OAKLAND — Since 1985 in the NBA Finals, when the series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 went on to win the series seven out of 11 times. That’s 64 percent of the time.
It’s technically not a must win, but if the Cavaliers win LeBron James will have two chances to close out the series, including one on his home court. If the Warriors win at home, well, it would hard to imagine them suddenly losing two in a row.
Following a couple days of rest, Game 5 should be a more true test of these teams. Here are five key areas to watch:
1) You know it’s all about that pace, ’bout that pace. Game 4 was not played as fast as it seemed, but the Warriors improved ball movement — they made the smart passes and hit the shots off them — made the game feel that way. Heading into Game 5, the Warriors will again go small and try to run more at home, the Cavaliers will counter by going big, banging the ball inside and trying to go deep in the clock.
“I think we allowed their (small) lineup to get us out of what we did in Games 1, 2, and 3, and that was control the pace and put the ball into the post,” LeBron James said. “We shot 27 threes. So I would say half of those or even more than half were some good shots, but a few of them we wish we could have back.”
2) Can the Cavaliers hit their open threes and jumpers? Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova, we’re looking at you. In Game 3 LeBron found the open man when the double team came, but nobody could convert. The Cavaliers were 4-of-27 from three and 6-of-29 on uncontested looks. Maybe that was the fatigue of the series and the short bench getting to the legs of the shooters, and they extra day off will change that. Maybe it was just one of those things. Whatever the reason, whatever the fix, the Cavaliers cannot have another shooting night like that and win.
3) Cleveland is going to try and pound the Warriors small lineup. Expect to see more LeBron James in the post. Expect another big game from Timofey Mozgov getting deep position on Draymond Green and scoring. If the Warriors are going to go small, the Cavaliers are not going to match that but rather try to exploit it. Frankly, that’s their only real option.
“We’re going to play our game,” LeBron said. “We’ve gotten to this point by playing the way we play, and we’re not going to change. We’ll make adjustments throughout the game, but we won’t change our starting lineup.”
4) Did two days off between games refresh a fatigued Cavaliers team? Will Blatt go deeper into his bench? One of the storylines of Game 4 was fatigue — the Cavaliers just looked tired. LeBron stopped driving and settled for fadeaways in the fourth quarter. Dellavedova looked flat-footed trying to stop Stephen Curry (and Curry attacked him early in isolations, before the help could come). With an extra day off between games, will the Cavaliers be fresher for Game 5?
“It certainly helps,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “Doesn’t guarantee anything. You’ve still got to come and play. But it certainly helps.”
The other question for Blatt is will he trust the veterans on his bench more in Game 5? He’s got Shawn Marion and Mike Miller, who are itching to get more run, but Blatt hasn’t trusted them through most of the playoffs. Does the situation and the tired legs from his seven-man rotation change that dynamic?
5) Have the Warriors figured it out? In every other Warriors’ series these playoffs, there has come a point where Golden State made it’s adjustments, figured out what it would take to win, and then never looked back and won relatively comfortably. In this series, they are the deeper, more talented team, and they made their big adjustment.
“Even more so than the lineup change, we competed,” Warriors’ assistant coach Luke Walton said. “I think the first three games, we hadn’t really adjusted to what it takes, and the amount of effort on every possession it takes to win in the NBA Finals. Last game our guys fought and scrapped all game long and I think that’s why Draymond (Green) had a better game, that’s why Andre (Iguodala) had a great game.”
“I think if we played as hard as we were playing the last couple of games, it would have won us probably 67 regular season games, but it would have lost us The Finals 4-1,” Green echoed. “And that’s what we had to change. And we were able to do that (in Game 4). That’s what helped us out a lot. That’s what helped me out.”
The Warriors fully expect to play a better game back home for Game 5. If they do, there may be nothing the Cavaliers can do about it.