POSTED: Jun 12, 2015 2:35 AM ET
GameTime: Warriors Defense
The GameTime crew discuss the adjustments Coach Kerr made on defending LeBron James in Game 4.
CLEVELAND — Five things we learned from the Golden State Warriors' 103-82 Game 4 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena:
1. Kerr is crafty and gutsy, if not necessarily truthy
Ninety minutes before tipoff, Golden State coach Steve Kerr kinda, sorta tipped his hand when asked if he intended to send second and even third defenders at LeBron James to stop the Cavaliers star from scoring 40. "Hang on, let me look at my game plan ... Maybe, maybe not," Kerr said, his humor leaving some doubt.
Moments earlier, Kerr had been asked if he would be making any changes in his starting lineup. "No, we're going to start the same way," the Warriors coach said.
Score 1 for Kerr for cleverness, deduct 1 for honesty. That's break-even, just like the Finals now. The championship series is knotted at 2-2 thanks to Kerr's bold and risky move to "go small" from the opening tip as Golden State's primary adjustment to two consecutive losses.
No team in the league won more games than Golden State, honing its approach over the past eight months. No team has in the playoffs was healthier, top to bottom, than the Warriors -- way more so than Cleveland. And yet it was Kerr and his staff that grabbed for a bag of tricks and dug into it Thursday, veering from what had been such a pat hand.
Kerr 'Fesses Up
Steve Kerr admits he lied about Andrew Bogut starting Game 4 and instead started Andre Iguodala.
So he moved Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for the first time all season, subbing out center Andrew Bogut. The idea, at the risk of exposing the rim and the heart of the Warriors' defense, was to be more active and get some pace into the game.
"We just felt like, after three games, being down 2-1, we needed a change," Kerr said. "We needed to shift the tempo and that's why we did it."
Kerr didn't just do it, he stuck with it after Cleveland romped to a 7-0 start. Golden State's Draymond Green conceded the tipoff to huge Timofey Mozgov, and both Cleveland bigs (Mozgov and Tristan Thompson) seemed to take Kerr's move personally, as if he was signaling it wouldn't cost the Warriors too much inside.
As things turned out, it didn't. Mozgov scored a career-high 28 points with 10 rebounds. Thompson went for 12 and 13, with his usual half dozen offensive boards. But by the end of the first quarter, Golden State had 31 points, a nice follow-up to the 36 they scored in the final quarter of Game 3 to feel a little like their old selves. Over the final 22 minutes of the first half, they had a 54-35 scoring edge. And the rebounding battle halfway through read Warriors 23, Cavaliers 22.
If I tell the truth, it's the equivalent of me knocking on [Cavs coach] David Blatt's door and saying, "Hey, this is what we're going to do." So I lied.
– Steve Kerr on starting Andre Iguodala after saying the Warriors planned no starting lineup changes
Iguodala, while doing most of the guarding of LeBron James, wound up tying MVP Steph Curry as Golden State's top scorer with 22 points. Bogut got on the floor for less than three minutes. Going heavier on wing players, Golden State's defense was more active, which appeared to be more challenging for James than the strict 1-on-1 coverage he'd been seeing.
Looking more like their old selves, the Warriors led by 15 in the second quarter, survived a scare in the third when the Cavs twice pulled as close as three, then pushed ahead by as much as 23 in the fourth. All because Kerr got a little mendacious.
"If I tell the truth," Kerr said, "it's the equivalent of me knocking on [Cavs coach] David Blatt's door and saying, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do.' So I lied."
But not to his team, who learned of the switch in the morning. "It made sense when he told us just because we've been getting off to such slow starts," Curry said. "When we have that lineup out there in parts of the game, we were able to turn defensive stops into transition and pick the tempo and the pace of the game up.
"[Kerr is] not afraid to take a chance, and obviously it's not a blind guess. He's obviously invested in our team and a smart coach."
2. The Cavaliers are gassed
Three games in five days, with a flight from the West Coast and a rotation that has been going only eight deep (save for garbage time Thursday) caught up to the Cavaliers in this one. The only two who thrived were the ones met with less resistance, Mozgov and Thompson. James seemed mortal, despite max-salary numbers (20 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists in 41 minutes). And everyone else who played shot a combined 7-for-42.
They'll get a little breather now, with two days before Game 5 Sunday in Oakland. But they'll earn it with another five-hour flight across three time zones.
The Warriors are traveling and playing just as much but then, they've been going 10 deep and they don't have role players pressed into starter's minutes, with Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova covering for Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, respectively.
