Jun 14, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives to the basket against Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the fourth quarter in game five of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
NBA 2015 Finals: Warriors On Cusp Of Winning Championship
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors enter tonight’s contest with the goal of finishing the series and returning the Larry O’Brien trophy to Oakland for the first time in 40 years (1975). While LeBron James will attempt to mount another super human effort to return the series to Oracle for a Game 7 winner take all showdown.
To say it’s a miracle the Cavaliers have made it this far would be an understatement. Yet LeBron James has put the injury riddled Cavaliers on his back posting historical numbers in the process.
Though Steve Kerr and David Blatt are both in their first seasons, Kerr has repeatedly made the better chess moves in the series. Granted he has more to work with, however it was curious Blatt chose to abandon his one true advantage other than James (size) in Game 5, choosing to go small instead. It felt more like an attempt by Blatt to respond, rather than to stick with a valid strategy. That, and the fact Blatt has refused to utilize his bench beyond Smith and the occasional run for James Jones or Mike Miller.
Many have questioned Blatt’s refusal to play Shawn Marion, including Marion. In reality he has nothing to lose by inserting Marion and it feels like the Cavaliers got caught up appeasing LeBron James by bringing in players he wanted on the team rather than filling out the roster with role players who could have been being utilized. Golden State for example have been able to utilize Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston and Marreesse Speights all to their advantage.
Basketball is a TEAM sport:
If we take nothing else away from this final series perhaps it’s that a team centered on 3 All Stars without ample depth behind them doesn’t ensure anything. In fact, throughout the season in my weekly power ranking I kept reiterating Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were injury prone, and if they ended up hurt Cleveland would have an uphill battle.
The fact Tristan Thompsonhas risen to the challenge has more to do with a happy coincidence, given he wasn’t even the Cav’s go to power forward until James’ favorite Anderson Varejao and Love went down with injury. Now he’s entrenched himself as irreplaceable and forced Cleveland into a situation where they’ll have to pay him in the off season or lose him.
Who’ll take the individual hardware?
Andre Iguodala has been the most consistent Warrior on a team reaming with depth, but will his missed free throws keep him from stealing the MVP of the series away from one the two teams star players.
Curry’s break out performance in Game 5, specifically in the fourth quarter put him back on the radar. His 17 points in that frame were the most by a player in 40 years, coincidentally the same year the Warriors last won the title. From my perspective James would need to force a Game 6 or Curry would have to melt down for the reigning regular season MVP not to make it a matching set.
Not since the inception of the award when Jerry West won it has a losing teams’ player won the MVP. While James has been a one-man wrecking crew there are some key factors that would keep him off my ballot if I had one:
- James inability to close out games for wins (in fairness because he’s exhausted)
- His shooting average doesn’t compare to Curry especially in fourth quarters
- Though some are pointing to his leadership I question his failure to get more out of J.R. Smith who has been AWOL in the final
Further, James’ post game statement “I’m the best player in the world” felt inappropriately timed. Much like the “decisions” James has made throughout his career, he never knows when to quit when he’s ahead. Had he not uttered those words he might have been a shoo-in for series MVP. The problem is he opened the door for those not liking things rubbed in their faces to find reasons not to give it to him. Perhaps it was meant to be a rally cry for his team, but I don’t see how that statement would drive his exhausted teammates (who’ve already been overachieving) to want to do more just to ensure he wins MVP.
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When I look simply at the shooting what Curry has accomplished can’t be overlooked. He’s shooting 44.6% from the field, 40.7% from 3 and 94.4 from the stripe. In his last 3 games his numbers have skyrocketed: 51.6% from the field, 54.5.% from three and 100% from the stripe. Also he’s hit 18 three pointers in his last 3 games. Personally, if he posts numbers even close to his series average and puts up more threes in my opinion he’s earned the Bill Russell MVP award.
Three Things Cleveland Must Do To Extend Series:
Use size advantage: Blatt needs to stop trying to play chess and play basketball. Going small as an answer back to the Warriors only served to make the game easier for Golden State because they have better talent and are used to playing with that small line-up. He was far better off going with Timofey Mozgov inside and slowing the tempo of the game.
Find a way to get LeBron rest for the fourth quarter. Unless James can enter the final frame somewhat rested there is little to no chance his team won’t be watching GSW celebrate on their home court. Perhaps we’ll see Blatt utilize the “hack-an-Iggy” in an effort to slow the Warriors and also get more stops and starts within the game to give LeBron rest.
Utilize your team: Since Cleveland went out and got Miller, Jones and Marion they may as well use them. If nothing else they are smart players which at this point may be more useful than utilizing an obviously hurt Iman Shumpert, an exhausted Matthew Delavedova and an inconsistent malcontent Smith. Blatt should throw them out there and then trust his instincts if he senses one of them can either be a spark or a game changer.
Three Things Golden State Must Do To Win Championship Tonight:
Jump on Cleveland early: If the Warriors build an early lead it will serve to quiet the crowd and naturally the psychological effect it will have on the exhausted Cav’s players (outside LeBron) will result in them forcing shots and inadvertently it may result in them letting up. With the Cavaliers still utilizing 6 players predominantly they are exhausted, so an early large lead by Golden State could put the last nail in their coffin.
Score 1oo points: Golden State is 12-1 in the playoffs when they score 100 points. I have a gut feeling this game may replicate what occurred in San Antonio last season when the Spurs had their best game on the night they closed out the series. Sure, the Warriors will need to fight the nerves and the close out games are typically the hardest to win, but they’ve got their foot on Cleveland’s throat so now they just need to finish the job.
Let Stephen Curry be Stephen Curry: He had to deal with comments through Games 2 and 3 of how Dellavedova was “handling” him and then the end of Game 3 occurred. Since that time Delly hasn’t really been being mentioned at all. In fact, Iguodala went so far as to say “we never really discussed him” pointing to how much of a threat the Aussie was really viewed as.
Of concern was the dehydration Curry apparently suffered following Game 5, but Curry is one of those talents who excels once he has your number. In his 5 career close out games he has averaged 28.4 points, 43.4% from the field, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. And, of course there is the motivation for him to have a huge game given all the LeBron MVP talk.
I have to admit I checked to see who the zebra’s were tonight prior to making my prediction, but the fact it’s the same crew who officiated Game 2 has me feeling confident. That’s because the games Scott Foster’s crew has called have the road team winning in all but one contest this post season
And yes, road teams are 11-1 in Foster-called games during these playoffs, including CLE over GSW in Game 2 at Oracle.
— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) June 16, 2015
I’ve trusted my gut all season (and post season) and while I picked Golden State in five games I did give the caveat it could be six if the zebra’s affected a close game (Game 3), so the series is on track for my original prediction. Hopefully Foster and his crew just let the teams play and if they do I’m confident the Warriors will win tonight and do so emphatically.
If the Warriors can overcome early nerves I think they’ll build a substantial lead which will turn into a double digit win. Further I’m predicting Steph Curry will have a big night with his most three’s in the series to cement his MVP trophy.
The other thing I anticipate is a 48 minutes Warrior game tonight. We’ve seen players like Speights, Livingston and Barbosa all excel in different games, but I have a feeling tonight we might see a true team effort with 7 or 8 players scoring in double digits and the Splash Brothers leading the way.
Enjoy the game everyone and don’t forget to make Space City Scoop a daily stop to catch up on all things Houston Rockets. This week we’ll continue our post season player assessments and start looking at the upcoming NBA Draft.
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