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Cavs exploit Green's absence to stay alive in Game 5

With Golden State's top defender suspended, James and Irving go off for 41 each as Cleveland avoids elimination with 112-97 victory

POSTED: Jun 14, 2016 11:15 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


Cavaliers vs. Warriors: Game 5

Here's a special slow motion look at Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

— It is quite unusual, if not unprecedented, when one of the co-executive producers of a great show misses it because he was barred from the theater.

Which made Monday a night of firsts, then. NBA Finals history was made when teammates LeBron James and Kyrie Irving both dropped 40-plus points, just a pair of desperate Cleveland Cavaliers buzzing around the floor, breaking ankles and ruining double teams. It was pure drama and thrills that generated better reviews than "Hamilton," except from the sold-out crowd at Oracle Arena, which paid to see something completely different.

LeBron and Irving scored 41 each and combined for 33 baskets and yet the 112-97 box score didn't show the biggest assist of Game 5. Although, did it need to? You knew, we knew, everyone knew who helped make this possible, whose importance grew as the buckets from LeBron and Kyrie multiplied, whose absence proved deadly to the Golden State Warriors' championship hopes at least for the short term.

This will be forever known as the "No Dray, No Way" game for the Warriors.

Nightly Notable: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving score 41 points apiece in the Cavs' Game 5 win over the Warriors.

"We missed him tonight big-time," said Klay Thompson, stating the obvious.

The simple and easy math says: Without Draymond Green and his imposing shadow on defense and the glass, the Cavs would and could seize advantage. So yes, the expected became the reality, a sad one for the Warriors, a relieved one for the Cavs and no doubt a guilty one for a suspended All-Star who helped send this series back to Cleveland.

Making matters worse for Golden State: Andrew Bogut fell awkwardly and suffered what was initially diagnosed a sprained left knee. His status for Thursday is unknown, and therefore Green's suspension is having a ripple effect. Had Green played and the Warriors won, Bogut's injury wouldn't matter.

As expected, the Warriors fans didn't turn on Green for putting himself in this position; they saved their venom for LeBron, booing him starting with the pre-game warmups in a unified effort to blame the victim. If anything, by hitting LeBron in the groin and thus accumulating enough penalty points to earn a one-game suspension, Green was treated as a martyr. "Free Draymond!" the chant went in the arena, all of Oakland turning him into a basketball Huey Newton, but you know what was free? Baskets for the Cavaliers.

Fans Boo LeBron

Warrior Fans boo LeBron James during warmups.

Green serves as a second line of defense, patrolling the lane when he isn't checking someone one-on-one — sometimes LeBron — and he was missed more than a first love. The Cavs poured 112 points and shot 53 percent, easily their finest offensive output of the series, which was no coincidence. LeBron and Irving traded turns attacking the rim when they weren't hitting jumpers, and Tristan Thompson snatched 15 rebounds, all done without interference from the Warriors' best defensive player. Understandably, the Warriors and their coach weren't in the mood to pile on, and Steve Kerr got rather snippy with the situation.

"We're not talking about that," Kerr said dismissively. "Draymond wasn't here, so we played without him. We didn't play well enough to win. I'm not going into all that stuff."

OK, then. Green spent the game about 200 yards away from Oracle, watching it from a suite inside the adjacent Stadium, where the A's were playing a night game. When he temporarily left to use the restroom, he emerged to a group of fans gathered outside who cheered and treated him as a hero. Meanwhile, Oracle grew increasingly silent as LeBron and Kyrie, despite heavy minutes, refused to run out of fuel and instead wore Golden State down.

Cleveland on Game 5 Win

The Cavaliers speak with the media following their Game 5 victory over the Warriors..

"I've said all along that he is the best guy in the NBA as far as reading when to help and kicking guys out of mismatches," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, "so that definitely hurt their defense. But I'm just proud of the way our guys played tonight and competed."

Yes, it should be mentioned, and rather boldly, how brilliant LeBron and Kyrie were together. They became the fourth teammates to combine for 80-plus points in The Finals and they made 73.2 percent of the Cavs' points, third-highest in history. The Finals have had their share of tandems and few delivered in this manner in a single game before. Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker -- none went 40-40. Neither have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The last two will have another chance to match that in this series, which of course isn't a good thing for Golden State.

Warriors on Game 5 Defeat

The Warriors speak with the media following their Game 5 loss to the Cavaliers.

The LeBron stat line spoke loudly: 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks, including a vicious swat of Curry in 42 punishing minutes. This probably qualified as LeBron's best game in The Finals, considering the possibility of elimination, being on the road in a tough place to win, and the amount of grief he has taken over the previous 48 hours for his role in the incident with Green. Thompson echoed the view of other players by mentioning how LeBron's "feelings were hurt" over name-calling but after winning Game 5 he was feeling quite fine.

It was comparable to his Game 6 win for the Heat over the Celtics five years ago (45-15-5), and LeBron conceded as much: "I understood the magnitude of this game."

And despite all that, it's possible he was upstaged by Irving. They haven't always been compatible, and their on-court chemistry remains a work in progress, yet for one night Irving understood LeBron and vice-versa. Irving sliced up Curry and whomever else was thrown his way and it was a clinic in outside shooting (5 of 7 from deep) and scoring off the dribble.

It was the third straight game with 30-plus points for Irving and he's outplaying his counterpart, the two-time MVP. LeBron even gave Irving the ultimate salute by calling his performance "special" and one of the best he'd ever seen. A bit thick? Not to a player who understands NBA history.

How Defense Helped Cavs Win Game 5

Isiah Thomas, Grant Hill, Steve Smith, and Matt Winer break down the Cavaliers' game 5 win.

"He was just locked in," said LeBron. "Just calm for (40) minutes. Even in the minutes he was sitting down he was calm. Timely bucket after timely bucket. He hit shot after shot when those guys were trying to get back into the game. Defensively he was phenomenal as well, guarding Steph."

The Cavs will carry a few worries into Game 6: Kevin Love gave virtually nothing in 32 minutes despite the absence of Green and the backup point guard situation is shaky. No team has rallied from 3-1 down to win a title (0-for-32) and only two managed to force Game Sevens. But they live again. They'll deal with it.

There's another worry as well. Surely, Green is swollen with guilt and anxious to apologize to his teammates by being aggressive come Thursday (but not too aggressive). Green must endure two more days of hearing it from the basketball world about how he cost his team a chance to clinch a championship. That can wear on a player; how does he respond? In addition to his defense, his fire was missing, and it could have come in handy when the Warriors melted in the fourth quarter.

June 13: Top 5

Take a look at the best plays from Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

"I mean, he's usually pretty vocal," said Curry.

The longer the series goes, the more something can happen that can influence which way it falls. That happened with Bogut's injury. And now the Cavs have another game at home. The Warriors aren't the team facing elimination, but that status expires after Thursday.

"It stinks that it happened tonight with the opportunity we had in front of us to close out a series at home," Curry said. "It's a tough feeling. But we'll be ready. We'll come out with the confidence and get this job done."

And if you think the Warriors believe they blew a chance, that goes double for Green. While his teammates reluctantly prepare to embark on a road trip, he's on a guilt trip.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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