The Golden State Warriors’ 108-97 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday night may have been the deciding blow that secures another championship for the Warriors and another summer of frustration for the Cavaliers.
Golden State, with a commanding 3-1 series lead, is now one win away from repeating as NBA Champions. Cleveland will have to win three straight games, beginning with Game 5 at Oracle Arena on Monday, in order to end the city’s 52-year drought without a major-sports championship .
Any success Cleveland has found in this series comes with ball movement and willingness to attack the basket. It helps open up looks for JR Smith, provided he actually takes those shots. It leads to second chance opportunities for Tristan Thompson and also makes the night easier for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to play their respective games.
Where it went wrong for the Cavaliers in Game 4 is where it’s been going wrong for them throughout this series. Cleveland seems to only function as a team when things are going their way. When adversity hits, their team play, much like their ball movement, ceases to exist.
The Cavaliers held a five-point lead, heading into the third quarter of Game 4, when Golden State began to find their swagger. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson caught fire, the Splash Brothers combined for 19 of Golden State’s 29 points in that third period of play.
The bottom line for the Cavaliers, much like the ball, stops with James. He came back to Cleveland in 2014 to win a championship for his city, and that goal is one game away from yet another setback.
“My mindset is get one.” said James afterward on looking ahead to Game 5. “You know, we’ve got to go out there and play obviously better than we played tonight. Better than even we played in Game 3. But we’ve got to get one.”
Curry, the reigning NBA MVP, finished with 38 points, and Thompson added 25 points. The dynamic duo combined for 10 three-pointers.
Curry’s struggles in this series were placed under a microscope. The expectations of him, much like James, are high. In Game 4, Curry shook loose and fought back with a resilient effort that exemplified what his team has been all about for the past two years.
The final stat numbers for James in Game 4 will include 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. The seven turnovers, however, tarnish those numbers.
James, for all the good he did getting his players involved early in the game, will be criticized, once again, for not answering the bell with the game on the line.
It was Irving who relentlessly drove to the basket in the second half, along with throwing up shot after shot, while James watched. He showed signs of indecisiveness when it came down to choosing between attacking the basket or taking the jumpshot.
This creates an offense, for Cleveland, without motion and only makes it easier for the opposing defense to sit back and wait for the inevitable missed shot or turnover. It’s become a familiar scene whenever Cleveland struggles to score.
Irving finished the game with 34 points on 14 of 28 shooting from the field, however he was only 3 of 10 in the fourth quarter. His shot selection in the second half left a lot to be desired, especially with the game still in reach for Cleveland. It’s hard, however, to knock Irving if he’s the only star on the team consistently attacking the rim. Someone had to step up and take those shots, especially if James is going to continue devoting seconds, at the top of the three point line, trying to decide on if he’s going to shoot, pass, or drive.
When adversity hits for Golden State, the team mentality doesn’t take a backseat to anything. It’s why they always seem to find a way to bounce back after a loss. This is what makes Golden State the better team.
For Cleveland, when adversity hits, the opposite happens. That much was evident in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers went to ‘hero ball,’ one or two players going up against five, instead of the team game, which was working in their favor earlier. Hero ball won’t win championships. It can lead to poor shot selection and it takes teammates out of the game mentally, both of these examples we’ve seen from Cleveland in this series.
James’ attention went away from trying to win a pivotal ballgame when he became fed up with the ongoing antics of Draymond Green. The controversial play where Green seemed to hit James with a low-blow to the groin area spiraled into a war of words between the two that required both sides to be eventually separated from one another.
When’s the last time anyone can say they saw James literally step over another player, like he did Green? It was as clear an indication as any that Golden State got inside his head.
It also was the reality of being on the brink of losing another NBA Finals, despite all the moves which were made to give him his best chance to win, is beginning to sink in.
While the Warriors were playing their brand of basketball, finding the open man with timely three-pointers and out-hustling their opponents on the boards, Cleveland’s offense became predictable and stale once again. Any momentum Cleveland worked to recapture in Game 3, with their 30-point win over the Warriors, went right into Lake Erie on Friday.
Curry, Thompson, and Green were front and center for the Warriors when the game was on the line. The same can not be said for LeBron James with Cleveland. The Cavaliers are his team, he’s made it known to everyone watching that he’s the leader, yet there are too many times where it appears his leadership doesn’t sustain for the entire four quarters of basketball required.
“I think for me as the leader of this team, we’ve just to get one,” James said. “Let’s get one. We’ve already got to take a flight back anyways, so we might as well come home with a win and play on our home floor again.”
The one game at a time mentality is all Cleveland can hope for at this point. If they’re to do the impossible, come back from a 3-1 hole, it will start and stop with James. The way that line of thinking has gone lately, Cleveland fans may have already accepted the inevitable of another long summer without a championship.