The brooms were out. Cavaliers were heading for a well-deserved holiday after being humiliated by Golden State Warriors over three Games in the NBA Finals. That’s what we thought; but we didn’t send Cleveland the memo. The Cavaliers came out and flat-out balled; they set records as a team, LeBron James set records as a player and Kyrie Irving danced all night. But…some parts of the game were weird…and niggly. And there were murmurs of a fix. Let us examine the arguments.
Let’s be honest, Cavaliers played their best basketball ever. That’s right. This is Cavaliers’ greatest ever performance in a playoff game; they set the record for points made by a Cavaliers team of any era. That was after they set the NBA Finals record for most points in a quarter (49), and most points in a half (86). Then they hit 23 treys, obliterating the record 18 set by Warriors. LeBron James passes Michael Jordan for most points in the Finals, and secured a 9th triple double, to pass Magic Johnson for most triple doubles in the Finals. They needed something special to defeat Warriors, and they delivered it.
And they did it by doing stuff they’d neglected the first three games. They were aggressive, they played Warriors hard, and they moved the ball. For the first time in this series, they recorded more assists than Warriors (27-26). And this was a by-product of the hustle: they battled for sweet spots on the floor, and made the extra pass to find the men in those positions. This then translated into a first-time higher FG% than Warriors (52.9% to 44.8%). And they pounded the board. The 56-52 was also the first time since Game 1, that they produced better rebounds than Warriors this series. They took care of the small stuff, it paid off.
On the flip side, Warriors came in unprepared, and paid for it. The team aiming to be the greatest in NBA Finals history, found itself at the receiving end of numerous scoring records, as they wilted. Apart from Kevin Durant, Warriors were lackadaisical. They committed lots of fouls early, didn’t shoot the ball well, and generally got lost in the Cavaliers hustle. They failed to match Cavaliers intensity and physical play. None of the starters got to double figures in scoring till deep into the 3rd Quarter. The team famous for shooting treys for fun, made just 28.2% (11-39) from deep, their lowest in these Finals.
But was there an extenuating factor? Warriors were hit with 27 personal fouls and 4 technical fouls in the game, despite being the ones bullied. The more physically aggressive Cavaliers shot double the Free Throws of the bullied Warriors in the first quarter (22-11), and there was the curious case of the ‘vanishing’ or ‘moving’ technical. When I wrote this article just before the Finals tipped off, it wasn’t about conspiracy theories, but the headline sure fits!
Game 4 has already gone into the annals of NBA Finals as one of the most interesting, and one of the most controversial ever. Game 5 is Monday night, we can’t wait!