Oakland — There were a lot of reasons why the Warriors moved to within one game of the NBA title on Sunday — did Balls really write that? — but the way coach Steve Kerr snookered Cleveland Cavaliers counterpart David Blatt to play his game ranked at or near the top of the list.
Once again, Kerr started a smallball lineup that had Draymond Green at center and Andrew Bogut on the bench. Rather than pound the ball inside to Timofey Mozgov, who was a factor with career-high 28 points in Game 4, coach Blatt elected to think small himself.
And that’s when Kerr knew Stephen Curry would have one of those special games of his and Game 5 was all but over.
“It was a different game, you know, because they decided to go smaller and the floor was more open,” Kerr said. “From the very beginning, when they went small, had their shooters out there, I thought, ‘This is Steph’s night. This is going to be a big one for him because he has all that room.’”
Sure enough, Curry went off for 37 points on only 27 total shots.
While Mozgov turned into the Incredible Shrinking Hulk — zero points, nine minutes — J.R. Smith got the brunt of the minutes in a three-guard offense. Smith snapped out of a horrific slump with eight points in the first period, but predictably, he bricked eight of his next 10 shots, which left LeBron James to carry too big of a load once again.
“I don’t think we’ve lost (Mozgov) by any means,” said Blatt, who was quizzed repeatedly on the subject afterward. “That’s inaccurate. Did I make a mistake? Listen, when you’re coaching a game, you’ve got to make decisions. I felt that the best chance for us to stay in the game and have a chance to win was to play it the way that we played it.”
Yeah, coach, you made a rookie mistake.
THE DAILY J.R.: Smith deserves consideration for Most Valuable Player honors in the series, because the guy has been a difference-maker for the Warriors since the first jump ball.
In the first four games, Smith was on pace to have one of the worst performances in NBA Finals history. The Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency was a pathetic 81.5 when Smith was on the floor. That would be the worst figure in the regular season in the last 30 years. But when Smith was on the bench, the number skyrocketed to 113.5, which would have been the best in the league this season.
The Cavaliers were outscored by 48 points with Smith on the floor, and they outscored the Warriors by 26 points without him.
PAST MEETS PRESENT: The two royal families in Warriors history were on hand for the game.
Riley, Ayesha and Stephen Curry were joined by Brent (ABC), Jon (NBA TV) and Rick Barry (Team Examiner). Brent and Jon were ballboys in the 1970s while their father starred for the team.
VIP’S AND WANNABES: Barry Bonds, Phil Hellmuth, Don Johnson, Metallica, Mitch Richmond, Joe Staley, Nate Thurmond, Mychal Thompson, Usher and Jamaal Wilkes also were in the house
Jeff Mullins also was announced to the crowd, although he looked a lot like Chris Mullin probably because he was Chris Mullin.
FATHER KNOWS BEST: Thompson continued to struggle with his shot — 5 of 14 — which prompted his father Mychal to say, “He needs to get more involved in the offense. He has to move more off the ball, get a few open shots and find a rhythm.”
JUST SAYIN’: Before the game, Blatt was asked what his family had done for him in the series.
“Blown up my credit card,” Blatt responded with a laugh.
Someone should have blown up his bench, which has been outscored 126-71 in the series.
WHAT WOULD LUE DO?: Blatt appears to be safe for now, but Balls still wonders if the Cavaliers made a mistake to bypass assistant Tyronn Lue last summer.
In fact, Lue might have saved Blatt’s butt in Round 2, when he yanked the bewildered coach aside before he could request a timeout that the team didn’t have in the final minute. He also is the brains behind the defensive scheme that has made life somewhat difficult for Curry in the Finals. Team insiders say the players relate well to the ex-Los Angeles Laker, who unlike Blatt is a former NBA player.
So impressed were the Cavaliers by his interview, they made Lue the highest-paid assistant in the league to pry him away from the Los Angeles Clippers. But he’s certain to be one of most coveted head coach candidates in the league, and the Cavaliers (read: James) may do well to promote him before he walks out the door.
AND ANOTHER THING: It was 14 years ago that Allen Iverson posturized Lue in one of the most memorable sequences in NBA Finals history.
To which Lue replied the other day, ”Did they put up the anniversary of my championship ring a couple days later?”
Here’s what Balls would have said: “I mean, listen, we’re talking about a game, not practice, not practice, not practice. We’re talking a game. I mean, how silly is that?”
YOUR TURN: “Whether you love Oakland or not, you can’t deny their rich sports history. Let them marinate in it.” — Chad Misippo, San Francisco
(Warning: Marinate meat, chicken and fish in the fridge to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria such as the Athletics’ defense and the Raiders’ ground game.)
WERE HAVE YOU GONE . . .: Matthew Dellavedova?
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