It was an old school duel in a new school series. Stephen Curry had been fairly quiet thus far in the Finals, but he managed to do what’s expected of an MVP and came up with his best when it mattered most. With LeBron James posting another historic stat line while trying to drag his ragtag supporting cast to another improbable win, the Warriors needed a late spark, and because Curry gave it to them, the Golden State Warriors are now one win shy of their first championship in 40 years thanks to a 104-91 Game 5 victory on Sunday night.
While Game 5 wasn’t quite a carbon copy of Game 4, it had a similar narrative of Cleveland hanging tough and Golden State looking somewhat shaky until the Cavs ran out of steam in the final quarter, facilitating the Warriors’ ability to find their form and power through the finish line.
The first quarter was a rather bumpy start, marked by Cleveland’s five turnovers and two points in the opening minutes. One would think that a quarter that saw slumping contributors get off to hot starts (Curry 3-3 from the floor for seven points, 10 points for Draymond Green, eight points on 3-4 FG – excluding a half-court heave – for J.R. Smith) would have made for good basketball, but that wasn’t the case.
The quality of play picked up the rest of the night, which saw the two teams go even smaller with their respective lineups. For the Warriors, Andrew Bogut went from starting to coming off the bench in Game 4 to not playing at all in Game 5, along with David Lee and Festus Ezeli combining for just over 12 minutes of floor time. The Cavs responded by parking Timofey Mozgov one game after a career high 28 points. In 9:19, he had zero points, rebounds, assists or blocks, though his cameo did feature him getting Mozgov’d by Harrison Barnes.
Just like Game 4, the Warriors got little from Klay Thompson (12 points on 5-14 shooting), and their depth countered his sub-par play in ways Cleveland couldn’t cover for its key cogs. Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert again provided little and Smith didn’t score after halftime. In their stead, the Cavs got three points on two shots over 30 minutes from James Jones and Mike Miller. For comparison, Golden State got a combined 27 points from Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa.
With that said, LeBron was so great that the Cavs held the lead midway through the fourth quarter. As part of a 40-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist masterpiece, James had 16 points and two assists in the fourth quarter, with a meaningless late basket the only field goal that he didn’t score or assist on. Curry stepped up to answer him with 13 points in the flow of action in the final frame before tacking on 4-4 from the line as the Cavs attempted to extend the game. The play of the game was the MVP putting Dellavedova in a blender on the perimeter before drilling a three to make the lead 96-86 with 2:44 remaining.
James joined Jerry West as the only players in Finals history to post 40 points in a triple-double, fitting company considering LeBron, should the Cavs lose the series, also deserves to join West as the only players in Finals history to win the MVP despite ending up on the losing side. He just didn’t have enough help, as the tank hit empty for the Cavaliers.
Curry is looking at history of his own, as he continues to extend his own record for three-pointers in one postseason. The previous record, broken long ago by Curry, was 58 by Reggie Miller. He now stands just five shy of 100 after hitting 7-13 during Game 5 en route to 37 points in what was the most meaningful game of his career. These are the Finals though, so for every Warrior, each successive game becomes their new biggest game ever. The stakes certainly don’t get any smaller as Game 6 provides them with a chance to complete their seemingly-fated path to the title. They know it won’t be easy though, as Iguodala said the team expects it’ll be the hardest game any of them have ever played in.