All season long, Draymond Green has been the Warriors’ most important player. He was the only Warrior to play in all 88 of the team’s wins. Game 5 validated that.
I don’t mean to invalidate the simply phenomenal game Kyrie Irving and LeBron James played. They became the first pair of teammates to each score 40+ points in an NBA Finals game and carried Cleveland to a 112-97 win.
James and Irving were beyond brilliant, but there were visible traces of the Warriors missing Green all night. Without their engine, Golden State’s margin for error is significantly smaller and the Cavaliers did a terrific job of exploiting that fact.
They did not move the ball particularly well, but excelled at finding the Warriors’ weak link on defense. Whether it was Andrew Bogut, Steph Curry or Festus Ezeli, the Cavaliers took a page out of the Warriors’ playbook and were relentless in punishing weaker defenders. Time and again they ran a screen, created a mismatch and let their stars go one-on-one.
That strategy requires a tremendous level of shot-making and man, oh man, did Kyrie and LeBron hit some ridiculous shots. The finished a combined 31-54 for 82 combined points. That is almost unthinkably efficient.
The Warriors did a more than admirable job without Green, but simply couldn’t create enough good looks without their playmaker. Screens from Ezeli or Bogut and the Cavs simply trapped Curry and made life very difficult. Andre Iguodala took on much of the playmaking duties and was great, but just one fewer great passer in the game made a huge, noticeable difference. Of course, Klay Thompson still did things like this to keep the Warriors in it for almost the entire game.
The Warriors needed a big effort from Harrison Barnes and he totally failed to show up. He finished just 2-14 from the field including 1-6 from deep and at least four of those threes were wide open.
Also noticeably absent was Kevin Love. Love was largely invisible for almost the entire game. Cleveland went to him twice in the first quarter and he responded with back-to-back turnover. He was relegated to standing on the perimeter from then on. It’s a tremendous waste of his talent, but it may be the only place he can be in this series.
The series now shifts back to Cleveland and atmosphere that is sure to be vicious. LeBron James’ rediscovery of his jumpshot may have shifted something in the foundation of this series. The Warriors clearly don’t have a way to guard the Cavs without sinking way off of him and he’s been great at knowing when to drive and dish and when to pull the trigger for a shot.
The Warriors’ defense will surely be better with Green back, but the Cavaliers shot-making could be just as good at home. Bring on Thursday night.