The crowd had come for a coronation, a celebration, an evening of noise and joy on which their basketball team, the Warriors, the record setters, the defending champions, would make it two titles in row, would start an NBA dynasty. But something was missing — maybe because someone was missing, Draymond Green.
And so the noise ebbed, the joy diminished. The coronation was put on hold.
The Warriors, virtually unbeatable on their home court, winners in three of the first four games of these NBA Finals, came unglued as did the fans. Hope became disbelief.
It was the Cleveland Cavaliers who took it to the Warriors, who shut them down on defense, who shot them to bits on offense, who looked like champions Monday, defeating Golden State, 112-97. And so the best-of-seven series goes to a sixth game. And even with the Warriors still ahead, some doubts have been presented.
Those were the Cavs we didn’t think existed, or at least hadn’t seen, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each scoring 41 points. Those were the Warriors we didn’t think existed, unable to hit jumpers (they shot 36 percent), unable to stop the Cavs, who shot 53 percent.
Green should have been on the floor, but he wasn’t even inside Oracle Arena, suspended for a flagrant foul in Game 4 against James. Even Cavs coach Tyronn Lue agreed his absence made difference — for Cleveland and for the Warriors.
So did James, despite being booed every time he touched the ball in the first half, the hopped-up Warriors fans, with their gold T-shirts and expectations, blaming LeBron for the world’s ills. James looked like the best player in the league. And Irving, a No. 1 overall draft pick, was no less impressive. The Warriors couldn’t halt either.
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr reminded, the Dubs still lead the series and a season past won the championship four games to two. Green will be back for Game 5, and yet maybe, just maybe, the momentum has changed. Yes, no team has been down 3-1 in the finals and won. Still, the Warriors are not playing against history but against a Cleveland team that may have figured out how to blank out the criticism and shut down the Warriors.
“Yeah,” said Kerr, “defense was an issue for us.” It was more than an issue. It was a backbreaker. The Cavs had 93 points after three quarters. Right then, despite the chants of the crowd, you knew the home team was doomed. The Warriors are supposed to score 93 points through three periods, not give them up.
Harrison Barnes was 2-for-14, Steph Curry 8-of-21. If it wasn’t for Klay Thompson, who scored 37, the Warriors wouldn’t have been as close as they were.
Practically everyone in the building kept believing any moment Steph and Klay would throw in three or four 3-pointers and Andre Iguodala would wrap up LeBron. But belief never became reality. Anticipation was snuffed.
“I kind of like our position,” said Kerr, rebutting the disappointment. “It would have been nice to win tonight, but we didn’t win. We didn’t play very well. We go back to Cleveland and tee it up again, but I like our position better than theirs.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes onwww.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.