CLEVELAND — This is how the Warriors won 73 games (not to mention a title last year).
You can only hold Stephen Curry‘s and Klay Thompson’s shooting down for so long — they hit 11 threes on their way to 63 combined points. As a team the Warriors hit 17 threes (an NBA Finals record). The Warriors aren’t fazed by loud and hostile crowds. Their depth keeps their core fresh while opponents wear down. They defend very well. And when the game gets physical, this “jump shooting team” is at its best.
All that happened in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Cleveland stumbled, Golden State thrived and is now within one win of back-to-back titles.
The Warriors won Game 4 108-97 and now lead the NBA Finals 3-1, heading back to the Bay Area for Game 5 Monday.
Stephen Curry finished with 38 points including hitting seven threes, Klay Thompson added 25 and had four threes. Harrison Barnes had a strong game with 14 points, and the Warriors’ bench added 22.
“I mean, sooner or later it’s going to happen. With guys like that, you can’t keep them down forever,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry and Thompson finally having one of their vintage games. “Sometimes our best offense is our defense, and we were making stops and we were able to get out and run and kind of flow into our offense.”
Kyrie Irving had 34 points for Cleveland, LeBron James added 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. But by the end, they both reverted to bad habits — specifically too much isolation — and the Warriors capitalized.
“You’ve got a guy like that, physically gifted, high IQ, one of the best passers I’ve ever seen, he gets it going, there’s nothing you can do,” Andre Iguodala said of containing LeBron in the fourth. “It doesn’t take one guy to come in and cut off the water or shut him down. It takes five guys.”
This was the first close and entertaining game of the series. Cleveland opened the night with the fire we had seen from them in Game 3, and they got Kevin Love back (who played well off the bench), but this time Golden State matched that energy — and in the second half did it with better execution.
The referees swallowed their whistles more in the second half, and the Warriors won the game when it got physical. Remember that next time someone sells you on the “they’re just a jump shooting team” narrative.
Cleveland’s very short bench for the past two games has them looking tired by the end — and the Cavs’ game degenerated into Irving isolations or LeBron jump shots or isolations, which the Warriors could defend.
“But our offense did stall a little bit in the fourth quarter,” LeBron said, although he denied any fatigue. “We played a little bit too much random, trying to dribble drive, get guys looks, and then we started settling a little bit for the three-point shot when we kind of got down.”
“We knew with LeBron and Kyrie playing the entire second half, if you continue to put bodies on them and battle eventually they’ll wear down,” Draymond Green said. “I think they wore down a bit tonight. Those shots you hit early are a lot harder to hit in the fourth when you have no rest.”
“(Fatigue) could have played a part in it,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But going into the fourth quarter, being down 2-1, we’re down two points. They brought their bench in, so I thought if we could keep our starters in for a few minutes, we could kind of make a run and then get guys out slowly. But they were able to go on the run. So it hurt us. But I went with my best players in the fourth quarter, down 2-1, and it didn’t work.”
Meanwhile, the more rested Warriors getting to loose balls, getting offensive boards, hustling more on defense, and with all that taking control of the game. When you give a team that shoots the three the way the Warriors a second chance it costs you — in the second half the Warriors had 16 second chance points.
Early on, the Cavaliers tried to pull away again behind a boisterous crowd, but this time the Warriors matched that energy.
Golden State stayed big to start with Andrew Bogut at center, and with far crisper ball movement than Game 3 that lineup played the Cavs even (10-10) for more than four minutes, until the Warriors went small with the death lineup. That lineup didn’t change the dynamic, nor did Kevin Love getting action at the five starting at the 5:03 mark. Nor did the fact Kerr subbed in James Michael McAdoo late in the first instead of Festus Ezili, probably to avoid bad switches on defense. The result was a 29-28 Warriors lead after one, with the Kyrie Irving having nine and Stephen Curry with eight.
The second quarter remained tight, with Love getting run the final five minutes of the half after Jefferson picked up a third foul, and the Cavaliers were +8 in that time. The key for the Cavaliers in the first half was the 10 offensive boards — they pulled down the offensive rebound on 43.5 percent of their missed shots, and that led to 17 second chance points. It was enough to have Cleveland up 55-50 at the half (although it was really 56-50 because Luke Walton picked up a technical at the end of the half, which Irving made to add to the lead).
Warriors came out in the second half hitting threes and getting the stops and transition plays they needed, and took the lead at 72-69 on Stephen Curry three in transition where nobody found him — and on those 22 points to start the third the Splash Brothers scored or assisted. The Warriors stretched that lead out to six at one point, but it was 79-77 after three.
“I think (the Warriors’ momentum) started in the third quarter,” Kevin Love said. “They got some second-chance points that hurt us. Steph [Curry] got to the ball, Dray [Draymond Green] got to the ball, [Andre] Iguodala got to a couple and they converted. That’s what got them over the hump. We shot poorly from the three-point line, shot poorly from the free throw line as well. We missed 10 [free throws] and that was tough for us.”
Then in the fourth, the Warriors did what they do. Golden State went to its bench, while the Cavaliers stuck with mostly starters trying to make a push — and the Warriors went on 12-1 run. That is part of what led to the Cavaliers’ fatigue.