By AVERY BRAXTON (@Ave_Braxton)
Photo credit goes to FOX Sports.
In a game highly anticipated after Draymond Green was suspended following a confrontation with LeBron James, you know it could only go one of two ways: Either the Warriors would be motivated by Green’s absence and dominate, or LeBron and his round table would smell blood and steal a game in Oakland. The result was the latter.
In the midst of the 112-97 Cavs win, here’s what we found out:
(1) The Warriors can win without Curry, but not without Green
Game 5 saw a Warriors team that seemed absolutely lost on the defensive end. Green has served as more than a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball, and his presence was notably absent. The Cavs shot 53 percent from the floor and scored 112 points. The Warriors surprisingly out-rebounded the Cavs, but not before Tristan Thompson and LeBron James nabbed 15 and 16 rebounds apiece.
Green is undoubtedly the defensive anchor for the Warriors and patrols the paint better than almost anyone in the league. The All-Defensive First Team forward is averaging 9.2 rebounds and a little over a block per game in the Finals.
The Warriors are -22 in plus/minus efficiency with Green off the floor in the Finals and +36 when he headlines the frontcourt, according to NBA.com. The Cavs also shoot only 44 percent from the field with Draymond on the floor and 48 percent with him absent. Perhaps most importantly, Cleveland shoots 12 percent better from beyond the arc with Draymond off the floor, a solid 41.3 percent.
Draymond is also the vocal leader of the Warriors and the one Steve Kerr can depend on to get in everyone else’s grill. Green can stand in the gap offensively and provides some much needed points when Stephen Curry finds himself in a slump. Draymond scored 28 points in Game 2 while Curry struggled with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting on the way to a 110-77 win.
With Draymond gone and no one to facilitate the offense in Game 5, Curry couldn’t quite break free. While he scored 25 points, Curry shot only 8-of-21 from the floor and 5-of-14 from three. To make a long story short, the Warriors desperately need Draymond Green on both ends.
Obviously, Green is a huge part of what the Warriors bring to the table. At the forefront of what has been a remarkable run to this point, Draymond Green is the only Warrior to play in all 88 Golden State wins.
(2) LeBron is still LeBron
Regardless of what you think about LeBron, there is one thing we can all agree on: He’s one of the best in the world. When dealing with the best in the world, it’s best not to rile him up and add any fuel to his already impressive fire. Klay Thompson obviously didn’t get the memo.
His comments before Game 5 just added to all the juicy details that summed up the pregame drama. When asked about the confrontation between James and Green and whether LeBron overreacted, Thompson seemed to poke the bear with a few offhanded comments.
“Obviously people have feelings,” he said. “People’s feelings get hurt if they’re called a bad word. I guess his feelings just got hurt.”
Big mistake Klay Thompson.
James had this to say in response to Thompson’s comments:
LeBron responded by putting up 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks -- demonstrating that he can very much still do what he wants on the floor and that he will not tolerate any disrespect from the Warriors. James is averaging 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the Finals and is playing a huge role in keeping the Cavs in the series. Without him, it’s safe to say the Cavs would have gotten swept.
LeBron did his damage in a way he hasn’t all series -- with his jump shot. James made eight shots from outside the painted area on 19 attempts and hit four 3-pointers. If James can keep it up, it opens a whole new dynamic for the Cavs offense, because it forces the Warriors to respect James’ shot, which can open up driving lanes and passing options.
(3) Kyrie Irving is a superstar, period.
For anyone who didn’t believe Kyrie Irving was that dude, seeing is believing. Irving put up an astounding 41 points -- 17-of-24 from the field -- of his own to match James and become the only duo in the history of the NBA to score 40+ points in the same Finals game. Irving was unstoppable and did it however he wanted, whether it was pulling up for transition 3-pointers, getting to the bucket or hitting mid-range jumpers.
Irving made Curry look silly on more than one occasion and essentially upstaged LeBron in what was the biggest game of Irving’s career on the NBA’s biggest stage. It’s hard to say LeBron had a quiet 41 points, but that’s what it seemed like with the way Irving was slicing the defense apart.
This was not a singular occurrence for Irving, who has played well all Finals. He has scored 30+ points in three straight games and has been a bright spot even in the weaker games for the Cavs. This may be LeBron’s team, but Irving is proving he doesn’t have to be Robin to LeBron’s Batman.
Kyrie Irving (left) and LeBron James' (right) shot charts from Game 5. Photo credit goes to NBA.com.
(4) Curry is still a no-show
Stephen Curry has essentially been a background player in these Finals. He’s scored less than 20 points in three Finals games and only scored more than 30 once. Curry averaged 30.1 points per game during the regular season and 25.3 points per game in the playoffs.
However, the Cavs have kept Curry under a proverbial lock and key, only allowing him to score 22.2 points per game and break out for 38 in Game 4.
Curry is 22-of-53 from beyond the arc in the Finals, and the Warriors have leaned on Klay Thompson and a productive bench to pick up the slack. Thompson hasn’t played phenomenally himself in these Finals, only scoring 25 or more in the last two, but he did scorch the Cavs for 37 in Game 5. The only problem was that Irving and LeBron’s combined points and assists totaled 98 of the Cavs 112 points.
If Curry doesn’t get it going soon, the Warriors may be staring down the barrel of being the only Finals team to lose a 3-1 deficit. With Curry fresh off a unanimous MVP announcement, there may be questions of how warranted the unanimity was and if Curry is as clutch as we thought.
Game 6 is Thursday in Cleveland. If the Cavs can sustain the momentum of a Game 5 road win and depend on James to hit jump shots while Irving continues to shine, then the series could very well be heading back to Oakland for a Game 7 for the ages.
However, Green will be back looking for blood in Game 6. If his presence proves to be as pivotal as it has been in the previous four games and Curry can get on track while Thompson stays hot, then the Warriors will dance all over Quicken Loans Arena as back-to-back NBA champions.