Basketball, like chess, is a series of moves and countermoves, but in the end, these NBA Finals are all about taking down the the King, LeBron James.
In Game 5, the Warriors controlled the pace by once again by starting Andre Iguodala in place of Andrew Bogut. As a counter to the smallball strategy, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt also went small, strategy that worked for almost three quarters, The depth of the Warriors, the shooting of Stephen Curry and the raucous home fans proved too much for his team in the end.
As happens so frequently in important playoff games, role players can have a big impact. J.R. Smith, who went 0 for 8 from 3-point range in Game 4, hit four treys in the first half en route to a 14-point performance. I didn’t believe the Cavaliers could play smallball (if that terminology can ever be used when LeBron is on the court) with the Dubs, but it worked for a a while. The Cavaliers trailed just 51-50 at the half.
With no bigs inside, James took advantage of the open middle and scored 20 points in the first half, mostly on drives, as he attempted only two 3-pointers. So much for hoping he would have another off game. His first half total equaled that in the previous game. His triple-double of 40 points, 14 boards and 11 assists was impressive.
Tristan Thompson did help in the scoring column, adding 19 points, but the devastating losses of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are becoming more apparent with each game. Cleveland played just seven players and although James put up huge numbers, I thought he faded a bit down the stretch.
Curry had a Most Valuable Player-type night, as he electrified the crowd with his ball-handling wizardry and shooting ability. I was glad to see him step up in the fourth quarter after he was a non-factor early in th game. He cannot allow himself to play passively, especially when Klay Thompson is struggling.
Shooting-wise, the Warriors’ percentages were terrific — 48 percent in the field, 46 percent beyond the arc. Sadly, they were only 20 of 34, which is under 60 percent, at the free throw line. Yikes, that is horrible! I almost wanted to convert Iguodala to the under-handed style right there during the game.
The other area that the Dubs will need to work on is turnovers. There were too many sloppy passes, which can have an impact in a tight game. If you recall, Cleveland does not lose when it outrebounds an opponent. This time the Warriors won the board battle, 43-37.
The winner of Game 3 in the Finals wins the championship 84 percent of the time. Advantage Cavaliers. When a Finals is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 71 percent of the time. Advantage Warriors. When the Warriors play at home, they are 7-2 in the playoffs. Home is where the heart is. Home is the comfort zone. Home is where they took a 3-2 series lead.
Home also is where Game 7 would be played if necessary. But if the Warriors can make the right moves, they can finish the series in Cleveland, and I bet they wouldn’t be disappointed at all.
Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.