes in a flying shoulder block for the flagrant 1 call just for good measure. Cleveland will take the good with the bad JR. They have no choice, they need someone other than number 23 scoring baskets.
Speaking of number 23. He wasn't doing too bad, seventeen points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds half way thru the second quarter putting the Cavs up by 3. LeBron absolutely beat up the Warriors' small lineup and Iguodala is off to a slow shooting start and the first quarter finished a Cavs friendly 22-22 tie. That's the good news for the Cavs.
Now for the bad. They started the 2nd quarter. The Warriors matched their 1st quarter 22 in just over 8 minutes. By then, Curry was 5 for 6 and hadn't missed from beyond the arc and Iguodala had 6 assists. Cleveland's Timofey Mozgov had less than 5 minutes playing time because Blatt had to go small to counter the Warrior's hot start and the game began turning into a very Cavs unfriendly shootout. The Cavs hung tough and the Warriors took a 1 point lead into the locker room, but Cleveland expended a ton of energy to do it. Lebron James rested for just 26 seconds in the half.
The Cavs did a good job controlling the pace in the 3rd quarter, but it was clear that LBJ was conserving energy. The Cavs kept it close with Tristan Thompson's 8 third quarter points until LeBron sat and the Warriors took a 6 point lead into the 4th and Dellavedova was showing definite signs of tiring as the 3rd quarter came to a close.
Anybody remember JR? After starting hot in his first 9 minutes, JR disappeared again. With 7 minutes left in the 4th Smith had added 3 points in his next 22 minutes. Really JR?
LeBron's respite in the 3rd paid off for the Cavs in the first 5 minutes of the 4th and the Cavs took a brief lead on a LBJ bomb from about 30 feet out but Stephen Curry responded with a 3 of his own and the Warriors regained the lead. The Warrior's struggles at the free throw line kept this one close but there was always the feeling the Cavs were hanging on by a fingernail and when they slipped the Warriors got untracked and ballooned their lead to 10 with 2:43 left. The Cavs began to foul Iguodala in a desperate attempt to get back in it. It worked on one end, Iggy went stone cold from the line, but unfortunately for the Cavs, they could not convert on the other end and the Warriors win it going away.
Chris Hanneke: The thing I'm enjoying most about this series is that Golden State is cementing its legacy as one of the greatest teams ever while, simultaneously, Lebron James is only furthering his legacy as one of the greatest players ever. Do you understand how insane Lebron had to play for it to come to this? He's putting up video game numbers, we've got ESPN breaking down how scientifically unprecedented his performance is, and he just keeps on playing up to his ridiculous standards. This game was just another reminder of all of those things.
J.A. Sherman: I only half-jokingly refer to James as putting up Russell Westbrook-level numbers. To be sure they look awfully similar, right down to the over-shooting and bad shot selection. What is remarkable though is that Golden State should be able to deal with that. They are making things really difficult for James while not giving up their defense against anyone else. That along should propel their offense.
Credit goes to James, I guess, because I can't think of any other reason why the Cavs defense would be able to defend the Warriors as effectively as they have. Other than this - the Warriors still aren't playing as well as they can. Certainly a far cry from where they were against Houston. It really demonstrates how different an animal the Finals truly is, especially when you're trying to take down the King.
2) Who was the MVP of the game? LVP?
Warriors - Stephen Curry was brilliant, when the game was still close in the 4th he did what MVP's do and he did it with style. I want to give an honorable mention to Leandro Barbosa for some solid minutes for the Warriors as well.
Cavs - The human triple double, who else? LeBron James.
Quote of the night: When told that James had not fouled out of any game this season or playoffs, Jeff Van Gundy responded, "I'm Shocked.."
Warriors - After giving the Warriors a much-needed lift at the end of game 3 that carried over to game 4, David Lee laid an egg tonight.
Cavs - JR, JR, JR! Three points in your last 22 minutes? Really JR? Shumpert was well on his way to carrying the game 5 LVP mantel after blowing 2 lay-ups in the first quarter and looking very tentative at times, but you pulled it off.... again... nice job JR.
Chris: MVPs: Curry, for once, and Lebron, once again. You hope coming into a series like this that the two superstars will go back and forth, and we hadn't really seen that up until this point. Curry struggled, and even when he played well, he didn't have those signature Curry moments. You know, like the ones he had Sunday night, when he makes crossover after crossover to set up, by all accounts, a terrible shot, only for it to splash through so beautifully that the net barely moves? Even better, he was doing that while Lebron was doing equally highlight-worthy things on the other end. This was the best Lebron/Curry showcase yet.
LVPs: ABC for having to go up against the "Game of Thrones" finale. I'm pretty much over "Game of Thrones" at this point, but it's still one of the few shows where you really can't rely on the "DVR it and watch after" strategy just for the simple fact that it's almost impossible not to see something about it on Twitter or - even worse - Facebook. I know I wasn't the only one that dipped out for the middle quarters to watch [spoiler spoiler spoiler] before coming back to watch Curry bring Winter to Cleveland.
Sherman: We finally got our first (hopefully not only) Stephen Curry moment when he caught fire, NBA Jam-style, in the 4th quarter. It was once again a dazzling display of shooting at its craziest, as Steph frequently works toward the very shot that the defense is most happy to give up - the off the dribble, contested 3-pointer. I will never cease to be amazed by Curry's on-court appearance. He is always going to look like a freshman on the Varsity team, working his ridiculous handle all around the perimeter, and then hoisting up outrageous shots. That always go in.
