The NBA Finals are all but sealed. The Warriors are almost certainly going to become the NBA champions for the second straight time, cap off the most perfect season in NBA history and go down as one of, if not the greatest team of all-time.
All while burying Cleveland sports fans into deep depression once again, making LeBron wait at least one more year for his elusive third championship, plunging him into a legacy defining 2-5 record and extending the 52 year long Cleveland sports title drought.
But in the first half of game four, the series looked well and truly alive. Cleveland were playing at an intensity that was missing in games one and two and had seemingly found the answer to the unsolvable Golden State question that had stumped every team in the league.
Then the first half ended and the second half began...
Just as someone flicked a light switch, the Cavs came out of the changing rooms with a completely different mentality and got outplayed in every aspect of the game following that point. Golden State absolutely destroyed them in the second half, coming out as deserved winners.
With Cleveland now staring directly at a 3-1 hole, they are toast. No team has ever come back from 3-1 down in the Finals and this situation is even more ominous, with Cleveland needing to win not one, but two games on the road to stay alive in this series.
So instead of pointing out what Cleveland could do better in game 5, I'm going to assume that in their minds they will give up and concede the series. So instead of figuring out what they can do better, let's look at what won Golden State the most interesting game of the finals.
Here are 4 key areas in which they won the game:
Differences In Rotation & Rest
Tyronn Lue and Steve Kerr became polar opposites with their rotations in game 4 and that difference proved to be one of the decisive factors in the victory.
Kerr went down the route of keeping everyone fresh, consistently rotating the squad at every opportunity. Hell, James Michael McAdoo and Anderson Varejao combined for 11 minutes, some of them coming at crucial junctures of the game, including the early 4th quarter. Kerr used a 9 man rotation for this game: his starters, McAdoo, Varejao, Andre Iguodala, as well as Shaun Livingston. All played a good chunk of minutes and none of them seemed worn out by the end of the game. Kerr got his rotation spot on, just as he has done all season.
In the early 4th quarter, with the Dubs holding on to a slender 2 point lead, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and co. called for Kerr to ditch his strategy that he uses in every game of resting Curry and Draymond Green for the first few minutes of the quarter, using the rationale that this is arguably their biggest game of the season so you need to have your superstars on the court at all times. But Kerr stuck with the strategy that won him 73 games and it paid off, Curry and Green came in refreshed and demolished a fragile, tired Cavs team bereft of breath.
Speaking of the Cavs, Tyrron Lue killed his guys tonight. Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and J.R. Smith each had at least 43 minutes of action each. I get that they are your star players, but this is unacceptable. Especially when you consider that neither Irving, nor James got a single second of breath during the second half. Could you blame them for missing makeable layups at the death, when they were probably closer to passing out than playing basketball at that stage.
Obviously, you have to play your stars to win big games, but next year, Lue should take a leaf out of Steve Kerr's book.
Costly Defensive Lapses
Through the first 24 minutes of the ball game, the Cleveland Cavaliers played uncharacteristically brilliant defense. Even though they were using a defensive strategy that I've previously stated is completely wrong for this team and its personnel, the Cavs were digging deep and were as locked in as ever, forcing bad shots and stops continuously. Everything that made their strategy of trapping pick and rolls and switching a lot terrible, were suddenly fixed. Instead of their bigs getting beaten easily on a switch, guys like Kevin Love were locked in and doing everything in their power to stay in front of their man.
Instead of gambling on steals and being constantly out of positions, players such as Kyrie Irving stayed in their spots and played their roles perfectly:
The Warriors had to go to extraordinary lengths to make their baskets. The Cavs made them play at a tremendously high level for each basket, resulting in more hard shots and obviously as a result, more misses. Here's an example of a possession the Warriors were forced to play due to stifling Cavs defense.
But when the second half started, the defensive perfection with their switching and communication suddenly disappeared. Almost immediately after half time, the Cavs just stopped talking to each other, devolving into a mess of bodies all over the defensive side of the court, resulting in easy buckets for Golden State. After the first two games this shouldn't be too much of a surprise either. Just like in the first two games, once a tiny bit of pressure was added, the Cavs collapsed and ascended into complete and utter chaos.
There is no explanation other than a lack of focus for the Cavaliers. They were using the same defensive strategies, same ideologies, largely the same personnel, but in the second half, they lost their composure and everything crumbled from there. Just look at this for an example, the Cavs didn't click in their head that this wasn't a big screening for Curry and still decided to double him, resulting in a wide open Klay three. This is inexcusable, one look at who J.R. was guarding from Kyrie's point of view, or even just J.R. telling Kyrie that it was Klay would've been more than enough to make sure they made the right choice on this play. All they needed to do here was a seamless switch. Curry and Thompson's defenders on this play are of similar heights and abilities, so a switch wouldn't have made too much of a difference. But they didn't think and doubled, stupid, stupid, stupid.
The very next play, Curry was teasing them. He ran the exact same play. Instead of communicating, Kyrie and J.R. misread the same play they saw just a possession earlier again. This time they both went to Klay. Kyrie thought it was a switch, while J.R. thought they were playing this straight up. Once again, just speaking to each other would have solved this.
Terrible Tyronn Lue Lineup Choices
There's a theme in this article and it's quite obvious: the Cavs played the first half perfectly and the second half about as differently as you could have. This area of the game was no different.
Over the first half of the hard fought encounter, Tyronn Lue thought carefully about all of his lineup choices. Lue had it spot on in the first half, he brought Love off the bench, played him almost exclusively as a center, used him in short bursts, gave both Kyrie and LeBron needed rests, in addition to using Tristan Thompson for large bursts. As you can gather, most of this revolved around the play of Kevin Love. In game 3, Lue got the rotation perfectly and just needed to fit the big puzzle piece of Love in to complete their Finals' picture.
Lue's first half scheming of having Love play in short bursts at center so it's easier for him to hide defensively and not get exploited, as well as not having him play too much with Kyrie Irving -- who is also a bad defensive player --, or Tristan Thompson -- who when Golden State goes to the death lineup generally guards a guy that Love would hide on --, was excellent.
But in the second half, for an unknown reason, Lue went away from this. He played lineups with both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson extensively, even though he had a large sample size in both games one and two that these lineups stink. These lineups are terrible when going up against a small ball Golden State group, as both Love and Thompson have to find wings to guard. Having one of them try to hide on a wing is bad enough, but both is nearing suicide.
In the fourth quarter, Lue's rotations were at their horrific peak. He played the Love/Thompson lineup until they got in a hole too deep to get out of and then at last, subbed back in Richard Jefferson with around 4 minutes left in the game. After that he subbed in Channing Frye who brings forth the same defensive problems against a small ball lineup that Love does, but in Frye's case, Lue didn't even have his players run a play for him, use him in their offensive action or really have him do anything, but have him be a defensive liability. These are definitely not the decisions you want to make in a do-or-die game.
I've blamed the Cavs a lot in the past few articles. So this bullet point is all about praising the 73 win Dubs. They played the second half to perfection. The biggest thing to me is that any opportunity the Cavs gave them (see: defensive lapses point), they converted on. Here's a few highlights of mine to praise the Warriors and to make sure that I'm taking nothing away from them, because they earned this win, it wasn't all about the Cavs and Tyronn Lue losing it.
Oh and by the way, BBALLBREAKDOWN is awesome. I love you, Coach Nick and all of your glorious vines. Never stop tweeting, posting videos or writing on your website sir!
Like what you see here? Make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss a post & while you're at it, you should follow me on Twitter (@BradWinter12)!