9:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Cleveland -2, Over/Under: 208
Taking advantage of opportunities is so often a key part of success in the Playoffs, so when you get an opportunity you had better pounce on it. It’s with that said, that Game Five of the 2016 NBA Finals was the tale of one team that seized the day, while the other squandered the chance to hoist a second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy. For the Golden State Warriors (73-9, 1st in Pacific Division), putting an emphatic bow on their historic 2015-2016 campaign will have to wait for at least another game, while at the same time seeing their prospects fall into potential peril. After stealing Game Four (108-97) in thrilling fashion and thereby taking a commanding 3-1 series lead back home to ORACLE Arena, Steve Kerr’s charges had to feel great about closing out the Finals on their home floor, which was something they didn’t have the luxury of a year ago. However, the one-game suspension of versatile Forward Draymond Green courtesy of the volume of Flagrant Fouls he had had accumulated, particular the questionable one accrued against him in the previous outing in a confrontation with one LeBron James, cast quite a wide shadow over the team. With that said, It would become quickly evident just how much the defending champions missed the fourth-year veteran in Monday’s eventual 112-97 defeat. With the exception of James ‘ historic night, which we’ll cover in detail later, the Warriors clearly missed Green’s toughness and playmaking skills on both ends of the court, as they too often relied on wanton three-pointers to keep pace with the visiting side. It sounds hard to fathom, but this team that has been one of the most potent and efficient on the offensive end in recent memory was downright terrible Monday Night; the hosts shot a miserable 36.4% from the field, including 14-of-42 from beyond the arc (33.3%), while committing seventeen turnovers, leading to eighteen points going the other way. Green’s absence, combined with the loss of Andrew Bogut, who suffered an apparently hyperextended knee earlier in the Third Quarter left the Dubs without much size or girth in the painted area, which Cleveland exploited mercilessly; the visitors outscored the home side 46-30 in the Paint, and thus managed to slow the game down to a crawl, particularly in the Second Half, as they relegated Golden State to a scant nine Fast Break Points. Even Steph Curry, the two-time reigning MVP, struggled to get things going, as he scored twenty-five points on a disappointing 8-of-21 shooting from the field (38.1%), including 5-of-14 from downtown (35.7%), while committing as many turnovers as assists (four). The same could not be said about Klay Thompson, who singlehandedly kept the Warriors in the game, scoring thirty-seven points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field (55.0%), including 6-of-11 from three (54.5%), and a perfect 9-of-9 from the Free-Throw Line (100.0%), all the while taking up the immense responsibility of defending Kyrie Irving (more on him in a bit), for long stretches of the night. However, it was very apparent that he wore down over the final twenty-four minutes, shooting just 3-of-8 from the field over that span (37.5%), including 0-of-3 from deep (0.00%). Monday’s defeat marked just the fourth time this season that Kerr’s men had suffered defeat on their home floor, and a significant turn of events, for in their previous four games against the Cavs at ORACLE Arena, they had won them by a combined forty-eight points. But with that said, history remains on their side; no team in Finals History has ever been eliminated after amassing a 3-1 lead, and after all, Golden State did manage to win last year’s NBA Title on their opponent’s home court.
Meanwhile, there’s staving off elimination, and then there is what the Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25 in Central Division) managed to do to the reigning champions in Monday Night’s shocking performance. Simply put, the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving saved their season in one of the greatest single game performances in NBA Finals History. While Tyronn Lue’s charges have received plenty of criticism in their reliance on their stars, the only reason that they are returning to Quicken Loans Arena with a shred of hope is thanks to their pair of All-Stars. Now enough with the build-up, let’s get to the numbers; James and Irving became the first pair of teammates to score at least forty points apiece in the NBA Finals, with each player scoring forty-one points while employing brilliant decision-making and otherworldly shooting. James, the four-time MVP, deftly balanced his scoring total with relentless drives to the rim alongside some surprisingly hot shooting from the perimeter, netting 16-of-30 attempts (53.3%), including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc (50.0%), while doing a better job of getting to the Charity Stripe, knocking down 5-of-8 Free-Throws (62.5%). And as usual, he stuffed the hell out of the Stat Sheet, logging sixteen rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks in what was yet another virtuoso performance from the game’s best. Then again, it’s a testament to the man’s greatness that we come to expect that level of play from him, allowing him to be overshadowed by Irving, who for all intents and purposes stole the show in Game Five. Nothing the Warriors could managed to slow the elusive Point Guard down, as he shot a ridiculously hot 17-of-24 from the field (70.8%), including 5-of-7 from downtown (71.4%), while also doling out six assists, and racking up three abounds and a pair of steals. As a team, the Cavaliers shot a blistering 53.0% from the floor, including a solid 10-of-24 from three (41.7%), while mercilessly exploiting the short-handed home side both in Transition (plus-19 points) and in the Paint (plus-16 points). But we would be remiss if we failed to mention just how well they defended Monday Night, particularly in the Second Half; with the contest tied at sixty-one points apiece coming out of Halftime, the visitors relegated the hosts to a dreadful 7-of-24 from the field in the third stanza (29.2%). In fact, they forced the Warriors to miss all but six of their first twenty field goal attempts after the midway point. Now with the series shifting back to Cleveland, the Cavs must make another bit of history; of the thirty-two teams that have trailed three games to one in the NBA Finals, only two of them even managed to force a decisive Game Seven, with the last team to do so being the 1966 Lakers. With that said, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving playing like THIS, we wouldn’t dare put it past them.
Predicted Outcome: Warriors 106, Cavaliers 102