NBA Finals Game 5 preview: Five questions Golden State needs to answer to win

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OAKLAND — Draymond Green is out for Game 5, suspended by the league, he will be watching from a suite at the Oakland Coliseum next door — and he has nobody to blame but himself. If you don’t think this blow to LeBron James’ undercarriage warranted a suspension, remember this is an accumulation of points throughout the playoffs — if he doesn’t body slam Michael Beasley with one second left in a first round game against the Rockets, we’re not having this conversation. We’d be discussing how the Warriors would close out the series tonight. Instead, the door is cracked open for the Cavaliers.

The question becomes how does Golden State respond? Here are five questions where the answers will determine the outcome.

1) Can Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have a big night without Draymond Green? Curry and Thompson were on the court without Green just 118 minutes during the regular season (5.7 percent of their total minutes) — they are almost always a trio. Which means Game five will enter a lot of uncharted territory in terms of Warriors’ lineups.

“Then as far as the game itself, we’re going to play a lot of people and we’ll give a lot of different looks and we’ll compete like crazy, and I think we’ll give ourselves a great chance to win,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Green often serves as the secondary playmaker for Golden State. The Warriors’ offense is 15.5 points per 100 possessions better when Green is on the court in the playoffs (because he plays with Curry/Thompson, a lot of noise there). A number of players will need to step into that role — Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are at the top of the list — and likely just about everyone will get their chance. The problem is Curry has struggled without Green on the court in the playoffs, shooting just 32 percent overall and 23 percent from three.

Simply put: Golden State is not as good without Green, and the best way for them to overcome that is to have monster nights from Curry and Thompson. The Cavs defense can be more focused on the Splash Brothers now, but Curry needs to have an MVP kind of night for the Warriors to win.

2) How well will Warriors defend without Green? More than the offensive end, it’s Green’s defense that is key. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out, the Warriors are +51 in the Finals with lineups where Green is the center and -19 when it is anyone else (Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao; and that stat excludes the garbage time in Game 2). The reason is that the Cavaliers prefer to play small lineups with Kevin Love or Channing Frye at center, and when they do the Warriors can counter with Green at center and defend it well because he still gives them rim protection.

“It’s tough because we don’t have many guys who can duplicate what he does on our team, so we’re going to have to be better,” Livingston said. “Fight harder, play harder because a guy like that you can’t replace.”

Without Green, the Warriors can’t switch as much, and that strategy has been the key to their defensive success. Also, without Green Kyrie Irving can run the 1-5 pick-and-roll now and get far more room to operate (Green’s not there to switch). The Warriors need Bogut and others to step up, they need to find a rotation that can get stops and still score the basketball. Just a hunch: Expect a lot of Ezeli time.

3) Who starts in place of Green? It’s a little bit of a moot question because Kerr is going to run so many lineups out there, but the smart money is on either Brandon Rush — historically, that’s where Kerr goes — or Andre Iguodala. If you want a longshot, try James Michael McAdoo.

What matters isn’t who starts, but who plays in crunch time — and Kerr doesn’t even know that yet. There is no precedent for this with the Warriors, he’s just going to see what works and stick with it.

Whatever way it goes, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes are going to have to play a lot of minutes in this game.

4) Can Cleveland get stops? While Green does serve as a secondary playmaker, the Warriors went heavily to a new offensive wrinkle in Game 4: Thompson setting the screen or Curry. Or another guard setting the screen. They didn’t drag Kevin Love or other bigs in so much as made Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and the other guards defend the action — and they didn’t do that well.
Golden State is going to run that a lot this game, and if the Cavaliers don’t defend that better they will be in trouble.

The Cavaliers have struggled on the road in these playoffs, their backs are against the wall now and they cannot have one of those lapses.

” I think our first two games we had way too many turnovers which resulted in those guys getting out on the break,” LeBron said. “I think we averaged 18 turnovers for 25 points in Game 1 to Game 2. No matter how well you play, that’s not good ingredients for a victory on anyone’s floor, especially not on the defending champion floor.”

5) Can Golden State rebound well enough without Green? In the first half of Game 4, Tristan Thompson abused the Warriors on the glass — he had five offensive rebounds and the Cavaliers as a team grabbed the offensive board on 43.5 percent of their missed shots. That’s why they were up at the break. In the second half, Golden State had nine offensive rebounds, won the overall rebounding battle by six, and that was key to them winning the game.
Green had 12 rebounds in Game 4.

The Warriors are going to need team rebounding at an elite level to win Game 5 and end this series. As Pat Riley used to say: rebounds = rings.