CLEVELAND — We’ve been here before. Golden State is looking to close out the NBA Finals on the road, and they feel confident. The one-game suspension of Draymond Green opened the door for Cleveland, now can they walk through it at home and force a Game 7? Lots of questions, here are five more to consider for Game 6.
1) Draymond Green is back, but will he play like Draymond Green? He wasn’t suspended last time, but in Game 4 of the Oklahoma City series — the game after the much-discussed kick to Steven Adams’ groin — Green played his worst game of the playoffs. Worried about picking up another flagrant foul, he kept his emotions in check, and the result was a timid Green who did not help his team on either end. If that Green shows up for Game 6 after being suspended for Game 5 (following a low blow to LeBron James), the Warriors will lose and there will be a Game 7.
“I think I’ve got to come out and play my game regardless,” Green said. “But there are those little fine lines where you just know you can’t cross them. It’s not every play that you’re close to that line. It’s a basketball game, so there are only certain plays where you are. I just have to make sure that I’m well composed when those situations come about, that I control my emotions, that I channel that energy and use it in a positive way to help my team and not in anway to where I may feel like it helps me as a person, me as a man, but hurts my teammates.”
Make no mistake, the return of Green is a game changer for Golden State. Defensively he protects the paint when they go small; offensively he’s a secondary playmaker and the Cavaliers can’t leave him alone (they tried that and he dropped 28 in Game 2). With him in the lineup Golden State believes they can win. Anywhere. Expect an aggressive Green in this game, but he has to remember that Scott Foster — an official with a short fuse — is doing this game. He has to be a little careful.
2) What happens with Andrew Bogut out? “It’s tough not to have Boges out there,” Green said. “He anchors our defense a lot of the time. Very smart, very good passer, great facilitator. It’s not like a loss where you say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” It definitely matters.”
But it matters far less than Green’s return. In Golden State’s Game 4 win in Cleveland, Bogut played 10 minutes. Total. No Bogut means expect more Draymond Green at center, and the Warriors are +51 in this series when he is at center. Golden State is going to need some quality minutes off the bench from Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao so Green can get some rest, but what this injury does is force the Warriors to play their best lineup more.
That leads to a Cavaliers’ question: Does Tyronn Lue play Kevin Love at center more to match up with the Warriors? Love has defended better than his reputation suggests this series, but the Warriors still like to go right at him. Lue has to come up with an answer to slow the small ball Warriors’ lineups, and it can’t just be “we can just outscore them.”
3) Can LeBron James and Kyrie Irving stay that hot? In Game 5, two of the best players in the NBA went ham. We can talk about how the Green suspension did or did not play into that, but Irving and James put together historic performances, combining for 82 points scored.
Can they replicate that performance? I believe LeBron can — he has been the single best and most consistent player in these Finals. He once again is in the Finals MVP conversation, even if his team loses, and he can impact the game with his scoring, passing and defense. That said, he needs his jump shot to fall again (he was 8-of-18 on jumpers in Game 5, 4-of-8 from three).
Irving is the bigger question for me. He was phenomenal in Game 5, but he also made a lot of difficult shots. He was knocking down long two pointers (as was LeBron). None of that will be easily replicated. The Cavaliers need him to both score and get teammates involved — the Cavaliers will need more from J.R. Smith and Love than they got last game, and Irving needs to be a facilitator not just a scorer.
4) Will Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson go off? Last game, Golden State was 4-of-19 on uncontested three point attempts. They generated decent looks, they just missed shots. Don’t expect that to happen again. If Golden State is going to close out this series on the road for the second straight year, they are going to need their two sharpshooters to knock down their opportunities — ones they generate coming off screens, and some they generate themselves. Curry needs to create space for himself and then make Cleveland pay. Put simply, the Warriors need to shoot the ball like the Warriors, and do it in the face of an aggressive and desperate Cavaliers’ defense.
5) Which team executes better? At this point in a playoff series, there are no more surprise adjustments, no more secrets to unveil, both teams know the other’s plays and what they want to do. The game plans are locked in place. The question is execution. Can Cleveland get to the rim and finish? Will the Warriors guards knock down their threes? Who controls the glass? Which team defends better? Both teams know what to do, the question is simply which one will execute their plan.