The Cavaliers called an early timeout.
This was not the start they wanted.
With Draymond Green out due to suspension, the Warriors’ defense was vulnerable, and Cleveland wasn’t taking advantage.
In the Cavs’ first shot after the stoppage, Kyrie Irving ran a pick-and-roll and had Andrew Bogut switched onto him. Irving drove, and Bogut – a good defender, though far less agile than Green – stuck with the point guard. But, once at the rim, Irving snaked by Bogut and hit a reverse layup that Bogut was just a little too stiff to successfully contest.
That opened the floodgates.
The Cavaliers shot 60% in the paint in Game 5 – their Finals high – in a 112-97 win over Golden State on Monday.
The difference? Green’s absence. The Cavs shot 43%, 47%, 57% and 54% in the paint in Games 1-4 with Green on the court. It’s not a coincidence they topped those numbers in the game he missed.
Green is just 6-foot-7, but his ability to protect the rim is integral to the Warriors’ identity. They’ve been at their best with him at center, especially in the Finals.
The Cavs have shot just 34% with Green defending the rim – “defined as the defender being within five feet of the basket and within five feet of the offensive player attempting the shot,” per NBA.com – in this series. Their mark against other rim defenders in Game 5 (49%) was right in line with their mark against other rim defenders in Games 1-4 (51%).
Bogut getting hurt didn’t help Golden State, either. He’s still capable of thwarting attempts at the basket.
And the Warriors ran into inspired performances by LeBron James and Irving. LeBron shot 8-for-12 in the paint, and Irving was 7-for-10. The way those two were attacking, Green wasn’t going to shut them down.
But Green could’ve slowed the bleeding. He could’ve given a better defensive option than Harrison Barnes at center while maintaining the desired floor spacing.
Credit the Cavaliers for eventually exploiting Green’s Game 5 absence. Their challenge in the paint gets much larger when he returns in Game 6.