Monday, June 12, 2017

NBA Finals Game 5: What's on the Line and What to Expect

We have arrived at Game 5 in Oakland for the second consecutive NBA Finals and the Warriors again have a chance to win a championship on their home floor.  How we got here was slightly different, but Golden State leads the NBA Finals 3-1 once again.  There are some similarities on how we arrived here and 2 major differences.  I’ll start with the similarities.  Kyrie Irving underperformed in Games 1 and 2 in this series, the team from Oakland dominated the first 2 games at home, LeBron is playing heavy minutes and showing no signs of slowing down after 7 consecutive NBA Finals appearances, and Cleveland is getting very little from their bench.  Draymond Green will play in tonight’s game, after being suspended for Game 5 last year and the biggest difference is a record breaking 73 win team increased their overall talent.  Kevin Durant, by most considered the 2nd best player in the NBA, joined them and represents a significant upgrade over Harrison Barnes.  There are a few roster differences, for the Cavaliers Kyle Korver and Deron Williams, and besides KD, Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia are new additions.

In this series thus far, as alluded to earlier, Golden State had 2 comfortable victories at home.  In both games, their 3rd quarters were phenomenal and they extended their lead significantly after halftime.  For stretches of play, including multiple full quarters, the Cavs played them basically to a draw.  At halftime of each game, Cleveland was within striking distance, trailing by 3 and 8 points.  The 3rd quarter basically decided the game in both games.  The Cavs squandered a golden opportunity in Game 3, failing to score in the final 3 minutes, and allowing GS to score the final 11 points.  That win put the Warriors one win away from a championship.  Kyrie and LeBron were spectacular in Game 3, but it was not enough for the Cavs to win the game.  King James is averaging a triple double thus far, but in the first 3 games, he had a total of 11 points in the 4th quarters.  That is unacceptable for him and if Cleveland is going to complete another incredible comeback this series, they will absolutely need more from him in the closing quarter.

There were a lot of things that happened in Game 4 that probably won’t ever happen again, as it was a very odd game.  Zaza Pachulia kicked and punched Iman Shumpert in the groin, within a span of 10 seconds.  Draymond Green was kicked out of the game, until the officials realized a mistake, and he remained in the game.  The Cavaliers set an NBA Finals record for most points in a quarter (49), most points in a half (86) and most 3 pointers made (24).  They actually have the NBA game record for most 3’s in a game with 25 in last year’s playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks.  49 points in a quarter will most likely never be duplicated again.  It was a very weird game, but Cleveland got the win it desperately needed, to extend the series.  Kyrie had 40 points and LeBron had another triple double.  It was a historic night for James, as he set the NBA Finals record for most triple doubles (9 games) and passed Michael Jordan for most total points in NBA Finals games.

For tonight’s game I expect Kyrie to continue playing well because he realizes the impact he makes on the game and for his team.  Irving is also mentored by LeBron, which to me cannot be underestimated.  James will not allow or accept another poor performance from him and Uncle Drew (Irving) knows that his contributions are absolutely needed to take down this juggernaut.  James has the highest points per game average (31.9) in NBA Playoff history in elimination games, which obviously tonight is.  There’s a lot of work remaining to get there, but he also has the highest points per game in Game 7’s out of anyone in NBA history.  There isn’t a doubt in my mind he will show up and perform at a high level.  No NBA player ever has averaged a triple double in the entire NBA Finals series, which James currently is doing.  JR Smith is a very streaky shooter, so he’s either going to be very good or bad, because with him it seems there is no in the middle.  Kevin Love has played really well this series, especially with rebounds, and I think he will continue to play well.  For the Cavs to win, they need some contributions from their bench and I believe a total of 80 points or more, between their 3 best players.

On Golden State’s side, there’s quite a bit on the line.  In his career thus far, Kevin Durant has been criticized for his failures on the biggest stage and in the most important games.  He has been exceptional in this series and is currently the front runner for NBA Finals MVP.  Another big game from him and a win by the Warriors and he removes himself from his current title of best player in the league to never win a title.  Draymond Green certainly has motivation because of his suspension last year and he has a chance to redeem himself with a big game in the series clinching game.  Curry has a chance to be one of the best point guards ever, and championships won certainly factor into that conversation.  He’s still got plenty of work to do in order to get himself in that conversation, but just on pure talent and his numbers, he could certainly get there.

Finally, we make our way to a prediction on tonight’s game.  I do expect the Cavaliers to show up and play well, I don’t think we will see a repeat of the first 2 games.  I believe we will get a competitive and close game tonight.  Cleveland has virtually no pressure going into tonight’s game.  On the flip side, basically all of the pressure is on Golden State to close it out.  The Warriors were the clear favorites going into the series and it is expected they will win the series.  I am not saying this will determine tonight’s game or play a heavy role in the outcome, but it could play a small role.  The Cavs are playing with “house money,” and can go into tonight’s game confident, loose, and playing free.  I do think the Warriors will win tonight and clinch the championship.  One final nugget:  If Cleveland completes an incredible comeback and wins this series, they would hold the 2 best comebacks in NBA history.  They would be the only team win a series after trailing 3-1, and only team to win after trailing 3-0.  Both of those titles would include 2 road elimination wins, including Game 7’s.

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