CLEVELAND — It wasn’t always pretty, but after about three hours of frenetic action, the Cleveland Cavaliers avoided a sweep by winning Game 4 of The Finals 137-116, handing the Golden State Warriors their first loss of the playoffs. While the Warriors still hold a 3-1 lead as the series shifts back to Oakland for Game 5 (Monday, 9:00 p.m. ET, ABC), the Cavaliers showed they can indeed compete against this team, even if it requires a record-setting shooting night to give them a chance. Let’s take a look at what went right and wrong in Game 4.
RIGHT: The Fastest Start
We have seen some fast-paced first quarters in this series, but the Cavaliers took things to an entirely different level in the first period of Game 4. The Cavs scored 49 points, attempted 22 free throws, made seven 3-pointers and shot 58 percent from the floor. The Cavaliers led by 16 after one period, and their 49 points were the most in any quarter in the history of The Finals.
“We slowed the game down within the realms of the way we were playing,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, who finished with a game-high 40 points. “But it was still high tempo. We got to the free throw line, we got in the bonus early, and then we got some easy free throws and some easy (shots). And then you include that with our pace, it was hard for them to keep up with us tonight. It's the first time all series, but we just kept attacking, kept attacking and understood that they were never going to quit.”
WRONG: Golden State’s First Half Defense
Give the Cavaliers credit for shooting the lights out in the first half: The Cavs went 28-for-46 from the field, including 13-of-22 from the 3-point line. As a result, the Cavs went into halftime with an eye-popping 86-68 lead. While some of that offensive outburst can certainly be attributed to Cleveland shooting the ball well, some blame must also be laid at the feet of Golden State’s defensive effort.
“They were aggressive,” said Golden State’s Draymond Green. “You’ve got to give them some credit. They were very aggressive. But when everyone has two fouls, it’s hard to match the physicality. We’ll bounce back, though. At the end of the day, we didn’t expect them to come out and lay down. They came out and did exactly what we thought they would do. I can’t foresee them coming to Oracle and hitting 24 3s. We never felt like we were out of the game. We continued to push. We were right there. A couple of shots drop, maybe the game turns. We’ll be fine.”
RIGHT: King James
His performance wasn’t as flashy as that of Irving, but LeBron James posted yet another triple-double in Game 4, finishing with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. This marked James’ 9th triple-dip in a Finals game, the most in NBA championship history, and maintained his average of a triple-double in the series. While he contributed his usual array of flashy plays, including a second half alley-oop to himself off the backboard, it was King James’ steady play that drove these Cavaliers.
“I was hoping they would get tired, but they didn't seem to get tired tonight,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr. “[James and Irving] were phenomenal. Both guys played tremendous games, really did some amazing things, one-on-one, making shots, and then they got a lot of contributions from others, too.”
WRONG: Splash Woes
After looking like the NBA’s best backcourt through the first three games, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had a bad night. Of course, this is in comparison to their normal lofty standards, but Curry and Thompson each had just four field goals, and neither was able to do much against Irving, who shot 15-of-27 from the floor. Curry and Thompson finished with a total of 27 points, and a combined plus-minus rating of -32.
“Obviously it wasn't [Curry’s] night,” said Kerr. “Started slow, we had some turnovers early, couple careless ones. He just didn't get it going. It was just one of those nights.”
RIGHT: Cavs Role Players
In his 16th NBA season, Richard Jefferson went from not even seeing action in several of Cleveland’s early playoff games to playing a prominent role off the bench in these Finals. Jefferson gives Cleveland a wing player capable of switching on the perimeter, and spent a significant amount of time matched up against Kevin Durant. J.R. Smith knocked down five 3-pointers, Tristan Thompson had his best game of this series with 10 boards, and forward Iman Shumpert came off the bench to play air-tight defense.
“I stick with my guys,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue. “Tristan was great. J.R.'s been great these last two games. These guys got us here and I'm sticking with my guys, not going to change my lineup. Tristan was big tonight, J.R. was big. We have to bring the same intensity and the same effort into Golden State on Monday.”
WRONG: Missed Opportunity
Last season the Warriors got off to a 3-1 lead in The Finals, and then failed on three straight chances to close out the Cavs, ultimately losing the title in Game 7. This season, with a 3-0 lead and a chance to end it, the Warriors squandered their first opportunity. They have three more chances ahead of them, sure, but sitting on a 3-1 lead against this Cleveland team might not feel all that reassuring.
“Listen,” said James, “at the end of the day, we want to just try to put ourselves in position to play another game, and we did that tonight and hopefully we can do it Monday night where we can come back here. So our mindset is try to go up there and get one. Which is probably one of the toughest environments we have in this league, along with our building. And so we look forward to the challenge and the matchup.”
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