How much more can LeBron James do? The Cleveland Cavaliers leading scorer poured in 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in a Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, as the Cavs are now one loss away from falling in the Finals.
"I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world. It's that simple," said James after playing 45 grueling minutes in Game 5.
James may feel confident, but the superstar forward could also use some help from his teammates. He has averaged 45.6 minutes per game in the series, and sometime seems like the sole offensive option. While James shot 44 percent from the field in Game 5, his teammates shot just 36 percent. His teammates also had six assists compared to his 11. Only power forward Tristan Thompson provided quality numbers on the stat sheet for Cleveland, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Game 5 was James' second triple-double of the series, and it has grown increasingly clear that James is being asked to carry far more of the workload than should be required of him. Without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs only have complimentary players surrounding James, and the Warriors are quite aware of it. Letting James score his points, and shutting down the rest of his teammates has been an effective strategy for Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. On multiple occasions this series, scrappy guard Matthew Dellavedova has been fouled hard by an aggressive Golden State defense.
The solution might be an increased role for certain players. Center Timofey Mozgov, who had a 28-point, 10-rebound effort in Game 4, played just nine minutes in Game 5. Head coach David Blatt decided to go with a smaller lineup on Sunday, and it may have allowed Warrior forwards like Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala to make a stronger impact in the paint.
"It's no disrespect to anyone, certainly not to Timo, who has done a great job for us," said Blatt about Mozgov's minutes. "That's just the way that we played it tonight, and Timo will be back and he will not lose his way or lose his head just because he didn't play a lot tonight."
"Did I make a mistake? Listen, when you're coaching a game, you've got to make decisions. I felt that the best chance for us to stay in the game and to have a chance to win was to play it the way that we played it."
Blatt may also consider more time for James Jones at the expensive of J.R. Smith. In Game 5, Jones took just one shot. Smith, meanwhile, is shooting 30.6 percent from the field in the series and is averaging 12.4 shot attempts. While Jones is somewhat of a one-dimensional player, he is capable of playing 20 or more minutes. In fact, when Jones has played 20 or more minutes in the playoffs, the Cavs are 6-0.
Veteran Mike Miller, who has only played 28 total minutes in the series, may also be deserving of more playing time. Miller has taken just five total shots in the playoffs, but can be a useful player due to his experience. An uptick in minutes for swingmen Jones and Miller might be risky, but could also ease pressure off of James, who appears to be growing more strained by his perimeter role on both offense and defense. Smith tends to take ill-advised shots, and when he misses three-pointers they can lead to easy opportunities for the Warriors. Dave McMenamin of ESPN even referenced that Blatt may want to go deeper into his bench and give seldom-used veteran Shawn Marion playing time.
Those moves might be inconsequential. The Cavaliers biggest obstacle appears to be containing Stephen Curry, who has wreaked havoc on every team this season. Curry is averaging 26.2 points per game on 44.7 percent from the field in the series. He also has been blazing hot in the fourth quarter.
Yet, the Cavaliers can't feel they are doomed to lose both possible games to the Warriors. The Cavs return to Quicken Loans Arena for Game 6, and the series returns to Oakland on Friday for Game 7, if the Cavs can hold home court. The Cavs' two wins in the series have been split between Oakland and Cleveland.
In Game 4, Kerr made the adjustment to sit center Andrew Bogut to start Iguodala, and the move worked out, with Golden State winning in convincing fashion. Perhaps minor adjustments by the Cavs could be the difference in winning two consecutive games and losing the championship on Cleveland's home court.