When it was announced that Steve Kerr was starting Andre Iguodala for the first time all season, and in place of Andrew Bogut, not Harrison Barnes, it was deemed as Kerr going all in, pushing his chips to the center of the table, risking all sorts of public scrutiny for tinkering with what worked all year for one of the best regular-season teams in NBA history.
It turned out to be less of an all-in move, and more like throwing down a card that forced everyone to trade in their hand and start anew. Something of a reset button for these NBA Finals, the gamble seemed to provide the confidence infusion Golden State so desperately needed. Postgame, Stephen Curry said “it made sense” because the mini lineup allows them to get going in transition thanks to an increased tempo, and they’ve been getting off to slow starts.
The Warriors finally started faster, but a couple of missed open threes and Cleveland winning down low meant that the scoreboard wasn’t showing it. A quick timeout after the Cavaliers scored the first seven points of the game conjured doubts as to whether Kerr would stay the course, and to his credit, he did, telling his team in the huddle that the Cavs only play seven guys and to weather the storm. Curry proceeded to hit a three coming out of the timeout and the Warriors outscored the Cavs 31-17 over the rest of the quarter.
While there were bumps along the way, including on the head of LeBron James after gashing his head on a courtside camera, Golden State led the rest of the way. Cleveland slowly crawled back in the third quarter, but on both occasions they got within three, the Warriors answered with triples, the first from Barnes and the second from Curry.
The Cavs went scoreless in two minutes to start the fourth without LeBron, and though the Warriors only scored four points themselves, what had just been a three-point gap had been pushed up to 10 and Curry had his best stretch in an otherwise unremarkable performance to effectively seal the game before it developed into a 103-82 blowout.
Those couple of minutes could very well be where the Cavaliers look back and realize they lost the title. Although they’ll get an extra day of rest before Game 5, they probably needed to go up 3-1 to have a good shot at knocking off the Warriors. Now Golden State has both home-court advantage and its mojo back, thanks to Shaun Livingston and a resurgent Draymond Green, but most of all a monster night from possible Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Continuing his impressive Finals, Iggy scored 22 thanks in part to 4-9 from deep, and continued to hound LeBron, who had just 20 points on 7-22 shooting. Per ESPN, the percentage of plays where Iguodala has guarded LeBron has climbed over the series from 42 percent to 47 percent to 55 percent and finally 63 percent in Game 4.
The lineup switch wasn’t so much about knowing a particular matchup would swing the series or anything that drastic. What it did do was essentially shake up the snowglobe. Green mentioned to ESPN how Mozgov had been allowed to camp out at the rim all series. With Bogut and Festus Ezeli parked on the bench, replaced by David Lee and small lineups, Mozgov was stretched a bit thinner in his defensive coverage.
Mozgov responded by dominating on the offensive end for 28 points and 10 boards (six offensive rebounds), but it didn’t make much of a dent considering how poorly his teammates played. The likes of Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith were so bad that it’s impossible to pick just one stat to illustrate how little help LeBron and Mozgov had in Game 4. LeBron and Tristan Thompson only had two minutes rest each in the first half, and as mentioned, the supporting cast couldn’t buy James any sort of rest to begin the fourth.
Contrast that to the Warriors, who surprisingly survived another less-than-stellar night from Curry (22 points, six assists), along with just nine points from Klay Thompson, whose once-deadly shooting has declined series by series, luxuries the Cavaliers simply can’t afford. Switching up the starters didn’t hand deliver the Game 4 win, but Kerr deserves a lot of credit for being bold and finding a way to reshuffle the deck in a series in which his roster holds a lot more cards to play.