Sunday, 12 June 2016

Five things we learned from Warriors' Game 4 win

CLEVELAND — Five things we learned from the Golden State Warriors'108-87 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the 2016 FinalsFriday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as the series shifts back to the Bay Area:

1. Andre Iguodala might wind up as The Finals MVP again.

For the second consecutive year, the conventional wisdom on Finals MVPs -- give it to the best player on the championship team -- might not hold. Steph Curry is a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player but that's a regular-season award. Curry didn't snag the Bill Russell Trophy last June because he started slowly and shot 15-of-43 in Golden State's losses in Games 2 and 3.

This year Curry was uncharacteristically bottled up through the first three games, scoring 48 points compared to the 90 or so his regular-season average suggested he'd net. So folks began casting about for another "thinking man's MVP," a player who wouldn't necessarily be an obvious choice but would satisfy both the casual fans and those with the pebble-grained brains.

Presuming Golden State closes out the series it leads 3-1, Draymond Greenwould be a strong candidate -- unless he winds up missing Game 5 entirely after the NBA reviews his skirmish with LeBron James in the fourth quarter Friday. If Green's below-the-belt contact with the Cavs star result in a Flagrant-1 foul, he would be suspended for one game according to the league's repeat offender rules.

Let's just say it would be a little awkward to have Green come running in from the parking lot, in street clothes, to accept the award from the legendary Boston center himself if he wasn't involved in the clinching game.

So folks are starting to look hard again at last year's choice, Andre Iguodala. Iguodala seemed a little like a compromise candidate last year -- some of us voted for James for his heavy lifting with an undermanned Cleveland roster -- but now the appreciation needle for Iguodala's two-way value is maxed out to the right.

The 32-year-old wing is averaging 10.2 points in this round and his advanced stats are formidable, with a net rating of plus-19.5 in these Finals that's even better than his plus-17.2 in the 2015 championship series. To watch Iguodala, with his long wingspan and foot quickness, somehow manage to defend both LeBron James and Kevin Love or some other second Cavs player on the same defensive possession is to bring tears to the eyes of a basketball aficionado.

2. Cleveland's "fit" issues aren't going away.

LeBron James made poor decisions and played ineffectively down the stretch in Game 4. Kyrie Irving dialed up his me-me isolation attempts precisely when he should have been dialing them back. Coach Tyronn Lue kept his key guys on the floor too long and then admitted afterward fatigue might have been a factor for them. And then there's the whole Kevin Love sideshow, which wound up having little to do with the outcome of Friday's game or the direction of the series.

At this point, there's no sense pretending anymore: Cleveland's "fit" issues aren't going anywhere. The Cavaliers could make NBA history by clawing their way back from this 3-1 deficit to win the championship, but if they opened next season with a 2-4 record after two weeks, the same old concerns and speculation would fire up.

In a postgame interview with's Dave McMenamin early Saturday morning, Love asked the reporter why he always seems to wind up the target of blame and trade rumors when the Cavs' formula falters. Neither party offered an answer, but here are a few possibilities. And they aren't going away.

-- This team didn't spring up organically. It was constructed according to James' Miami blueprint, so expectations have been higher from the start. Cleveland's payroll is the second-highest in NBA history, so there's a sense of the team being rewarded before it actually achieves its goal.

-- Love wasn't fully respected for the 25-and-15 games he strung together in Minnesota, since someone has to score and rebound for a losing team. Now, in spite of solid numbers for most of his two seasons with Cleveland, he seems to be a lesser player. And his three All-Star appearances and new $111 million contract strike some as out of sync with what Love actually has accomplished for the teams that have employed him.

-- Anything that flits too close to the LeBron flame risks getting burned. James is, has been and will continue to be a lightning rod for controversy and second-guessing, so if it wasn't Love and Irving, it would be Blake Griffin or Chris Paulor Carmelo Anthony or someone else questioned for their fit.

3. Green's reputation grows as a repeat oof!-fender.

If you think Golden State's Draymond Green deserves to be suspended for his low blow against LeBron James in their tussle in the fourth quarter, chances are you're fond of the Cavaliers. If you contend James "started it" by putting Green onto the floor, then stepping over him, odds are your preferred version of "The 'Land" is Oakland, not Cleveland.

