The Warriors took a 3-2 series lead in the NBA finals on Sunday night with a 104-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in another physical contest that bore only occasional resemblance to the one-sided affair many had predicted at the outset.
For the second straight game, Golden State pulled away in the final quarter, but got all they could handle from the midwest upstarts for 40 minutes.
Cleveland tied the game at 75-75 with a little over eight minutes to go, before Steph Curry dispassionately narrowed his sights like an American Sniper. Curry sparked a 25-14 run with 13 points including three from the arc, two of them well-contested. He wouldn't be denied and finished with seven threes and 37 total points.
Just as in Game 4, the Warriors found another gear near the end to leave LeBron James and company choking on their dust. It offset another extraordinary game by James. The man with CHOSEN1 tattooed across his back did everything but hold mass on his way to 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.
“He has the ball in his hands a lot. Stick with the program. Don’t get discouraged if he makes shots. He’s going to,” Curry said when asked about how to deal with James. “Over the course of 48 minutes, we hope we wear him down to make it very tough on him.”
Yet James had to do too much of the work on his own. After losing All-Star team-mates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers have been making do with role players asked to shoulder an increased role. While those players’ defense has been up to the challenge, they’ve had trouble filling the scoring hole left by their injured colleagues.
James was a one-man wrecking crew as he reprised Thursday’s penetration-focused attack, taking the ball to the rim against pretty much every Warrior who tried to defend him. He hit 15-34 and generally got the type of shots he wanted, but the Warriors continued to keep his team-mates in check. The other Cavaliers went a collective 17-47 and only two players besides James shot any free throws.
Meanwhile, Curry could lean on his running mate Klay Thompson. All season the Warriors, led by the prolific scoring duo, ran roughshod over Western Conference rivals like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Like their Hollywood counterparts, the Warriors seem blessed. Their two stars inherited NBA DNA from their fathers, and were fitted into a "sexy, cute" Hollywood-ready style that's a successor to Showtime, and the very apogee of fast-paced West Coast basketball.
The sun-kissed Golden State duo hadn’t suffered much adversity on their way to 67 wins during the regular season, and rolled through the playoffs with very little resistance. But the Cavaliers made up for it over the first four games, slowing the Warriors pace with grind-it-out offense and skintight defense.
Returning home the Warriors bounded out to an early 13-7 lead after getting four straight transition buckets. They’d get only 10 more points that way for the rest of the game as the Cavaliers caulked their transition D, and tied the scores up at the end of the first quarter behind eight points from James and JR Smith. The Warriors shut down Smith from then on, holding him to six points the rest of the way.
Cavs coach David Blatt answered the Warriors small lineup by sitting center Timofey Mozgov after the first quarter and playing him but nine minutes all night, one game after the Russian scored a career-high 28 points.
Meanwhile the Warriors beat the Cavaliers on the boards 43-37 and even grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, one more than Cleveland. The Warriors won the points in the paint too, 38-34.It raised further questions about Blatt’s decision to keep Mozgov on the bench, costing them their big inside advantage.
“When you’re coaching a game you’ve got to make decisions,” said Blatt, defending the move. “I felt that gave us the best chance for us to stay in the game.”
After entering half-time with a one-point lead, the Warriors tightened around James, who couldn't get anything to fall, shooting 1-6 in a quarter where only three players scored. Tristan Thompson scored 10 on his way 19 in the game.
Golden State had nobody with more than two baskets in the third and shot 7-21 overall, but had assists on six of them, and that ball movement carried over to the fourth, as they went 9-17 led by Curry, who was 5-7 and had 17 for the quarter.
Though it was rough-riding when they went down 2-1, Golden State have smoothed out the journey the last two games and shown the kind of resilience some felt they lacked. In the process, Curry and Thompson have been able to write the script and are moving quickly towards their Hollywood ending.