Stephen Curry was great with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting, but the Warriors didn't need him to bail them out. They just needed strong all-around play from every spot on the floor and got it in the same ways we became accustomed to all regular season.
This game was different from the opening minutes. When Steve Kerr inserted Andre Iguodala into a small starting lineup, he caused the game to speed up. They led by seven points after the first quarter and 12 at the half -- it's the first time all series, because besides Game 1's overtime, they trailed or tied Cleveland at the end of every quarter. Iguodala, to his credit, scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
However, the Warriors' double-digit halftime lead didn't last long in the third quarter. With back-to-back buckets seven minutes into the third, LeBron James cut the Warriors' lead to three points and forced Kerr to take a timeout. The quick breather was enough for Golden State to fend off the surge and the Warriors took a six-point lead headed into the fourth quarter.
There in the fourth, the Warriors finally remembered the nuclear codes to their offense. Curry nailed a few of his trademarked three-pointers and the ball movement hummed along in crisp precision. When the Warriors pulled this play off with about seven minutes to play, you knew they were back in the highest gear.
That Iguodala three-pointer put the Warriors up by 14 and they never gave up the double-digit lead. Golden State could have easily trailed 0-3 in this series, but it fought its battles just the same and are now dead even with three left to play. Now can the Cavaliers answer back with adjustments of their own?
Here are three things we learned.
1. Steve Kerr made his two gutsiest decisions of the NBA Finals
In his pregame media session 90 minutes before the game, Kerr defended his starting five and said he wouldn't change anything. But then he did. By putting Iguodala in the place of Andrew Bogut, allowing for quick tempo and better early defense on , Kerr's adjustment made a ton of sense. Still, changing the starting five of a 67-win team in the NBA Finals takes confidence.
The even gutsier decision came barely two minutes in when the Cavaliers jumped ahead, 7-0, and Kerr was forced to take a timeout. Everything and everyone was saying it: "This isn't working." Instead of panicking, Kerr left the same unit on the floor and trusted them to figure it out. They finished the quarter on a 34-17 run.
2. LeBron James was just a normal Earthling
Instead of being a ridiculous superhuman, James had *just* 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. How dare he struggle against the full attention of the Warriors' defense?
Kidding aside, the Warriors adjusted from not doubling him to doing it meticulously and carefully. They picked their spots, ran a man baseline to blindside him in the post and rotated incredibly well, limiting James' impact as a passer. And really, some if it is his own team's fault -- he could have had more assists if the Cavaliers hadn't shot 4-of-25 from behind the arc. The shots just didn't fall on Thursday.
3. Draymond Green looked much, much better
The Warriors weren't going to win without Green coming back into his own. He's a crucial cog on offense and defense, and on Thursday he finally broke out of the mental fatigue and overcame a bothersome back injury to look like the Green of the regular season. His passing was more decisive, he hit another three-pointer and it all rejuvenated his defense on the other end.
Green's a one-of-a-kind player, and no Warriors adjustment can replace what he dispenses nightly. He has to keep playing like this -- not perfect or unbelievable, but solid both ways -- if the Warriors are going to win the series.