Any chance that the Cleveland Cavaliers had to come back and win the 2016 NBA Finals seemed to end with their Game 4 loss Friday, but the team received a glimmer of hope on Sunday with the suspension of the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green. As the series shifts back to Oracle Arena for Game 5 on Monday, the Warriors could have more trouble closing out the Cavs than originally thought.
Green has arguably been the Warriors’ best player this series, and a strong performance in Game 5 would likely have earned him MVP honors. With his 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game and stingy defense no longer a factor, the Cavs have a shot to force a Game 6 in Cleveland.
Once seven-point favorites in Game 5, the Warriors are now 5.5-point favorites after Green’s suspension for accruing four flagrant foul points caused the betting line to shift. With Green in the lineup, Golden State won the first two games of the series at home by a combined 48 points.
Golden State was able to win those games without much help from Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Curry scored 11 points in Game 1 and was limited to 25 minutes in Game 2, while Thompson totaled just 26 points in the team’s first two wins. Green was the most important member of Golden State’s “Big 3,” and the Warriors have outscored the Cavs by 36 points with their jack of all trades on the court. In the 40 minutes that Green has been on the bench this series, Golden State has been outscored by seven points.
Curry’s injuries this postseason have forced the Warriors to play shorthanded on several occasions, and the team went 4-2 in the MVP’s absence. On Monday, they’ll try to clinch a second straight title without Green, who's missed only one game all season.
One of Golden State’s nine regular-season losses came the one time when Green didn’t play. The Warriors lost at Denver, 112-110, falling to a team that entered the game with a 14-24 record. Both Brandon Rush and Jason Thompson started because Green and Harrison Barnes were unavailable, and Golden State was defeated after winning 36 of their first 38 games.
The game highlighted the importance of Green, who finished the season seventh in MVP voting. Curry boasted brilliant offensive numbers, scoring 38 points on 25 shots with nine assists and five rebounds. But it still wasn’t enough for Golden State, who clearly missed the presence of their defensive and emotional leader.
Golden State allowed 112 points without Green, giving up an average of 104.1 points in the regular season. The Warriors have allowed 87.7 points per game in their three wins this series. Monday’s over/under is 205, via VegasInsider.com.
The Warriors got by fine without the Splash Brothers playing well in the first two games of the series because Green and others carried the load, but Golden State can’t win that way in Game 5. Curry and Thompson combined to score 63 points on 39 shots in Game 4, and they could be poised to have a repeat performance on Monday.
Whatever magic Cleveland had in their 30-point Game 3 victory seemed to be gone two nights later, and it won’t be easy for the Cavs to find that magic again at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have gone 51-3. Andre Iguodala and the rest of the team has done a good enough job preventing LeBron James from taking over, holding him to 24.8 points and 5.8 turnovers per game.
Kyrie Irving leads Cleveland with 25 points per game this series, but his erratic decision-making hurt Cleveland down the stretch of Game 4. He hasn’t gotten a whole lot of help in the backcourt, and J.R. Smith has totaled just 18 points in Game 1, Game 2 and Game 4.
Kevin Love might benefit the most from Green’s absence. He’s been stifled in the post when being guarded by Green, and he managed just 11 points and five rebounds in Game 4.
The Warriors came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win the Western Conference finals, but the Cavs are trying to become the first team ever to do it in the NBA Finals. The absence of Green could mean Monday’s game will come down to the wire, but the 73-win defending champs have the edge as they look to close out the series at home.
Prediction: Golden State over Cleveland, 110-108