Game 5 of the NBA Finals was the best one of the series, providing us with both a close game most of the way and one where both teams and both stars played well. With five minutes to go this was still a one-point game, until Golden State finally found a burst and was able to pull away down the stretch to a 104-91 win and take a 3-2 series lead.
Steph Curry and LeBron James were both on from the outset, and the game’s signature moment came with around eight minutes left. LeBron had just drilled a three-pointer, so far out that he was in the vicinity of the Golden Gate Bridge when he let it fly. It gave the Cavs their first and only lead of the fourth quarter. It turned out to be their only lead because Curry came right back down the court and drilled a trey of his own.
LeBron finished with 40 points/14 rebounds/11 assists, while Curry finished with 37. It bears noting though, that Curry was much more efficient. He only needed 23 shots from the floor to get his points, while LeBron needed 34.
That’s not an entirely fair comparison to James—he has to take a high volume of shots for his team to have any chance, and efficiency is very hard to achieve at high volume. Moreover, it’s not the highest value—winning is. But what the difference does do is underscore how much more help Curry got last night in Oakland.
Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, both under fire for their play in the first three games, have really stepped it up the last two times out and especially last night. Both are aggressively taking it to the hoop, and off of that, they’ve started to hit some jumpers. Green helped set the tone early in the game with his play and Barnes came up with some big plays in the fourth quarter, notably a slam dunk within the halfcourt offense with about ten minutes left.
No player has been better for Golden State in this series though, then Andre Iguodala. He’s the reason LeBron is having to work hard for his points, and James has his most frustrating moments when Iguodala is guarding him. Iguodala also hit some big three-point shots in the decisive fourth-quarter run that put the game away. If you had to vote today, I don’t see how Golden State’s MVP of this series is anyone other than Andre Iguodala.
The issue of the supporting cast leads to a key personnel decision made for Game 5 by David Blatt (or LeBron, or whomever makes lineup decisions for the Cavs). Timofey Mozgov, the center who was coming off a big night in Game 4 and has played well throughout the series, saw his playing time tank. It was Cleveland’s effort to go small, in an attempt to answer Golden State doing the same prior to Game 4. Cleveland did not use Mozgov and power forward Tristan Thompson on the floor at the same time.
If you have to pick between Mozgov and Thompson, I agree you go with the latter. But I disagree with the very premise of the decision. Cleveland is not going to win these Finals by playing Golden State’s way. The Warriors’ small lineup was a logical decision by head coach Steve Kerr to speed up the pace of play. There is no lineup the Cavs can use that will be as good as Golden State in the open floor. Cleveland is going to win by grinding the pace to a halt.
This series is the ultimate in trying to win the battle of tempo, one of the clearest contrasts since the great Lakers-Celtics battles of the 1980s with Magic’s Showtime Lakers trying to run and the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish Celts trying to pound. The analogy admittedly only goes so far—even going big, the Cavs are still an underdog, while those old Celtics team were even money. And it’s generous to Curry and Golden State to compare them to Magic. But I think you get the basic gist of where I’m going.
Win the battle of tempo, you win the game. If you play the other team’s way deliberately, you’ve lost before the game even begins. Cleveland needs to get back to the muscle game at home in Game 6.
The series resumes Tuesday night (9 PM ET, ABC) with the Warriors having an opportunity for their first championship in 40 years. And for the city of San Francisco (yes, I know Golden State is in Oakland, but they belong to the entire Bay Area) it would complete a World Series-NBA championship parlay in a nine-month timeframe.