There is a common saying in the NBA that a playoff series doesn’t begin until a team wins on the road. While this is usually the case in most situations, it appeared to be the exact opposite in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors went to Cleveland up 2-0 in the series, already crowned presumptive NBA Champions by many. While the Cavaliers were able to dominate in Game 3, a strong road win by the Warriors in Game 4 behind a 38-point performance from back-to-back MVP Steph Curry had most basketball fans agreeing the series was essentially over. Instead of starting a competitive series by winning on the road, the Warriors ended it.
Or so we thought.
Big news came out Sunday night when the NBA announced Draymond Green would be suspended for Game 5 after his altercation with LeBron James in the later stages of Game 4 was upgraded to a flagrant-1 foul. Green had already been under the microscope this postseason for three previous flagrant fouls, and the most recent one warranted an automatic one game suspension.
This suspension was met with much controversy from the media, fans and players. Klay Thompson, reacting to the news, said “I guess his feelings just got hurt. I mean, we’ve all been called plenty of bad words on the basketball court before. Some guys just react to it differently.” When asked about Thompson’s comments, James chose to take the “high road,” a statement that was mocked by Ayesha Curry, wife of Steph Curry, who tweeted “High Road. invisible bridge used to step over said person when open floor is available left to right.”
James received harsh criticism for this response, primarily from Mychal Thompson, father of Klay Thompson, who continued the recent trend of former NBA players in their mid-50’s complaining about everything, said “LeBron couldn’t have survived in the 80s with the physicality and the words guys said to each other back then.”
I understand that LeBron should have shrugged this off, but given the intensity of the series and the fact that he was probably pissed off with how the game was going, you can see why he did it. That’s not to say it was acceptable, but if LeBron played nice and walked away, Draymond could have been in Game 5 and we could be talking about a series recap right now. The truth is, the suspension to Green may have been the small springboard of momentum the Cavaliers needed going into Game 5 to earn themselves a chance to fight again.
Despite Draymond Green being out of the lineup (and out of the building for that matter), it was hard to envision the Cavaliers winning this game. The way in which Golden State won Game 4, raining down three-pointers and stealing the game in front of the Cleveland faithful, appeared to take away any heart this Cavaliers team had left. The Warriors hit 17 three-pointers in Game 4, the most in NBA Finals history. With each drained bucket, the body language for every player on the Cavaliers went from bad to worse. Game 5 began with a flurry of offense from both teams, with the score 32-29 Golden State at the end of the first quarter. In the second, Klay Thompson seemingly draining a shot every time he touched the basketball, with four deep 3-pointers highlighting his performance in the first half.
However, once the second half began, the Cavs hit the gas. More importantly, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving caught fire. Both finished with 41 points, handling most of the heavy lifting for a Cavaliers roster that has struggled to match the depth of the Warriors. In similar situations last year during the Finals, LeBron had to churn out a solo effort in order to get the job done. Now, he has a wingman.
So, does this win shift the outlook of this series? Sure. Kyrie Irving finally had the game he needed in order to establish himself as a star in big moments, something we haven’t necessarily seen on his resume thus far in the league. Shades of it were present in Game 4, but this 41 point night had much more of an impact. In previous games, Irving appeared to fade under the spotlight, but somehow, he found a hot streak in the hostile confines of a rocking Oracle Arena. Additionally, we saw a killer instinct from LeBron James that hasn’t come out in a long, long time. That being said, none of it will matter if the Cavaliers can’t get it done on Thursday night. Despite the great game, they will still have a monster to contend with when Draymond Green returns. Despite 41 points from LeBron and Irving, the pressure is still on the Cavaliers, and they will have to prove they can handle it.
Where is the Love?
Since returning from his concussion sustained in Game 1, you would think Kevin Love hasn’t actually returned from his concussion sustained in Game 1. He’s not doing himself any favors in proving he isn’t the odd man out on this Cavalier’s roster, and in Game 5 he finished just 1-5 with 2 points in 33 minutes of action. Someone needs to start a search party in Cleveland for this guy, because his picture is about to show up in the missing persons report. Love’s poor play has only fueled local Bostonians’ hopes of landing him next season, so it could shape up to be one interesting offseason.