The raucous crowd at the Oracle Arena was delighted to see their home team corral a victory putting LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on the brink of elimination. This series isn’t over by any stretch, but the Warriors knew that was a must-win game as they head back to Ohio with a chance to cap off one of the best seasons in NBA history.
One of the narratives of this series was that LeBron simply didn’t have enough ammunition at his disposal to overcome the onslaught that is the Golden State Warriors. His dominance every night wouldn’t be enough if others didn’t step up. And outside out a few good defensive spurts and timely hoops from Matthew Dellavedova, and an awesome Game 4 performance by Timofey Mozgov, that has pretty much been the case. But many have attributed much of this to dead legs.
The sports world was in a frenzy after that pivotal Game 5. Despite another triple-double performance by James, who had 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists, Golden State was able to pull away late in the fourth quarter. This run-and-gun high-octane offense thrives on transition offense and quickening the tempo. This isn’t conducive to how the Cavs desire to play.
This game certainly had the feel of an imminent upset when J.R. Smith started off the night scorching hot from the field with 14 points that included four three-pointers, but that flame was extinguished and he reverted back to his old ways. For all who patiently awaited the J.R. 30-point game, this was clearly a “sike” moment. He fooled all of us. But can he finally make amends and show up tonight?
We’ve customarily noted that fatigue has been a factor in this series and it’s been clearly visible in fourth quarters of this series. The Cavs just seem to be gassed in the final period, and it has surely derailed them.
LeBron James has averaged 45.6 minutes per game in these Finals. Their coaching staff has tried to make more of a concerted effort to pick their spots as it pertains to getting him rest. They’re cognizant of the teams ineptitude when he’s not on the floor, so instead of electing to rest him at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, they’ve sat him ending the first and third.
At face value it may seem like those two things don’t necessarily pale in comparison. But it simply comes down to regulating the magnitude of the damage. Sitting in the final minute of the first and third allows him to get extra rest as they move into the next quarter fresh off the national TV timeouts. You can’t allow the Warriors to seize momentum at the beginning of quarters because it’s way too demoralizing for a team bereft of depth.
Watching adjustments unfold in playoff series is entertaining in itself. Both coaches try their best to meticulously employ different strategies over the course of a series that they hope would ultimately lead to a checkmate. So far, Steve Kerr is winning this battle.
The stage is set again for another showdown between the world’s best player and the world’s best team. Fatigue has been a factor in this series, but it’s all or nothing for the Cavs tonight. I expect LeBron James to have an historic performance tonight. With his team’s championship hopes hanging on tight strings, there is no way King James can go down without a fight. Tonight we’ll find out if that will indeed be enough.