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NBA 2015 Finals: Pivotal Game 5

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Jun 11, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) celebrates with guard Stephen Curry (30) during the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NBA 2015 Finals: Pivotal Game 5

It only took 4 games for the Golden State Warriors to resemble the team that dispensed of the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans like they were easy pickings. I had been watching the NBA 2015 Finals perplexed with what had happened to the Warriors and wondering how I had so severely underestimated the Cavaliers LeBron James until Thursday night.

Whether you felt the Cavaliers had found some secret to stopping the Warriors, it felt inevitable Golden State’s depth of talent would eventually overtake Cleveland and more specifically James.  As I pointed to in my Game 3 pregame I anticipated the Warrior’s would surface now that they were desperate and further that coach Steve Kerr would make some changes in the form of inserting Andre Iguodala into his starting line-up.

Getting Iggy With It:

I’ve already stated Iguodala has been the best Warrior on the court through the first 3 games and while I thought his addition to the starting line-up would pay dividends I hadn’t expected him to replace Bogut.

The move to insert Iggy  paid off for more than Stephen Curry as the smaller, quicker line-up accomplished several things:

  • Finally Harrison Barnes showed up after barely having an effect on either end of the court. Perhaps this speaks to the work load of having to guard someone of LeBron James ilk but his 14 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks was a far deal better than no points, 3 rebounds and 3 turnover effort of Game 3.
  • The increased speed and pace presented a problem for Cleveland
  • Going small pretty much forced the hand of Cleveland coach David Blatt who adjusted by going into the paint more to Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson literally taking the ball out of James hands.
  • I also pointed out if they went with Iggy in the starting line-up it would allow the Warriors to apply more pressure to the inbound pass which resulted in other Cavaliers having to handle the ball more.
  • Perhaps the best result was with Iggy starting he immediately was defending LeBron which stopped James from getting into an early rhythm and his pressure defense seemed to take a toll on the King who still came just 2 assists shy of a triple-double (20 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists), but was a minus -15 and shot less effectively (7 for 22 from the field for 31%, was 1 of 4 from three and only 50% from the line 5 of 10).

Standouts:

Draymond Green:

How can you not love this kid. It’s said that behind closed doors he lit into his team for their lack of effort and hustle, but openly he took all the blame for the Game 2 and 3 losses citing his lack of production as the reason. In Game 3, he seemed to be lacking in confidence, picked up quick silly fouls and allowed Timofey Mozgove to get in his head. His stat line of 7 points, 2 of 10 from the field (1 of 4 from three) and 7 rebounds was far from his usual production, but more importantly his leadership on the court was the key missing ingredient.

Game 4 he completely turned things around scoring 17 points on 6 of 11 from the field, had 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block. A game much more reflective of the stat line typically associated with the heart and soul of the Warriors.

Shaun Livingston:

While Iggy, the Splash Brothers and Green may be getting the majority of the accolades I felt the x-factor in Game 4 was Livingston. He stat line was more than decent with 7 points, 8 rebounds, 4assists a steal and a block. However his energy specifically on defense was huge; case in point his plus +25 was a team best and he literally made Matthew Dellavedova look like an after thought when he was matched up against him.

Not to be over looked: Shaun #Livingston was HUGE defensively made Delli look like a D-Leaguer 7P 8R 4A Stl Blk & PLUS 25! #NBAFinals

— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) June 12, 2015

Cavalier Depth:

You have to wonder if David Blatt will finally utilize his bench more given J.R. Smith has virtually been a no show in the series. Game 4 he posted 4 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists yet he was a team worst minus -27.

Looking at his contribution in the series it’s somewhat staggering as he’s averaging just 9 points, is shooting 29.8% from the field, 25.% from three and grabbing 3.5 rebounds. He doesn’t seem to be invested on defense specifically and I wonder if he’s already decided the series is lost once Kyrie Irving excited with the fractured kneecap. Perhaps he’ll show up soon, but if the Cavaliers want to win they need someone else to contribute outside of James, Thompson (who it has to be said has been stellar on the boards) and Mozgov.

It’s curious Blatt continues to go predominantly with 7 players: the starters, Smith and minor minutes for James Jones or Mike Miller.

The question has to be asked is Shawn Marion healthy? If not, why isn’t he getting some burn, if for no other reason to give the starters some rest. He’s a smart vet who doesn’t need to produce offensively but his presence on defense alone would help inspire his court mates one would think.

Game 5 Adjustments and Prediction:

Now the series comes down to the best of three and there are only so many adjustments the Cavaliers can make. Cleveland now are forced to win at least one more game at Oracle and the odds of that occurring don’t favor the Cavs. Heading into Game 5 here’s what each team needs to do:

Cleveland:

After Game 2, I posed the question whether it was feasible to expect James to play 40 plus minutes, shoot over 35 field goals and do all the intangibles. It’s safe to say Game 4 showcased why this is a team sport and not an individual sport. Whether you’re a big James fan or not what he’s accomplished is staggering, but he can’t win this series alone.

Other keys will be:

  • Expect the Cavaliers to remain big given it’s the one true advantage they have (James aside) and going small would only serve to allow the Warriors even more of an advantage.
  • The Cavs will likely try to play upon the zebra’s to allow for a more aggressive defense (read: let them foul) and once again I expect an aggressive, physical strategy from Cleveland. The problem is now that the Warriors have woken up, they’ll push back.
  • Look for Cleveland to also try to get the ball into James hands more so he can facilatate
  • Try to control the pace (slow it down).
  • Also, I think we may see Blatt give someone else additional minutes off the bench. Perhaps a combination of Mike Miller, James Jones and Shawn Marion.
  • Get out to a quick start to offset the “Roar”acle noise

Golden State:

Suffice to say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words I expect Kerr will go with Iggy in the starting line-up again and play David Lee additional minutes again.

The other keys will be:

  • Get Klay Thompson rolling since  he was the only starter who didn’t register a typical production in Game 4
  • Continue to pressure the inbound pass and keep it out of James hands where possible
  • Utilize the occasional double team on James to keep him confused regarding the coverage
  • Make sure to read the zebra’s well i.e if they start calling early fouls – adjust. NOTE: this series has been one of the worst officiated in history so the Warriors need to adapt to the whistle.
  • Continue to limit James ability to go left (his preferred side) and also continue to force someone other than James to be a facilitator.
  • With Dellavedova beginning to play more like a reserve I think Kerr will wear him down further by utilizing Livingston more and that will lead to…
  • Stephen Curry is DUE for a big game and I think tonight might be his coming out party to claim the MVP that Iguodala has staked a claim on through the first 4 games of the series.  .

If #Iguodala keeps playing this way and GSW win series he's earned the MVP in my opinion #NBAFinals

— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) June 12, 2015

Just like how the Warriors found their footing after Game 3 versus Memphis, I expect them to roll now. I could see the wheels coming off for the Cavs as no one is able to help LeBron and GSW winning again by a healthy double digit margin.

Having said that, keep an eye early to see how the zebra’s whistles affect the product on the court. They’ve had way too much influence on the series so far and it’s been one of the worst displays of officiating I can ever recall. Let’s hope they just let them play (regardless of who wins), because as a fan I prefer to watch a match determined by the players and the games in the playoffs which haven’t had a heavy handed zebra involvement have produced a better overall product for us to enjoy as viewers.

Note: All charts/visuals courtesy of NBA TV “The Starters” and NBA Game Time

Next: Patrick Beverley Year End Review

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