The Warriors have been here before. In Cleveland for Game 6 of the NBA Finals. With a 3-2 advantage. Only one victory short of a Champagne party.
Except this time seems different. A lot different.
A year ago, the Warriors dominated Games 4 and 5 by 21 and 13 points, respectively. They were poised for the kill. The Cavaliers were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and drop-dead good as LeBron James played in the series, they were ready to be bagged and tagged.
But the Cavaliers have Irving this time. Boy, do they ever. He was otherworldly in Game 4 at Oracle Arena — 41 points, six assists. When James packs his A game (41 points, 16 rebounds) and gets that kind of support, his team is championship stuff.
Unlike a year ago, the Cavaliers return home with confidence. Lots of confidence. For one night at least, Irving and James found their jump shot. In Tristan Thompson, they have a beast who controlled the paint. He may not have to deal with Andrew Bogut, who’s iffy because of a sprained left knee. If the Cavaliers can take care of business on Thursday at home, where they’ve lost only once this postseason, it’s a best-of-one series.
That said, “We’re in a good spot,” as Warriors coach Steve Kerr put it after the last loss. After all, Irving can’t possibly drain 19 of 26 total shots again. James can’t shoot the ball that well from the perimeter in consecutive games. And no way can their team survive when two guys account for 73 percent of its points, right?
If necessary, Game 7 will be played in Oakland, where the home team never loses. Well, it never loses when Draymond Green is available, anyway. After a one-game suspension, he’ll be that much better and wiser for it, presumably.
Still, playoff series can be fickle things. Oftentimes a team will get one opportunity to put it away, and the Warriors can only hope they didn’t have their best one already. These NBA Finals remain theirs to lose, but for the first time in the series, that doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did only a few hours ago.
NOT EASY TO BE GREEN-LESS: Of course, if Green hadn’t been forced to watch the game in an Oakland Mausoleum suite, his team might be Champs again.
The Warriors looked nothing of the sort on Monday night. They didn’t communicate and help out on defense. They were vulnerable close to the basket. On offense, they lacked rhythm and flow, not to mention a third scorer. Yep, those are areas in which Green often excels when he’s on the court.
Don’t blame the league office this time, though. The suspension has drawn criticism from some media and Warriors personnel, but that’s so much fine whine. James should have been socked with a flagrant foul 1 as well for no other reason than to quiet some of the talk about preferential treatment. But if James was able to goad an opponent into a mindless act, then bully for him. Green has to know better than to respond with another low blow with so much at stake.
It’s called discipline and selflessness, people.
THIS JUST IN: W’s GM Bob Myers and temporarily retired Marshawn Lynch were seen at the game. According to Balls’ sometimes reliable sources, Lynch was offered the job of designated groin-kicker.
SEE YA, STANLEY: The Pittsburgh Penguins may have swept the Sharks in six games — told ya so, told ya so, told ya so! — but San Who-Deyans didn’t see their team gag for a change. Pure and simple, it was overwhelmed by a superior team from start to finish.
At least Sharks fans got to see team owner Hasso Plattner and the Stanley Cup up close. Good thing, too, because neither is likely to return any time soon.
As the Penguins proved beyond a doubt, young, fast and stable is the NHL success formula these days. The San Jose Hockey Country Club is very little if any of that right now.
The Sharks are long in the tooth, all right. Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and slow mo’s Joe Thornton and Joel Ward are on the wrong side of 30 years old. Justin Braun and Marc Edouard-Vlasic will join them soon. They have a keeper in goalie Martin Jones along with Logan Couture, Joonis Donskoi and Tomas Hertl but not much else.
It took the Sharks a quarter of a century to get within reach of the Stanley Cup finally. It could take them another 25 years to win the blessed thing.
CUP RUNNETH OVER: Sure, it was a bittersweet moment, but at least Sharks fans saw first-hand why the Stanley Cup trophy presentation was far and away the best in professional sports.
The Stanley Cup is widely known as the most difficult of all to win, and to see the team captain hoist it before the teams shake hands at center ice is a spine-chiller even for casual fans. Then to see Sidney Crosby hand it first to injured teammate Trevor Daley, whose cancer-stricken mother watched from a hospital bed, well, it didn’t get more poignant than that.
Unfortunately, too many classless fans at the SAP Barn responded with boos at the start, most of them directed at commissioner Gary Bettman, but give ’em a break. They hadn’t been there before. If there is a next time, they should know how to act, win or lose.
JUST SAYIN’: It’s not wise for Giants ace Madison Bumgarner to take part in the Home Run Derby next month, but to improve the National League’s chances, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy definitely should pitch in it.
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