The Golden State Warriors find themselves in the same position they were in last year, and they’re hoping for identical results. Heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the team has a chance to close out the series on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Apparently left for dead with a loss at home in Game 4, the Cavs upset the Warriors Monday to keep their title hopes alive. Without Draymond Green, Golden State couldn’t clinch a second straight title in Game 5, and the possibility remains for it to become the first team to ever blow a 3-1 series lead in the finals.
Cleveland is a slight favorite at home, and the Cavs’ Game 4 loss was the only time they were defeated at Quicken Loans Arena this postseason. The Warriors are underdogs for the third time this series and the fourth time in the playoffs.
Green returns for the Warriors from his one-game suspension, but the team will be without its starting center. Andrew Bogut suffered a knee injury in Game 5 that will keep him out the remainder of the finals, regardless of whether the series goes seven games.
After the Cavs came out strong in Game 5, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them force a Game 7. But there are a few reasons why the Warriors will win Game 6 Thursday night.
Kyrie’s Unsustainable Shooting
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving carried the Cavaliers in Game 5, becoming the first pair of teammates to each score at least 40 points in a finals game. James had an all-time performance with a stat line of 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and three steals, but he’s almost averaging a triple-double for the series and could conceivably come close to matching those numbers Thursday. In contrast, Irving’s performance was easily his best of the season, and he won’t have a second straight game like that.
Irving’s numbers don’t do justice to how well he played. Scoring 41 points on 17-24 shooting from the floor, he even made contested shots, scoring against Klay Thompson’s good defense. He made five of seven 3-pointers, tying a season-high, after entering the contest shooting 30 percent from beyond the 3-point line in the finals.
Bogut’s absence removes the Warriors’ top rim protector, but he’s averaged just 12 minutes per game this series. More important, Green, the team’s best defender, will be back. Irving shot 50 percent from the field in Game 4, but he missed six of his nine shots in the fourth quarter. After playing so well down the stretch Monday, his shooting luck may run out as he attempts to help the Cavs extend the series.
The Splash Brothers Heating Up
The Warriors might have lost two of their last three games, but Golden State’s backcourt is finally getting into the groove it was unable to find at the start of the series. Stephen Curry and Thompson have been the NBA’s most-feared tandem all season long, and there’s a good chance they’ll show exactly why Thursday.
Curry and Thompson were both nonfactors in the series opener, combining to score a season-low 20 points. Game 3 was nearly as bad, as Curry needed 20 minutes to score his first points and Thompson missed nine of his 13 shot attempts, hitting just one of seven from 3-point land. But they are too good for that to last for more than a few games, and the Splash Brothers already have shown signs of coming out of their slump. Thompson scored an unbelievable 37 points on 20 shots that were overshadowed in Game 5, and he’s been hot with 10 makes in his last 21 3-point attempts. Curry scored a less-spectacular, but still-respectable, 25 points on 21 shots in Game 5, and his 38 points in Game 4 have been the norm all season long.
After Curry and Thompson were inconsistent in the first half of the Western Conference finals, they wrapped up the series with three strong performances that helped Golden State win three straight games. If they are coming on strong the way they did against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland doesn’t stand much of a chance.
Big Three vs. Big Two
Golden State’s trio of stars is back for Game 6, with Green having served his suspension, and they has made the Warriors one of the best teams in NBA history. The Cavs’ three top players are healthy after Kevin Love recovered from a concussion that forced him to miss Game 3, but Cleveland might have been better off with the power forward staying on the bench.
Love hasn’t been the player that Cleveland believed it was getting when it sent Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves almost two years ago, but he’s been productive and a borderline all-star for much of his time with the Cavs. In the finals, however, Love has barely contributed. Playing 58 minutes in the last two games, Love has scored just 13 points. Once regarded as the NBA’s best rebounder, he’s somehow managed to grab only eight boards during that span. The Cavs blew out the Warriors by 30 points when Love didn’t play in Game 3, and he probably wouldn’t be missed in the event he didn’t get in the game Thursday.
Golden State’s Big Three are so good and its bench is so deep that Cleveland can’t win three straight games unless it gets a positive contribution from Love. James and Irving can only do so much, and they might find the burden to be too heavy in Game 6.