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Warriors' All-Star Green missed as defense falters

Lead by Irving, James, Cavs shoot 53 percent from field

POSTED: Jun 14, 2016 1:07 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Warriors on Game 5 Defeat

The Warriors talk about missing Draymond Green on defense in Game 5.

— The ballot lay there, blank and unused, like a groom or bride left at the altar, an engagement ring stuck back in its case and shoved into a guy's pocket.

The only way there would have been a 2016 Finals Most Valuable Player Monday night at Oracle Arena was if the championship series had ended, and the only way it would have ended was if the Golden State Warriors beat -- or as the minutes ticked away in the second half, figured some way to come back against -- the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The latter never happened, the former was left wanting. But before that ballot and the 10 or so others like it were folded neatly and packed for Cleveland, like everything and everyone else associated with these Finals for Game 6 Thursday night (9 ET, ABC), a strange thing happened.

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One name slowly and briefly showed in the blank space, like invisible ink revealed under a black light. It was like a ghost, a glimpse and then gone, fading out as quickly as it faded in.

"Draymond Green."

The missing man.

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One criterion occasionally used when assessing MVP candidates in the NBA's regular season -- how much is a player missed when he doesn't participate? -- almost never gets applied as a filter for the Bill Russell Award, a.k.a., Finals MVP. The reason is obvious: A best-of-seven series flies by and if an MVP caliber player isn't around even for a game, his team either is likely to lose or one of his teammates steps into the void.

Every once in a while someone like Willis Reed in 1970 demonstrates how vital his presence is, not just on the nights he shows up but on the nights he doesn't. But it's rare.

Well, maybe 2016 is going to be another of those rare years.

Golden State suffered because Green wasn't there to help. Cleveland benefited because of it. The numbers on Game 5's stats sheets were so unlike those to which the teams had grown accustomed through four games -- for instance, the Cavaliers' shooting jumping from 43.6 percent to 53.0 percent Monday, the Warriors passing them in the other direction from 46.8 to 36.4 -- that it was obvious something was missing.

Someone was missing.

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And that was Green, who is the heart and soul of the Warriors and their utility belt-type player. An All-Star for his play at both ends of the court, Green sat out a one-game suspension after falling prey to the league's cumulative policy on flagrant fouls. His tussle with and swipe at LeBron James late in Game 4 Friday, reviewed over the weekend, had resulted in a Flagrant 1 foul and that (on the heels of previous transgressions in these playoffs) sent Green over the postseason threshold.

Barred from Oracle Arena unless the Warriors had managed to win anyway -- he would have been permitted to celebrate with them -- Green served his time next door at the Oakland Coliseum, where the baseball A's were playing. Green and Warriors general manager Bob Myers, along with former NFL star Marshawn Lynch, watched Game 5 from a suite at the ballpark.

"I mean, it's too simple to say" that Green was the difference in the NBA outcome, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "We weren't very good defensively. We obviously knew we were without Draymond, so there's no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn't."

Kerr had a point -- two of them actually -- in citing Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who had the biggest scoring night in tandem in Finals history. They each scored 41 points -- the first time two teammates both have had 40 or more in the same game -- and shot a combined 33-of-57 (57.9 percent).

If it wasn't James bulling his way inside, it was Irving tormenting the Warriors from every angle, with whatever shot he happened to pull from his arsenal each time down the floor. Then the Cavs pair totaled nine 3-pointers on 15 attempts, more accurate and more efficient than the famous "Splash Brothers" in the home team's backcourt. Klay Thompson (37 points) and Stephen Curry (25) shot a combined 11-of-25 from the arc and wound up 20 points shy of James and Irving overall.

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Still, as much as Cleveland and its stars deserved credit for staving off elimination and as determined as Kerr and his other players might have been not to seem overly reliant on Green, the things he might have done and the moments when he could have done them were splashed across this game.

Emotions, intensity, bravado and agitation are all Green commodities, along with the "X & O" elements he's responsible for offensively and defensively. They all were missing at various points -- and even the alleged chip on the Warriors' shoulder over his suspension and the Cavs' presumed influence on the league in their complaints didn't seem to offer much in abstention.

Kerr bemoaned his defense's communication breakdowns, its mistakes in rotating to the correct offensive players, messing up on switches and more. And the Warriors who were too often in scramble mode confirmed it.

"He's usually pretty, obviously, vocal," Curry said. "He's our centerfielder in the back when he's able to see the whole floor. Tonight it was obviously different rotations and we tried to adjust on the fly with the different matchups, but we just didn't execute as well.

"There were a couple switches that we were very lazy on, and when guys get hot like that, if you don't kind of shore up your defense, especially in pivotal moments where you have momentum and can get one or two stops away from either taking the lead or finishing quarters out strong or what have you, that's when it comes back to bite you."

So, obviously we missed him tonight -- big time. It's not an excuse though.

– Klay Thompson on Draymond Green

There was another man missing for Golden State after the early minutes of the third quarter. Starting center Andrew Bogut challenged a shot by Cleveland's J.R. Smith, only to have Smith roll into Bogut's left knee on the contact. The 7-foot veteran immediately fell and writhed in pain along the baseline until play halted. He was scheduled to have an MRI exam late Monday, with his status uncertain for Game 6 and, if needed, Game 7.

But Bogut provides spot duty, a traditional big man on a team designed to thrive small. That's where Green's ability to move defensively and guard players taller or quicker, and his skills offensively that can trigger so much of what Curry, Thompson and the others do, were so sorely missed.

Said Thompson: "I mean, Draymond does a little bit of everything. Obviously, his playmaking, his rebounding, his communication and his heart and soul. So, obviously we missed him tonight -- big time. It's not an excuse, though."

Not an excuse but definitely a reason. And the biggest likely difference both teams will see and feel when they meet again Thursday.

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

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