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Cavs facing long odds as Warriors inch closer

Second half dooms Cleveland, which will need a historic run to keep Golden State from a second straight title

POSTED: Jun 13, 2016 8:14 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


NBA Finals Game 4 Report's Sekou Smith, John Schuhmann and Lang Whitaker recap Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

— For the second time in as many Finals, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship on the Cleveland Cavaliers' home court...

OK, not really. But it definitely felt like that after the Cavaliers lost Game 4 Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena, 108-97, falling into a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven series from which no Finals team ever has climbed.

Thirty-two have landed there, 32 have died there. Whether in five or six or seven, regardless of the format -- 2-3-2 or the recently restored, fossil-fuel burning 2-2-1-1-1 -- any team that loses three of the first four games in The Finals loses, period.

It mattered not, in the end, that 2016's championship round finally got a game that was close -- there were more lead changes in the first three quarters Friday (16) than there had been in the first three games combined (14). But for Cleveland, losing by 15 and 33 points, as the Cavs did in Games 1 and 2, didn't hit nearly as hard as this one.

Tyronn Lue retorted with a couple of snappy lines when questioned about the futility of what the Cavaliers must do now, and LeBron James strode briskly to the podium and seemed chipper enough when asked about the next three days and the chore bearing down on them, of bouncing back and forth between Oakland and Cleveland with zero margin for error. Somehow they've got to re-write the song lyrics: This 'Land is our 'Land, this 'Land is our 'Land, from California to the ...

We've just got to get one. Let's get one.

– Cleveland's LeBron James

"If you don't think we can win, don't get on the plane," Lue said of his message to his players now, in maybe his best moment on a long night. "We've got to come back anyway, so we might as well come back and play."

Getting the Warriors onto a plane for a potential Game 6, though, will take a much better performance in Game 5 than the Cavaliers mustered in Game 4.

No one was going to blame Kevin Love's presence for this outcome, not the way some had given credit to his absence (concussion) for the Game 3 victory. Even if the will-he-or-won't-he uncertainty swirling around Love's availability and his role in the 48 hours afterward drained energy from and distracted the Cavs, it would have to get in line behind other, bigger issues in the East team's showing.

Their second half was a mess: Outscored (58-42), even outrebounded (25-19), a category Golden State all but conceded to Cleveland before the Finals began. They were undressed at both 3-point lines -- the Warriors shot 42.9 percent (9-for-21) over the final two quarters, the Cavs 11.1 percent (1-for-9).

It was a difficult 24 minutes for the home team and no one knew that better than James and Kyrie Irving, because they were on the floor for all 24 of them. Lue afterward acknowledged that he might have erred there, so emptying their tanks that it explained the mistakes, lack of ball movement and single-mindedness both suffered from down the stretch. James and Irving took all but two of Cleveland's 21 shots in the fourth quarter. And missed 11.

Cleveland on Game 4 Loss

The Cavaliers speak with the media following their Game 4 loss.

"It could have played a part in it," Lue said of overusing those two. "But going into the fourth quarter, being down 2-1 [in the series], we're down two points. They brought their bench in so I thought if we could keep our starters in for a few minutes we could kind of make a run and then get guys out slowly.

"But they were able to go on a run. So it hurt us."

Irving's game went from necessarily aggressive to regrettably one-dimensional, his isolations turning against him late. James had a stuff-the-scoresheet night because he played nearly 46 minutes, and in amassing 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, he also dragged along seven turnovers.

"Some of my aggression turnovers I'm OK with," James said. He called just two of his seven careless. The others? "Attack turnovers" was James' term for them. "Trying to squeeze the ball into tight places as a quarterback would."

Defensively, the Cavaliers either failed to contain Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as they had or they fell prey to the law of averages for the NBA's most lethal backcourt. Curry looked like his two-time MVP self and Thompson, in spite of his multiple defensive responsibilities, was fresh enough to take advantage any time Cleveland tried gang tactics on Curry.

LeBron's Near Triple Double

LeBron James scores 25 points, grabs 13 rebounds and hands out nine assists in the Game 4 loss.

The Warriors got bit once in this series when they went casual in Game 3 and thus are forewarned, lest they think Oracle Arena and the fans back home will win the championship for them.

The Cavaliers, unfortunately, understand the ground rules, respect the history and know the math. They're coming back to Cleveland anyway. Getting anyone to tag along will be the problem.

"Obviously, if you want to look to that side, then you put too much pressure on yourself," James said. "We've just got to get one. Let's get one."

The Cavaliers got one. The problem now will be getting a second.

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

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