LeBron James looked disjointed on the podium for postgame of Game 4 of the NBA Finals last night. James spoke of his team’s determination, and how the deck had been stacked against Cleveland all season, and that his team knew what to do in this moment and on this stage. But do they?
Up until the fourth quarter, Game 4 proved to be the exciting Finals game that we had waited all postseason for. The Warriors and Cavaliers traded jabs the entire night, with James and Kyrie Irving battling Klay Thompson and Steph Curry seemingly blow for blow. And then that fourth quarter saw a resurgence by the Warriors, rattling out a run that landed them a double-digit lead. The Warriors started to run like the machine we saw in Games 1 and 2, and the series took what looks like the final swing back to Golden State.
But for how well the Warriors played, this game was also every bit as much about how bad the Cavaliers were to close the final frame. Irving and James not only lost their shot, they also lost their decision-making. With the lead beginning to slip, James and Irving began settling for contested three-point shots early in the shot clock, with five or six minutes remaining in the game. Even with the game winding down, and the Warriors leading by double figures, James and Irving opted for twos, driving for uncontested layups each possession, with the Warriors burying their free throws. It’s like they forgot what got them the lead in the first place, and the Cavs sunk back into the funk that’s gotten them here.
Placing the blame for the outcome of this game is hardly only at the feet at James and Irving, however. The supporting cast still looked lifeless against Golden State, with each level failing to provide support for the two stars. JR Smith was frustrated and off, going just 2-8 from deep. The combined contributions of Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye and Matthew Dellavedova were a lackluster 1-7 from the field. Frye, brought in for his ability to stretch the floor, took just one shot, and none from deep. Kevin Love was rusty in his return, as to be expected, but was able to contribute 11 to the offense. But he still felt like a square peg in a round hole, struggling to get in rhythm with the offense. Richard Jefferson, who started in place of Love, took just two shots – and made just one – in 25 minutes of action.
The lone bright spot aside from James and Irving was forward Tristan Thompson, who flourished starting at center for the Cavs initially, but quickly became a liability offensively, and spent almost the entire final three minutes watching from the bench.
The Warriors, however, looked like they finally found their groove. Draymond Green struggled offensively, going just 2-9, but was superb defensively, leading a smothering Warriors attack on the defensive end that bottled up Cleveland and forced James and Irving to simply beat them on their own. Harrison Barnes was terrific in his starting role, having arguably his best game in the postseason, burying four of five from deep, with two in the final frame to cement the lead.
And of course, the Splash Brothers shined. Curry and Thompson were terrific, combining for 17 threes, compared to the Cavaliers’ 6. The Warriors duo combined for 63 points on 18 makes, and they were 16/17 from the foul line down the stretch. The duo has been uncharacteristically quiet in this series, with Curry especially struggling to get it going. But those demons were exorcised last night, as the two lit up the Cavaliers.
Frustration was palpable in the closing minutes of Game 4, with LeBron twice losing his temper in an uncharacteristic way. James traded words with Curry on an inbound play where Steph believed he was fouled, being shoved to the ground by James before the ball was inbounded. Upon Steph’s words with the referee, James interjected, causing a verbal joust between the two superstars.
But the biggest blow-up saw James and Draymond Green shape up, following a James elbow, a Green flop of said elbow, and James stepping over Green. Green kept his composure, perhaps knowing that an outburst would possibly be his five flagrant, and seen him suspended for the potential closeout game. It was highly out of character of James, who began his outburst with the ball still in play. After words, James said that Green had, “used some words that were over the line.” The two had to be separated and were awarded double fouls.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 12, 2016
The fourth quarter was everything the Warriors wanted – and everything Cleveland didn’t. Kevin Love sat out the majority of the last 12 minutes, the Splash Brothers got rolling, and LeBron James lost his cool on more than one occasion. The baiting of Draymond didn’t work, and the wheels came off the wagon in the Q.
LeBron said postgame about Game 5 that, “we have to come back home anyways, why not come back to play another game?”
But after watching the end of this one, it doesn’t seem like the Warriors will be coming back with them.