Small ball works, Golden State handles Cleveland comfortably to even series

46 Comments

CLEVELAND — They went small from the opening tip. The ball flew around the court. Three pointers fell at a 40 percent clip, led by the MVP hitting four. They pushed the ball off the other team’s makes and misses, then attacked the rim. They made the extra pass.

Put simply, the Golden State Warriors looked more like the 67-win Warriors from the regular season again.

And the result was a comfortable win 103-82 victory for Golden State, behind 22 points each from Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry.

With the win, the Warriors evened the NBA Finals at 2-2 and are heading home for Game 5 Sunday.

And now it’s David Blatt and the Warriors’ turn to come up with answers, because the first big adjustment of the Finals came from Steve Kerr — and it worked.

“We did it for pace and floor spacing and just to get the tempo going…” Kerr said of the switch to starting small. “We controlled the tempo and the rhythm of the game. But that I think had more to do with us competing and getting to long rebounds and loose balls. I thought the first three games they were the more competitive team. Maybe it’s our first trip to The Finals, we thought we can play hard. It’s not just about playing hard. It’s about playing every single possession like it’s your last. And I thought tonight our effort took a step up, and that’s why we were able to win.”

“It made sense when (Kerr) told us just because we’ve been getting off to such slow starts,” Curry said of being told about the switch. “When we have that lineup out there in parts of the game, we were able to turn defensive stops into transition and just pick the tempo and the pace of the game up.”

Kerr altered his starting lineup for Game 4, starting Andre Iguodala in place of big center Andrew Bogut. This small lineup had been +18.8 per 48 minutes in limited run (20 minutes in the Finals) but Steve Kerr was going to use it to pick up the pace and make this a more Warriors friendly pace. It worked.

Well, not for the first minute, the Cavaliers raced out to a 7-0 lead (including a no-look LeBron James feed to Timofey Mozgov). But then Stephen Curry hit a couple threes, the small lineup opened up the floor, the attacked the rim, and the Warriors started to look like themselves again.With balanced attack (Green and Barnes each had five early) and Warriors came back to lead 22-20 and never looked back from there.

The Warriors pulled away and were up 54-42 at the half. They shot 46.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-17 from three in the first half — not vintage numbers for the Warriors, but far better than we had seen through three games. Most importantly Curry got some help, from Draymond Green who had 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first half, and Andrew Iguodala had 9 points (all in the first quarter). The energy of the Warriors was just different this 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, and that’s what we had to change,” Green said. “And we were able to do that tonight.  That’s what helped us out a lot.  That’s what helped me out.”

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were 2-of-13 from three in the first half and 4-of-27 for the game — the new Warriors lineup gave them looks, couldn’t hit them. On the night, the Cavaliers were 6-of-29 on uncontested looks.

“We didn’t make shots,” Blatt said. “And that put a little bit more pressure on (LeBron), too, because he was passing the ball, and the normal shots that we make in that situation, we didn’t.”

On the other end, the Cavs defense in the paint wasn’t the same when Mozgov had to come much farther from the perimeter to protect the rim compared to how close he was with Bogut.

But the third quarter was far more the Cavaliers kind of game. The Cavaliers defended well and the Warriors were 5-of-15 from the floor, plus the Cavaliers out-rebounded Warriors 17-6 in third. All that led to a 12-2 run midway through the third cut the lead all the way down to three.

The Cavaliers tried to punish the small lineup by going inside, Timofey Mozgov led the Cavaliers with 28 points. He did an excellent job sealing off smaller guys and getting early, deep position all night long.

But at the start of the fourth, LeBron had to rest — he said he was “gassed” — and the Warriors got back in their flow and stretched the lead back up to double-digits. Fatigue was an issue.

“Tonight was the third game in five days, including the trip back from the West Coast, and it seemed to have an impact on us, yes,” Blatt said.

The Warriors’ best lineup had Shaun Livingston on the floor, and that made things happen. Plus the Warriors got good minutes from David Lee, who had 9 points on the night.