The Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals because they relied on an isolation-heavy offense. The Golden State Warriors baited LeBron James and Kyrie Irving into playing one-on-one basketball, play after play, and came away with a convincing win to take a 3-1 series lead.
James and Irving were back at it again in Game 5, going iso on the majority of their offensive plays -- but this time it worked. The two Cavaliers stars both had otherworldly individual performances to stun the Warriors in Game 5 with a dominant 112-97 win. James had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists, and Irving had 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting as they became the first teammates in NBA Finals history to both score 40 points or more.
The Cavaliers overpowered the Warriors -- who were without Draymond Green, missing Game 5 due to a one-game suspension. Klay Thompson was superb in the first half, going off for 26 points, but he had only 11 points in the second half when Cleveland pulled away. Stephen Curry continued to struggle in the finals, scoring 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting.
Irving and James had no such trouble. James carried the burden in the first half, scoring 25 points and grabbing eight rebounds as the Warriors and Cavaliers were tied at 61 after two quarters. Irving took over in the second half, scoring 23 points while putting on a shot-making exhibition. Thompson defended valiantly, but no matter what he did, Irving would find the bottom of the bucket.
The Cavaliers have preached moving the ball throughout this series, but when your two stars are going off, sometimes it's best just to get out of the way. Not that they were much help, anyway.
Irving and James combined for 82 of the Cavaliers' 112 points. They shot 61.1 percent from the field -- the rest of the team shot 37.9 percent. Tristan Thompson crashed the glass with 15 rebounds, but Kevin Love had only two points in 32 minutes.
Isolation basketball may not be the answer every night, but it was in Game 5. All it takes is two stars playing at their best, then you can take down one of the best teams in NBA history.
Now, the Cavaliers head into Game 6 with a chance to make some history of their own. If they can force a Game 7, they'd be the first team in NBA history to do so after falling behind 3-1 in the finals. With the return of Green and his unique set of defensive skills, a reliance on isolation-heavy offensive sets might spell doom for the Cavaliers. Or, if James and Irving once again go off, Game 7 could become a reality.
2 other things
It's not wise to trash talk LeBron James
James had been, by his standards, sub-par in this year's finals. He was coming off a Game 5 where he had 25 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists but turned the ball over seven times. He had struggled to get going against Iguodala and the Warriors. Then, in the aftermath of the Green suspension, the Warriors started talking trash, saying they didn't respect James. Marreese Speights even tweeted an emoji of a baby bottle. James got the last laugh, though: He toyed with Speights on the court.
James was on a mission on Monday night. The Warriors would be wise to avoid talking much before Game 6.
Draymond Green is as good as advertised
The Warriors were lost without Green on defense. The Cavaliers ran pick-and-rolls all night, taking advantage of the slower, less athletic big men the Warriors had to send out to the court while Green served his one-game suspension. James is great, but going up against Festus Ezeli and Speights after a pick is much more appealing than facing an All-NBA defender. Offensively, the Warriors couldn't find any sort of lineup to rival the famed Death Lineup. They hung with the Cavaliers through two quarters, but couldn't match the intensity and power of the Warriors without their multi-talented star.
Plus, the Warriors didn't have the bite they so often do in the fourth quarter and crunch time -- a bite that Green brings wherever he goes. Green is the Warriors' emotional leader, and without him they couldn't match the Cavaliers down the stretch. It took two masterful performances to beat the Warriors. With the return of Green, it might take even more than that.
Play of the night
It wasn't all bad for the Warriors. Shaun Livingston proved that age and injuries place no boundaries on a man.
3 fun things
The Warriors owner showed up to the game in a Draymond Green jersey.
Green had to watch the game next door, at the Oakland A's stadium.
ESPN advertised Warriors' Championship gear, whoops!
Cavaliers 112, Warriors 97 (SB Nation recap | Fear the Sword recap | Golden State of Mind recap)