Cavaliers On Game 4 Loss
David Blatt, Tristan Thompson, and LeBron James, discuss their Game 4 loss to the Warriors.
This has turned into a competitive advantage. With the tag team of defenders Golden State throws at James and by generally getting all depth-y, the Warriors have played four games while the Cavs probably feel they're pushing five.
"Absolutely," Green said. "And that's the one thing we've been preaching the whole series is that we wanted to wear them down.
"But in order to wear them down, you've got to fight for the loose balls. You've got to fight for the rebounds. If everything's easy, no matter how many guys they're playing, you don't wear them down."
3. Baseline safety is going to be the new concussion protocol
When James got fouled by Bogut with 4:43 left in the first half and tumbled (rather exaggeratedly) across the baseline, he went head first into a video camera manned by Peter Winik of NBA Entertainment. He lay on the floor for a few minutes as teammates and Cavs personnel hurried over, then got up with a towel on the back of his head that showed blood from a gash.
James shot his free throws and stayed in the game, thanks to what he called a "glue" applied to the wound to stop the bleeding (he said he got stitches afterward). But as play continued, many who saw him plunge into that row of video and still photographers that's present at almost all NBA games began wondering why that danger still persists. For example, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took to Twitter to gripe about the issue, using a "#getoffthecourt/field" hashtag.
LeBron Cuts Head After Hard Foul
LeBron James drives and is fouled by Andrew Bogut, sending James careening into a cameraman and sustains a head injury.
The fact is, the NBA in recent years has moved the cameras back farther from the baseline than in the past and tried to limit credentials to allow some maneuverability and exit routes. But the hazard still exists and, with James serving as one of the vice-presidents of the players union, it wouldn't be a surprise that territory gets addressed during the next round of collective bargaining.
James said he didn't have to heed any concussion protocol. "I had a slight headache," he said, "which I think every last one of you guys would probably have if you ran into a camera. ... I'm fine."
For history buffs, the last time an NBA star-and-cameraman incident got such attention probably was in January 1997, when Chicago's Dennis Rodman ran into cameraman Eugene Amos at Target Center in Minneapolis, then angrily kicked out a foot that hit Amos in the groin. The act, including Amos' slow-motion flop from his seated position, generated headlines, along a suspension and fine that allegedly cost Rodman $1 million or so -- not including his financial settlement with Amos.
4. Mother (and grandmother) know best
Green had been averaging just 9.2 points on 26.7 percent shooting in the Finals, but he put in some extra work on his shooting Wednesday and it paid off with 17 points on 6-for-11 accuracy, along with seven rebounds and six assists. "I took an hour," Green said. "I wasn't leaving this gym until I felt comfortable. I shot a lot of pull-ups, mid-range jump shots, floaters and threes. ... I was able to come out with more confidence."
Warriors On game 4 Win
Steve Kerr, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry address the media following a Game 4 win over the Cavaliers.
Green also worked on his emotions for Game 4. And from the sound of it, that particular adjustment wasn't optional.
"My mom and grandma told me I'm crying too much," Green told reporters. " 'Leave the officials alone and just play. They got you out there looking like you're a punk and don't know how to play basketball.' When you sit back and watch, that's what I was doing.
"So I just told myself, I'm going to come out and play and whatever happens, happens .Don't argue the call. It's not getting overturned, so why continue to argue and waste energy on that. ... Don't really have time to try to argue with the officials and all that stuff."
5. Equilibrium has been restored
The Finals has been truncated to a best-of-three series now with at least one game each in Oakland and in Cleveland. Iguodala suddenly is getting talked about as a candidate for the Bill Russell Award, which honors the MVP of the championship round. Of course, since a good chunk of his case would come from the defense he's been playing on James, this would assume a Golden State title. If Cleveland wins, James would be a virtual lock to pick up his third Russell.
The Cavs missed a chance to grab the series by the neck -- no team ever has come back in the Finals from a 3-1 deficit. The Warriors dodged that particular bullet but claimed not to have dwelled on it.
"This is the biggest stage," James said. "It's being covered by everyone in the world, and you should just be happy to go out and just compete. It shouldn't matter what everyone is talking about or what everyone is putting pressure on you or things of that nature. It means nothing ... You go out and you play and you've been playing basketball your whole life. You live with the results."
In closing, we'll turn over this platform to J.R. Smith, the streaky Cleveland shooting guard whose arrows have recently been trending down. Asked to assess his play of late, Smith eloquently said: "Horse [bleep]."
The only reason we didn't give Smith's analysis its own number is that this list is meant for things we've learned, not things we already knew.
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