With the pivotal Game 5 set to take place Sunday night, many are indeed asking the question of whether or not we’ve seen Cleveland win its last game in this series. Others have gravitated toward the mindset that something special is happening for the Cavs and that the LeBron James “best player ever” coronation is inevitable.
Regardless of the color of your pom pom’s or who you’re rooting for, one thing is for certain: This is the biggest game of the season for both teams. Here’s a look at some things to watch for…
1) LeBron James
After putting up 40-plus points per game in this series and flat out imposing his will, Game 4 saw James struggle to the tune of a mediocre 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field. The exorbitant amount of minutes he’s had to play in this series because of their decaying roster has impacted his inefficiency in games. In the past, the King has prided himself on shooting high percentages because it means that he’s making plays for his teammates and capitalizing on every possession.
With the increased role, he’s had to change his attack on the offensive end and it has caused him to show signs of fatigue. With his team desperate for a win tonight at Oracle Arena, the two-time champion will look to once again control the pace of this game. His savvy ability to shred opposing defenses is one of the things we’ve all come to respect about James. He’s been here before. He knows exactly what will be thrown in his direction. LeBron is as good as anyone at making adjustments.
In this series, James has averaged 35.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists, but he’s shooting just 38.8 percent from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc. Many have summarily dismissed his woeful shooting percentages because of how astronomical the load. Putting up numbers like these tonight would surely go a long way in propelling his team to a victory.
2) The “Others”
We’ve pretty much figured out what strategy head coach David Blatt has employed in this series. Cleveland isn’t going to allow the Splash Brothers to wreak havoc the way they’ve been accustomed to doing all year. The defense is going to dare everyone else to shoot, while they stay at home and in the grills of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Green is cognizant of his value to his team. He knows that his energy and production on the floor ignites them on both ends. One of the reasons they’ve been able to achieve this level of success over the course of the year is because of his ability to play the center position. The small ball lineup is what head coach Steve Kerr elects to go with quite often, and when Green plays well, they flourish.
Barnes, like Green, showed signs of being affected by a lack of confidence in his overall game. In Game 3’s loss, he was 0-for-8 from the floor and finished with a minus-14. The Warriors aren’t going to win too many games when he plays like this because he’s too important to their team. The hard work he put in during the offseason, particularly during that five-day experience with Hall of Famer Jerry West, surely paid dividends and made him a more complete player, and we saw him play better in Game 4.
Golden State has reified the notion that team basketball prevails and takes precedent over isolation play. A major factor in this equation involves heavy doses of contribution from Barnes and Green. Will they be able to keep up this momentum?
3) J.R. Swish?
J.R. Smith might be one of the most frustrating players to root for in the NBA, so imagine playing alongside him. He shows signs of greatness on the floor with his uncanny ability to consistently drill contested shots and bring life to dormant offenses. But then he goes into these impromptu shooting slumps and does egregious things that elicit the “What are you doing J.R.??” tweets.
Smith has been incredibly awful in this series, shooting 29.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. He sits at a minus-48 in this series and really hasn’t done much to help the Cavs. His mental breakdowns at the end of Game 2 almost cost them that game, but fortunately for him, they were able to corral the victory in overtime.
It’s difficult to rely on J.R. because of his inconsistency and poor IQ on the court at times, but if they’re going to win this series, he’s going to have to be the guy to rise to the occasion. Everyone is waiting for that 30-point breakout game; will that happen tonight? With everything at stake and LeBron literally gasping for some help, it would be in the “knick” of time, right?
There’s a theory permeating the sports atmosphere that has LeBron as the MVP of this series regardless of the outcome. If this were to happen after a series loss for Cleveland, it would be just the second time in NBA history that a player on the losing team hoisted the Finals MVP trophy. But in Game 4, we saw Iggy rise to a challenge and emphatically answer.
Iguodala has in fact been the Warriors’ most consistent player through four games and has done it both offensively and defensively. If you remember back in Game 1, the Warriors trailed by as many as 14 points early on, and it was Iguodala who played sensationally in that contest, helping his team when they needed it most. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and was a plus-8.
In Golden State’s second win of this series, Iguodala certainly looked like the team’s best player as he made the Cavs pay for their strategy against him defensively. They dared him to shoot, so that’s what he did and he finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.
His defense on James was also critical in the win, and he’ll be looking to make LeBron feel his presence again tonight. Iguodala can strengthen his Finals MVP case with a big game, but the question is: Will the Cavs still give him the space he’s been seeing so far in this series?
The NBA season is wrapping up, and as fans file into Oracle Arena, they’re aware that two wins separate them from a title celebration. Expect them to be louder than ever. We can also expect LeBron James to have an incredible game. It doesn’t get better than this.