Cavaliers back to earth with a bang as Warriors level finals

Golden State take advantage of battle weary Cavs to win 103-82 and make it two apiece

After their gritty and tough performance in Game 3 of the NBA finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to earth at home on Thursday, looking listless and tired in falling to the Golden State Warriors 103-82.

The Warriors took advantage of Cleveland’s malaise to cash in and tie the best-of-seven-game series at 2-2, though their play was hardly stellar.

What the Warriors did though was play consistent basketball, nothing flashy and certainly not the spectacle the Splash Brothers and their cohorts were known for this season. They played defense, blended easy fast-break layups with consistent three-point shooting, and made LeBron James – who finished with a series-low 20 points – look human for the first game in the series.

For the Cavs, something had to give on offence. With the injuries to big scorers Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the offense in the finals has pretty much running through James. He had scored 45% of the Cavs total points through the first three games. And with Matthew Dellavedova adding in another 10 points a game, the team needed contributions from others, namely from Iman Shumpert and JR Smith. They finished the game with a total of nine points between them, half of what they averaged during the regular season.


The Cavs got very little from anyone else for that matter, with only undrafted center Timofey Mozgov coming up big in the scoring column with a game-high 28. But that was part of the problem for the Cavs; when Mozgov is your big offensive weapon, the team has bigger issues.

"At the end of the day you're going to take the chance on Mozgov beating you and not LeBron," said Golden State's Draymond Green, who finished with 17 points. "Our intensity level was much better on defense. We battled. That's what was winning games for them: outworking us. We decided to play our pace and outwork them."

The Warriors meanwhile benefitted from a balanced attack. Four of the starters scored in double figures, and two more added nine apiece. Stephen Curry wasn't his eye-popping self, but he did come through with 22 points and made 4 of 7 from three-point range.

The Cavs jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, with Tristan Thompson and Mozgov scoring inside and Shumpert hitting a three. The starting run made Warriors coach Steve Kerr call a timeout less than three minutes in. But the Warriors fought back with two longballs by Curry, a three-point play by Green, and a bucket of the glass by Klay Thompson to put the Warriors in front 22-20 with 3:57 left in the first quarter. The Warriors lead at the end of the frame by a score of 31-24 score, outscoring the Cavs by 14 points since the early timeout. They'd never really look back.

David Lee, who escaped from playoff oblivion during the fourth quarter of Game 3, played 15 solid minutes with nine points and five rebounds.

Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who too had been mostly non-existent in the first three games, started the game on the bench in favor of Andre Iguodala.

“I think going small made sense for us,” he said of Iguodala’s start. “We had been making slow starts and it picked the tempo of the game up. We played that first quarter pretty aggressively and gave them a different look and I think it worked.”

With 4:43 left to go in the half, James drove the baseline and was hacked by Bogut, who had just entered the game for the first time. James stayed on the floor for several minutes as the crowd watched in stunned silence, and then went to the bench holding a towel to his head. He stayed in the game, however.

James had just 10 points in the first half, after pouring in 123 points in the first three games, a record for the finals. He’d need 22 shots to finish with 20 points.

“They doubled me a little more tonight, but we couldn’t make any shots from the outside but we’ll take those looks again,” James said. “We all struggle at times a couple games here and a couple games there, but we don’t give up on anyone and give up on ourselves.”

The Cavs were dismal after their hot start, shooting just 4 of 27 from three-point land, and 33% from the field. Dellavedova, the hero of Game 3, was particularly cold, making just 3 of 14 from the field, and 2 of 9 three-pointers. He finished with just 10 points and four assists.

The Warriors played steady ball and spread it around throughout the game. Iguodala and Green ran the floor well, but the boards, and occasionally popped out for some critical threes. Iguodala finished with 22 points and made 4 of 9 three-pointers.

James did get the Cavs close in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in that period and cutting the lead to three points at 65-62 with five minutes to go in the stanza. One bucket came on a pretty fast break with Dellavedova dishing to a high-flying James for a drop-the-hammer dunk.

But the Warriors did what they do best in that quarter, ending with Curry hitting a smooth step-back three from the left wing at the buzzer for a 76-70 lead.

As the series move back to Golden State for Game 5 on Sunday all tied up, the big question is whether the Cavs have enough gas to get two more victories. James has played a lot of minutes, and the bench has been almost non-existent. Meanwhile the Warriors relied tonight on balance and consistency. The series seems to be leaning the Warriors way, but then again, it’s one that seems destined to go the full seven games.

(Guardian service)