I believe a poet named Maya Angelou once wrote, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” In their thorough 103-82 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, the Warriors changed both their strategy and their attitude to pull even in the series.
Head Coach Steve Kerr went with a smaller starting lineup, a different defensive scheme against LeBron James and a more up-tempo pace. The players responded to the critical nature of the must-win situation, and except for the first few possessions, they displayed improved focus, energy and determination. Even after the quick 7-0 start by Cleveland that forced Kerr to burn a timeout, his team responded and never looked back.
The bold move to start Andre Iguodala paid off. His defense on LeBron was outstanding and his ability to run the floor helped to facilitate the livelier offense. He contributed 22 points and eight rebounds. James put up numbers that some players would take, but when you are the King and have to carry your team, 20 points on 7-22 shooting just doesn’t cut it.
Even though the Dubs couldn’t make a basket early, this was a different team than we saw in the first three games. They played with greater urgency, moving the ball on every possession, attacking the hoop and limiting turnovers. I was surprised that the Cavaliers got caught up in the faster pace, especially with the Dubs playing the small lineup and Cleveland staying with its big one.
The Warriors missed a great opportunity to take total control of the game late in the second quarter. With a 48-33 lead, they went almost two-and-a-half minutes without scoring, giving up a number of rebounds and allowing the Cavaliers to move within 10 points. The inside presence of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson was a major factor in the comeback, as James proved his mortality with just 10 points on 4 of 12 shooting in the field, 1 of 4 from the free throw line and only three rebounds and a like number of assists.
For me, the third quarter was very frustrating. The Warriors, after immediately increasing their lead back to 15 points, played poorly for almost the remainder of the quarter, giving the Cavaliers life. Winning a game, much less a championship, is difficult when you have extended periods of time where you miss layups, commit turnovers, stop moving the ball and get destroyed on the offensive boards. Cleveland dominated the inside in the third quarter, cutting the 12-point deficit to three at one point. Fortunately, Stephen Curry, who again didn’t play as aggressively as needed, hit a big 3-pointer to get the lead up to 76-70 entering the final period.
I have no idea what Coach Kerr said to the team between the third and fourth quarters, but whatever it was, it worked. The Warriors came out and played like they had in the first quarter. All of the elements needed to win the game were there, including a stifling defense that held the home team to only nine points before both coaches took their starters out of the game. I was very pleased to see Curry step up and take control of the game like a team leader should in big games.
I thought Cleveland got carried away with trying to exploit their size advantage in the fourth quarter, when they continually went to Mozgov in the post. He had a great game with 28 points and 10 boards, but the Cavaliers aren’t going to win if he is their go-to-guy, especially when James is struggling.
Just as they did against the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 2, the Warriors showed their resolve, as they met the challenge and regained home court advantage. Oracle Arena will be rocking on Sunday for Game 5, and I look forward to being there and watching my favorite team move one step closer to the league championship.
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.