What a difference a year makes.
One year ago today, the Golden State Warriors were popping bottles and celebrating the franchise’s first NBA title in 40 years.
Tonight, in the same town, in the same arena, and in the same visiting locker room, it was a very different story.
Instead of champagne flying around, it was mouthguards being hurled in frustration. Instead of Draymond Green shouting at his mother in jubilation, it was Green shouting in the face of a referee, shortly after picking up a ticky-tack 5th foul in the final minutes.
Tonight’s game ended 115-101 in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers, thanks to a legendary performance by LeBron James, and we now head back to Oakland for a Game 7 Sunday night.
For the Golden State Warriors, tonight’s game was an eye-opening experience. They learned just how important their suffocating defense is to their winning ways and how much of a death sentence their pass-happy offense can be for NBA teams.
On a night like tonight, both facets of their game were missing. The Warriors’ stagnant offense and mismatched defense was the stake through their own heart and Cleveland pounced at the golden opportunity that lay before them.
Thanks to their raucous home crowd, the Cavaliers were able to get off to a fast start. They bothered the Warriors into four 1st quarter turnovers and held them to just 11 points, the fewest points for Golden State in a quarter all year. After the game, Curry told the media his thoughts on that fateful quarter:
“They pretty much won the game in the first quarter, like they did in Game 3.”
With center Andrew Bogut out with a knee injury, Coach Steve Kerr decided to go with his “death lineup” to start the game. Offensively, this lineup can be, as the name clearly states, deadly for opposing defenses. However, this undersized lineup can make the Warriors extremely vulnerable on the defensive end. Not only did the Cavaliers shoot 57% in the first quarter but they also pulled in twice times as many rebounds (16-7), with Tristan Thompson grabbing an astonishing nine boards to begin the game.
Andre Iguodala is a big part of Golden State’s death lineup, as he is the “star-stopper” when he defends LeBron James. Unfortunately, towards the end of 1st quarter, Iguodala seemed to be experiencing back spasms and had to go to the locker room. Iguodala did come back in the game but he hobbled around the court the rest of the night, finishing with a dismal five points, four rebounds, and three assists. Harrison Barnes missed every single one of his shots (0-8) and looked like a high school kid among men.
Stephen Curry’s 30 points looks great on paper but his night was actually pretty terrible. Two quick fouls in the first quarter had him sent to the bench and you would think this would be a wake-up call for the MVP to settle himself down. Sadly, Curry made some more bad decisions on defense the rest of the game and ended up fouling out late in the 4th quarter.
The final foul call was pretty controversial, as the Warriors were only down 13 with 4:22 left in the game and LeBron acted a bit as he fell to the ground. Curry showed his displeasure by chucking his mouthpiece at a courtside Cavs fan, albeit accidentally, right before getting in the face of referee Jason Phillips.
I’m not sure what the deciding factor was for Phillips, but he immediately ejected Curry from the game. Kerr showed his own displeasure with the call, with this quote that will definitely warrant a hefty fine.
“He had every right to be upset, he's the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him. Three of them were absolutely ridiculous. He steals the ball from Kyrie [Irving] clean at one point. LeBron flops on the last one. [Referee] Jason Phillips falls for that, for a flop. This is the MVP of the league we're talking about.”
In regards to Curry’s mouthpiece toss, Kerr wasn’t shy about his take on the matter.
“I'm happy he threw his mouthpiece. He should be upset. It's the Finals. Everyone is competing out there. It's a physical game.”
The Warriors played a terrible game on both ends of the court but it was the stellar performance of LeBron James that sealed the deal for Cleveland.
LeBron finished with 41 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists, and scored 18 straight points for his team at one point down the stretch. LeBron is just the fifth player to put up back to back 40+ point games in a Finals series, as he also had 41 points in Game 5 in Oakland.
The Warriors have two days before they play Game 7 at home but they’ve got some work to do in order to bring a second, back to back title to the Bay Area.
Turnovers, defense, ball movement, composure.
If Golden State can focus on these four areas and play like they’ve won 73 games before, I think they’ll be able to win another Larry O’Brien Trophy. Of course, you can play defense and move the ball well, but if you don’t come out with intensity and fire in your eyes, an opposing team can crumple you in an instant.
Steph Curry knows all about that:
“We're going to need some emotion, some grit, some toughness for Game 7.”