The Golden State Warriors are one win away from their first championship since 1975 after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-91, in Game 5 of the 2015 NBA Finals on Sunday night. The Warriors now hold a 3-2 series lead thanks to their second straight win and move a step closer to ending the franchise's title drought.
Stephen Curry was back to his brilliant self for the Warriors, leading the way with 37 points on 13-of-23 shooting -- including 7-of-13 from three -- as the team rode its small lineups to victory. The Cavaliers tried to respond with some adjustments of their own, playing LeBron James at center for extended stretches, but the Warriors came through late with a big run on their home floor to get the win.
The game was close throughout the first half, which ended with the Warriors leading, 51-50, after a pair of late free throws by Harrison Barnes. Neither team could pull away until Golden State's 25-11 run over the final seven-plus minutes of the fourth quarter.
As good as James was throughout this game -- putting up a ridiculous 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists -- the Warriors' team game was just too much in the end. Golden State shot 48 percent to Cleveland's 39.5 percent, and with both teams going small, the Cavs' rebounding advantage disappeared. Golden State had 11 offensive rebounds, including six from Barnes. Cleveland had 10 offensive rebounds as a team and lost the battle on the boards overall, 43-37.
The Warriors got challenged in a game tailored to their own style, and showed once again that nobody plays small better than them, LeBron or not. Now they're on the brink of winning their first NBA title in 40 years, something the Bay Area fan base has craved throughout the years. It hasn't been easy, especially after going down 2-1, but now Golden State is in the driver's seat with a 3-2 series lead. We'll see if James has anything left in the tank to push this series to a possible Game 7.
The Larry O'Brien Trophy will be at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for Game 6 on Tuesday as the two teams meet. A potential Game 7 would be Friday at Oracle Arena.
3 things we learned
1. The series has officially gone small
The Warriors went small in Game 4, shrinking Andrew Bogut's role in favor of starting Andre Iguodala and giving David Lee more time. It resulted in an easy win to tie the series. The Cavaliers responded with their own small lineup Sunday, and the corresponding adjustments on both sides resulted in James being the tallest player on the floor for long stretches of the game.
Bogut didn't play in Game 5. Timofey Mozgov logged nine minutes, most in the first half. The Warriors are just being themselves, and now the Cavaliers are matching because Game 4 showed the alternative was certain defeat. Now we're looking at an NBA Finals that will close out largely with lineups featuring players between 6'3 and 6'9. Pretty much everyone can put the ball on the floor and step out to hit a jumper. This is the direction the NBA has been going for a while, and now we're seeing these small, balanced lineups take center stage in the Finals.
2. LeBron is whatever Cleveland asks him to be
By going small, the Cavaliers played James at center for most of the game. He responded by orchestrating the offense and anchoring the defense in a masterful effort to keep the team in the game on the road. The forward's second triple-double nearly came in the first half -- he had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists by halftime -- but it still wasn't enough against a balanced, talented Warriors team.
Finishing with another 40-point game, James rebounded from a disappointing effort in Game 4 to get back to his mind-blowing ways. He spent the past few games doing everything possible on both ends to keep a shorthanded team in this series, and with the Warriors making their adjustments to seemingly turn things in their favor, the four-time MVP is showing he'll do pretty much whatever it takes to make sure this is a close series. It may not be enough, though.
LeBron is now averaging 37 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists over five games in the Finals. His team is still down 3-2.
3. Leandro Barbosa was huge for Golden State
The longtime bench scorer gave the Warriors just that in a close game where neither team shot the lights out. Barbosa went 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from charity stripe en route to 13 points in just 17 minutes of playing time, giving Golden State an efficient boost on a night where Klay Thompson shot just 5-of-14, Draymond Green hit 4-of-9 and Barnes was 3-of-7.
Barbosa had not played much earlier in the series, averaging 3.3 points in 8.2 minutes over the first four games, but he should play an increasingly large role going forward with both teams playing smaller lineups. The Cavaliers had trouble containing him several times as he drove to the bucket for baskets or drew fouls, and getting some quick points out of him when the backcourt stars are resting is a big boost to the team. It's hard enough for Cleveland to contain the rest of Golden State's weapons.