OAKLAND — Golden State had just closed out a Game 4 win on the road in Cleveland, taken a 3-1 series lead, and the Cavaliers looked beaten. You could see in in their body language, their tone when speaking after the game. Nothing they had tried seemed to be working on the court, and the Warriors were about to go home where they were nearly invincible this season. The series appeared all but over.
Then news of Draymond Green suspension for hitting LeBron James below the belt came down, and the door cracked open a little. LeBron James took that as an invitation and blew the door off its hinges, pulling his Cavaliers teammates through that opening and to Cleveland’s first title.
After the game, the Warriors admitted Game 5 was where the series got away from them.
“This is why you can’t mess around,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 7. “Not that we messed around, but this is why every game counts. Game 5 was really the key. That was the turning point of the whole series. We didn’t play well enough to win. It was a tough game for us with the circumstances, and I thought they had two guys who played epic games, Kyrie (Irving) and LeBron. And that changed the whole series.
“But with that said, I thought we were going to take care of business tonight at home, and we just couldn’t get it done.”
It all started with Green’s suspension.
“If I don’t put myself in that position, and I don’t get suspended for Game 5, are we sitting here champions? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know,” Green said. “But we’ll never know the answer to that question. But the answer that I do know is I won’t put myself in that position again, and that’s all I can really do, you know.”
Green tried to make up for it in Game 7, he was the best player the Warriors had. Green finished with 32 points on 15 shots, had 15 rebounds and nine assists. He was the best player on the Warriors in their biggest game. It wasn’t enough.
There was more to Cleveland’s comeback this series than simply Green being out Game 5. There was Tyronn Lue’s coaching moves, such as having LeBron James cover Draymond Green to allow for switches that cut off the Warriors’ best play. Cleveland got better at exploiting mismatches, and Golden State couldn’t counter. Andrew Bogut‘s injury. And on down the list.
But it all started in Game 5 with the Green suspension. Does he blame himself?
“As you know, I blame myself for everything,” Green said, later admitting this loss may stick with him the rest of his life. “That’s just who I am. I think as a leader that’s important. Hey, I’m not afraid to take the blame. I do think that’s where the series turned, but it happened. Move on from it. Like I said, I learned from it, and I’ll be better.
“But I’m not afraid to say that it’s my fault. I think it was.
“But this ain’t the last that you’ll see from us.”