We know who and what the Golden State Warriors are, we’ve seen it for 103 games now. We’ve seen Stephen Curry hit those ridiculous step-back threes off the bounce, and we know he can keep doing it. We have seen Draymond Green defend and knock down threes. We’ve seen this team destroy opponents in transition. We’ve seen this team defend brilliantly.
After the last two games of these NBA Finals, we have a pretty good idea what the Golden State Warriors will bring in Game 6 Tuesday night as they try to win the franchises’ first title since David Beckham was born. They will go small and bring everything mentioned in that first paragraph.
The big questions are all on the Cavaliers side at this point — they need to find an answer to the Warriors small-ball lineup. David Blatt tried going big and lost by 21. He tried going small and lost by 13. Now what?
Here are five things to keep an eye on as we head into Game 6:
1) Can LeBron do anything more? There have been so many statistics — LeBron James scored or assisted on 70 of the Cavaliers 91 points in Game 4 — and so many stories written about the load LeBron is carrying. This is my new favorite stat (via Seth Partnow): On LeBron’s shots, assists, and the offensive rebounds off his shots the Cavaliers have an eFG% of 51.6 percent, on all other shots not created by LeBron it is 30.7 percent.
Can LeBron do any more? He may have to if the Cavaliers want to play one more game.
“I don’t put a ceiling on what I can do,” LeBron said after Game 5. “I don’t know. I mean, tonight I gave up two offensive rebounds, one to Barbosa in the first half, one to Harrison Barnes, which allowed him to get an and-one with Iguodala with the left-hand trick shot. I had a couple turnovers, a couple miscues defensively, and I’ve got to be better. I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t put a ceiling on what I’m capable of doing. I know I’m shouldering a lot of the burden, but it is what it is.”
2) Will any other Cavaliers step up and knock down some shots? LeBron’s kingdom for a little help.
The Cavaliers have struggled faced with a bit of their own medicine. Against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers went under picks and dared Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, or any other Hawk not named Korver to beat them from three. Atlanta couldn’t. Now the Warriors are daring Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and any Cavalier save LeBron to beat them from three. They haven’t, not consistently.
Through the last two games the Cavaliers are 23-of- 65 (35.4 percent) on uncontested shots. The Cavaliers need to knock down their open looks.
3) Will the Cavaliers have the legs left to close out the game, or will fatigue get them again? Those shooting numbers speak to a team with dead legs. So does the fourth quarter collapses the last couple games. The Cavaliers are going with a seven-man rotation and asking those guys to give NBA Finals level effort for heavy minutes. They wear down. LeBron gets gassed. And they fade late while the Warriors seem just to get hot (despite shrinking their rotations some the last couple games). Now add in just one day off between games (with a lot of travel) and you could see a fatigued Cavaliers team.
Mostly, the Cavaliers need to defend better late somehow.
“You know, we needed our best defensive quarter tonight in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t get it,” LeBron said after Game 5. “We gave up 31 points in the fourth. Some of them were free throws, but a lot of them were them just breaking us down. So we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
One other note: Will the Warriors fade a little? Kerr has tightened his rotations, and Stephen Curry needed fluids (not an IV) after feeling dehydrated after Game 5. Will his legs be a little dead, too?
4) Will David Blatt go big or small? He’s tried both. Neither worked. It’s counter-intuitive to go small against the Warriors, who would rather play at the pace small ball tends to generate (and Game 5 was five possessions faster than Game 4, more to the Warriors liking). However, while Timofey Mozgov may have poured in 28 in Game 4 he was exposed defensively out on the perimeter (plus the paint opened up, as did transition opportunities for the Warriors). The problem for Blatt is he just does not have the chess pieces to move around the board here. There are no good options that will obviously work. Maybe he throws a little of both at the Warriors this time around.
But it feels like the Warriors have solved the puzzle. And the series.
5) Are the Warriors ready to withstand the Cavaliers best punch? Closeout games are the hardest ones to win. Especially on the road. The Warriors may have figured out how to win the Xs and Os battle, they may be the deeper and fresher team, but can they withstand the effort and intensity of what will be a desperate LeBron and Cavaliers team. For the first three games of the series, the Warriors were not ready for the level of energy and focus on every possession needed to win the NBA Finals. They finally figured that out.
But now the Cavaliers are about to crank that up to 11. Has Golden State figured that out too? Will they withstand the opening rush that the Cavaliers will bring to start the game?
If so, this likely is the end of the NBA season. If not, the dance will continue on Friday night.