POSTED: Jun 17, 2016 10:25 PM ET
2016 NBA Finals Game 6 Mini-Movie
LeBron James leads the Cavaliers to a thrilling home victory to force a decisive Game 7.
CLEVELAND — Five things we learned from the Cleveland Cavaliers' 115-101 Game 6 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as the series shifts back to Oakland:
They won their first 24 games of the regular season. They went 73-9 to post the best record in NBA history. Night in and night out, they seemed too cool for school, a smoothly humming basketball machine that could go half the season without its head coach and embrace a formula built so frequently off 3-pointers from 30 feet.
But Steph Curry's meltdown and ejection from Game 6 was extremely un-Warriors-like. So, for that matter, was coach Steve Kerr's philosophical answers to some questions before the game from reporters. In response to one about Draymond Green finding the proper emotional edge in his return to the series, Kerr said: "Honestly, I don't worry about that. There's either one or two games left in the playoffs. Then everybody goes off on their summer break."
A little later, Kerr again resorted to some navel gazing when urgency might have been the simpler approach. "I think our team has a good perspective on what this means," the Golden State coach said. "It's a strange balance. On one hand, it's everything that you've ever worked for. On the other, it's a basketball game."
Kerr went on to talk about Shaun Livingston, the Warriors' veteran backup guard whose career nearly ended in 2007 when he suffered a ghastly leg fracture. Livingston is an example that there is more to life than basketball. And yet, Kerr followed that up with: "Every one of us has loved basketball since the time we were 'this' tall and we all want to win, just like they do. The beauty of competition at the highest level brings out the best in you. There's tears, there's celebration, you want to be the one celebrating, but you never know, and that's why we're competing."
It sounded odd coming from a coach whose team had been up 3-1 and still led in the series, 3-2. In fact, it sounded more like something you would hear from a coach whose team already had lost the championship, 3-4.
Not to overstate it, but multiple Warriors -- Curry and Draymond Green included -- have sounded a little detached in recent days. Only Klay Thompson seemed annoyed to the point of being rattled by the consecutive losses, calling out the Warriors for their "inexcusable" start to Game 6.
Thompson also wanted more emotion before and after tipoff, right through the final horn. "Absolutely play angry," he said. "Don't play with so much emotion it takes you out of your focus, but 100 percent angry. We feel like we could have closed it out a long time ago, but here we are."
As much credit as Golden State deserves for its 2014-15 championship season and then this one, in which it set the NBA record for victories, there may be a difference when you beat teams two, three or four times across six months compared to facing and trying to beat the same opponent night after night.
GameTime: LeBron James Game 6
The GameTime crew discuss the level of play LeBron James brought to Game 6.
Cleveland has faced Golden State eight times since the start of 2015-16 and 14 times in slightly more than a year. Tyronn Lue, his coaches and his players have plenty of time to lock into what the Warriors do and unlock some of their magic. The way the Cavaliers have gotten physical with Curry, the matchups that revealed Tristan Thompson -- of all people -- to be an effective defender of the two-time MVP and a dozen other little seams Cleveland has found in Golden State's ways are paying off. Like encouraging Harrison Barnes (2-for-22 in Games 5 and 6) to shoot as often as possible.
This summer Barnes still will wind up as a $120 million player in free agency, but for now he's a liability for the team he helped win a title a year ago.
Lue has grown more comfortable, tinkering with his substitutions, showing no compunction about getting Kevin Love off the floor if needed and even tabbing cobwebbed Mo Williams and Dahntay Jones for helpful minutes. Factor in LeBron James' ability to dissect and exploit an opponent -- not just on the court but psychologically -- and it sure looks like this series might have gone on too long for the Warriors' good.
No one is more important for Golden State than Curry or Thompson. But a clear-cut No. 3 is Iguodala, whose defense on James is respected by everyone, the Cavaliers' star included. It was painful to watch Iguodala in Game 6, trying to deal with the NBA's equivalent of a locomotive while his aching back had him moving around like he needed a recliner.
Iguodala, when healthy, has the mobility, tenacity and wingspan to pester James into giving up the ball, either intentionally or via turnovers. Iguodala staggering around gingerly like Fred Sanford is just another Golden State guy to be exploited. He was a game-worst minus-25 Thursday and the veteran wing player only logged a bit more than 30 minutes.
GameTime: Iguodala Cause For Concern
GameTime talks Andre Iguodala and the Warriors playing out of character.
Kerr said Iguodala's tight back was monitored all night by the Warriors' trainers and his minutes were limited accordingly. Whatever combination of physical therapy, rest and pain relief Iguodala gets between now and Game 7 -- fans might suggest a thoroughbred's syringe worth of meds -- will likely dictate his team's ability to get James back down under 40 points in the clincher.
Jackson might be stuck in NBA purgatory these days trying to resuscitate the New York Knicks from his perch in the front office, but a little of the Zen Master's gamesmanship was on display minutes after Game 6. That's when Kerr essentially spent $25,000 -- he and everyone in that postgame interview room knew the NBA would be fining him for his comments -- to plant a seed in the referees' and the public's minds for Game 7.
It was a move straight out of Jackson's playbook, complaining about the officiating one night with an eye on maybe shaking loose a call or three the next night. Do people think Kerr actually was serious in insinuating that the league MVP ought to get treated differently than any other player, in terms of refs' whistles? No, of course not. Not literally.
GameTime: Stephen Curry's Ejection
The GameTime crew discuss Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr's criticism of the officials following Stephen Curry's Game 6 ejection.
What Kerr was doing was reminding everyone in no uncertain terms that those "ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league" can't just cut one way. He's more concerned about the uncalled fouls committed against Curry, the clutching and grabbing that has made every basket an ordeal.
Curry, whose defense has been isolated and exposed, has been called for 21 fouls in the six games. That's more than any of his teammates and more than any Cavs player except J.R. Smith (24). Two fouls in the first quarter or three before halftime is all it takes to send Curry to the bench and gum up Golden State's attack, and that's a situation Kerr doesn't want to face Sunday at Oracle Arena.
No Finals in history ever has gone so long with so little drama at the end of games. That is, never before has there been a Finals of six games or more with every winning margin in double digits. A nail-biter, maybe even an overtime, is way overdue, though at this point most viewers and fans would settle for a one- or two-possession game heading into the final minute.
There is history to be made here as well, if Cleveland can complete its comeback from a 3-1 deficit by bucking the 15-3 advantage home teams have had in Game 7 in the Finals. The last road team to win Game 7 on the road to snag the championship was the Washington Bullets beating the Seattle SuperSonics back in 1978.
To put in perspective how long it's been since that happened, remember a) Washington's nickname was the Bullets back then, b) Seattle had an NBA team and c) that was the series where Bullets coach Dick Motta popularized the "It's not over till the fat lady sings" saying.
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