Previously, on ‘Warriors vs. Cavaliers’ …
It took a grounding, of sorts – the removal of all LeBron James’ hoped-for toys – for the Cleveland Cavaliers to reveal Golden State’s blood orange sky. A subpar defensive team during the regular season, one that merely turned into a mediocre defensive team following some midseason personnel upgrades, the Cavs turned the NBA’s highest-scoring regular season team into a shell of itself at the worst possible time. Cleveland is burrowing holes into Golden State’s foundation, and they’ve earned a 2-1 NBA Finals lead.
No, the Warriors weren’t the best offensive team in the NBA during the regular season, but they weren’t that far behind the top-ranked Los Angeles Clippers, and they certainly hold the potential to drop 122 points on whoever decides to try and stay in front of the squad’s seeming cast of all-around threats.
It’s not always about NBA MVP Stephen Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, you know. Harrison Barnes is revitalized as a James Worthy-styled fill-in-the-blanks guy as a starter this season. Andrew Bogut may not be able to shoot much anymore, but his screen-setting and passing make him a formidable presence on the offensive end. And Draymond Green! The shooting, the slashing, the passing, the effort! Is there anything he can’t do?
That was the ideal, at least, and Cleveland has spent 154 Finals minutes (with LeBron James on the court for right at 142 of them) chipping away at the burnishing that Golden State’s 67-15 regular season record and 12-3 traipse through the Western Conference bracket that GSW’s pre-Finals run provided. Suddenly, Bogut seems pointless on the offensive end. Suddenly, Barnes is playing like your timid cousin that can’t make it through a wedding toast anecdote without giving up on a joke that wasn’t going to be all that funny anyway. Suddenly, Draymond Green almost seems like an offensive zero.
Toss that in with exacting attention tossed Curry and Thompson’s way, and you have a GSW squad that is struggling to score. And the whole point of this operation, still, is to outscore your opponent.
Golden State tied a season-low in Game 3 with just 37 first half points, and its drooped shoulders and half-hearted attention to detail in an 18-point third quarter helped Cleveland build a 22-point lead. The Warriors came back to make a game of it, turning this into a one-point game with just two and a half minutes to go on a Stephen Curry three-pointer, but Cleveland managed to turn the scrum its way and hold onto the lead down the stretch of a goofball fourth quarter.
Whether or not any of this is sustainable, or the product of an odd three-game sample size is anyone’s guess – because we’re still guessing at this point. Cleveland had to completely re-shape its image on the fly due to a series of trades, and then injuries. Golden State, not exactly fat and sassy but hardly in danger for the season’s first seven months, may now have to do the same.