If you understand why the NBA's, er, penal system will be reviewing Green's apparent hit to James' groin as he scrambled up from the floor, consider yourself more savvy and less partisan on this issue. Green's pattern of behavior matters, whether he winds up with an after-the-fact Flagrant-1 foul or not.

The NBA didn't levy the harshest penalties when Green twice got OKC's Steven Adams down there in the West finals, either because it wasn't sure of the Golden State player's intent or because it didn't want to unduly influence the outcome of an otherwise-terrific athletic competition (so what if Golden State lost the next game even with Green involved). This add to his unsavory portfolio and, if he were to add to his flagrant points total and incur an automatic one-game sitdown, it wouldn't necessarily swing the series in Cleveland's favor.

In this particular instance, James' role in taking down Green and then stepping over him -- a gesture of disrespect for many in NBA circles and possibly a "tell" that James was trying to bait Green into a suspension-inducing reaction -- might share liability. But whether now or at the first undeniable occurrence of Green delivering below-the-belt blows next season, the NBA owes it to all of his opponents -- and simple decorum -- to nip his inadvertent flailing or unsporting tactic (whichever it is) in the bud.

4. Cavaliers are missing out on the 3-point fun.

OK, Golden State is the NBA's most prolific 3-point team in history. But the Cavaliers did a pretty impressive job of hoisting their own mortar shots over on the East side of the playoff bracket. So if you were told there'd be 3-point records set in the 2016 Finals, you might reasonably expect a team featuring J.R. Smith,Channing Frye, Love and a few other Cavs shooters to be involved.

Nope. Golden State hit 17 3-pointers in Game 4, the most in any Finals game and one more than San Antonio made against Miami in Game 3 of 2013. But the Cavs were a feeble 6-of-25 Friday, looking not at all like the deep threats who logged three games with at least 20 threes in previous rounds. That included the all-time NBA record, playoffs or otherwise, of 25 in Game 2 against Atlanta.

In the first three rounds, Cleveland averaged 33.2 attempts from the arc, 14.4 makes and a 43.4 accuracy rate. Through four games against Golden State, those numbers have dropped to 23.5, 7.5 and 31.9 percent. That's a drop even from their regular season rate of 29.6, 10.7 and 36.3 percent.

The Warriors are defending well, extending far enough to contest Cleveland's shooters on the perimeter and not collapsing to create frequent kick-out opportunities when James or Irving attacks the rim. Equally important, Golden State's offense has made it too costly for the Cavs to keep Love and Frye on the floor in this series. Factor in Love's concussion absence, Smith's streakiness andMatthew Dellavedova's limited minutes as Lue rides a healthy Irving and the decline in 3-point production -- regardless of how fast the Cavs claim to want to play -- is understandable.

5. Travel and the Finals format matter.

Cleveland's source of resilience after falling into the 3-1 hole Friday was knowing that, no matter what, it would be boarding a plane and flying back to northeast Ohio. So the Cavs' goal could seriously narrow to "Let's drag the Warriors back with us." Golden State, on the other hand, might draw some motivation from avoiding that long flight back to Cleveland -- although winning the championship on their home court at Oracle Arena, in front of their jubilant fans this time rather than the crushed Clevelanders, ought to animate the Warrior even more.

One thing we need to acknowledge is that the 2-2-1-1-1 format -- returned to the Finals for only the second year, after 29 years of the 2-3-2 breakdown of games -- at least keeps a little drama in this year's series. If Game 5 were at Quicken Loans Arena, even a Cleveland victory would mean the Cavs would face two more elimination games on the Warriors' court. This way, if James & Co. can win "just one game," their declared goal now -- and perhaps benefit from NBA intervention on Green -- they get another home game to try to push the Finals to the max.

Look, it might be only a subtle difference, but if Golden State is going to win a second consecutive championship, maybe it can be quick about it and do it Monday. Otherwise, there's a small but stubborn chance that we still might have a series.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail himhere and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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