LVP: It really isn't fair to put this on the Cavs players anymore. To be sure JR Smith cooled off in the 2nd half and outside of Tristan Thompson nobody else has been consistent, but come on. These are role players, by and large one way players, who are being asked to hang with the most talented and balanced team in the league.
The only other person I can think of is Dave Blatt for putting his best game 4 player on the bench for most of the night. He decided that even though Timofi Mozgov had a great game 4, he wasn't part of the overall solution. It seemed weird, but perhaps James vindicated it by guiding his team to a tie ball game on the road.
3) With the game still close midway through the 4th quarter, was there anything in your mind the Cavaliers could have done differently to pull out a win in Game 5?
R.K. Anthony: Converting some shots after employing the "Irk-a-Iggy" fouling game may have kept it close, but when Dellavedova, Curry's kryptonite, tired, Stephen got into a zone and was probably unstoppable at that point.
Chris: I'm with Lebron on this one. I mean, sure, you could say "make more shots, defend better," but that really applies to any situation ever. After the game, Lebron pretty much went with some variation of, "Curry is really good and made really difficult shots, and even though he makes those a lot, there's only so much you can do." Or, more succinctly, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. They just have to hope they can recreate that Dellavedova magic we all knew was a fluke through the first three games, but I wouldn't count on that.
Sherman: Once Curry caught fire, there wasn't much that Cleveland was going to be able to do to stay with them. As Chris mentioned, I think LeBron recognized that, which is why he wasn't more morose after losing a close game 5. He knows that if Curry doesn't hit those bailout shots, his undermanned Cleveland team probably has a chance to steal the game. He knows that if they play at a similar level in game 6, he can bring them a chance to win.
The end of game 5 was really about game 6. James understands the long game, and he's playing for 2 more.
4) The story of this series has been a healthy Golden State team vs an injury-depleted Cavaliers team. For the sake of discussion, in your opinion, where would this series stand now had Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving not been injured?
R.K. Anthony: I believe the Warriors would be facing the elimination game in Cleveland and not the other way around. Maybe. The reason the Cavs took the 2 to 1 lead in the first place was the result of a relentless, in-your-face defense that had Curry floundering and the Warriors on the ropes. Kevin Love is not known for defense, and even though he looked good defensively in game 1, Kyrie Irving isn't either. However, their presence would have reduced the need for LeBron to play 43+ minutes per game and a better rested LBJ would have been the difference.
Chris: I really don't think it'd be much different. I also don't really think we should play the "What if" game, because I've done that basically every year since Patrick Beverley did what he did in 2013. Injuries happen all the time and, sure, Love and Irving would help, but the Warriors beat teams at full strength all season. They beat teams earlier in the playoffs that were just as good as a fully-healthy Cavs' team. It's just impossible to know how much of the results this series are due to the roster issues, and how much are due to the Warriors being a really awesome team. For that reason, I don't really like getting into the "What If" game.
But the Thunder totally would have won in 2013 if Westbrook didn't hurt his knee. Or last year if Ibaka didn't hurt his calf. Or this year if Durant didn't hurt his foot. I don't play that game, though!
Sherman: Two different players with two different outcomes.
Kyrie Irving: Cleveland would probably be up 3-2 at this point, because Irving would have either helped his team avoid the 4th quarter collapse in game 4 or given them the shot-maker they needed at the end of game 5. One of the realities of this series is that Golden State really hasn't played that well overall. They have not bended the game to their will for more than a quarter at a time and have never looked like they've hit their max stride where they can bury teams, especially with the 2nd unit. Instead, the 1st team has had to grind and the 2nd unit has had to make up deficits. Against a team with a little more offensive talent, the series might even be over at this point.
That said, what they don't need is:
Kevin Love. Because the reason why they have been able to stay in games long past where anyone thought they could is by overcompensating on defense, crashing the boards, and not making bone-headed plays at the ends of games. Love can crash the glass, but he's nothing close to the defensive beast that Tristan Thompson is, and K-Love has a penchant for making poor decisions with the game on the line. His absence has allowed for the makeover of this team into the only thing that could actually challenge Golden State.
5) Taking those thoughts to the next logical step, can the Cavs win game 6? Why? or why not?
The Cavs went for it in game 5, but fatigue caused lapses in their defensive intensity and was the difference in game 4 and 5. After LeBron played 45 minutes and Delly logging in 42, two days are not enough to recover and game 6 will be a repeat of game 4 and 5.
Chris: Yes. This is the NBA and any team can win on any given night. Now, WILL they? Probably not. Still, Cleveland hasn't been this close to a championship since I've been alive, so I would expect Quicken Loans Arena to pack an all-time great crowd. You take a fired-up fanbase with the best player in the world, and I would never totally rule them out.
Sherman: I was semi-serious when I predicted the Cavs would win game 5, but I actually do think they'll win game 6. The first 18 minutes of the game will tell us what we need to know. Either the Warriors will shift into turbo drive where nobody can stay with them, or the Cavs will once again shorten the game, maximize possessions, and prove that they're not going to fall away under the pressure. Combine that with James working to squeeze one more dominant game out of his body, the Cleveland fanbase yearning for their season not to end, and all of the little things that tough role players can do to tip the tables (hey, Delly!), this could be a 1-2 possession game in crunch time. I practically count on it.
Bennett Berry: Hey, who cares about the Finals when we can talk about Chris Paul's new teammate???