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NBA Finals 2016: The Warriors tricked the Cavaliers into their least effective offense

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Cleveland's fourth quarter was filled with isolation that left them with a single point for six-plus minutes, and that's what ultimately cost them.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There's already enough for offenses to navigate when playing the Golden State Warriors: their stifling individual defenders and their seamlessly switching small ball attacks, for one. But there's another game, a subtler one, that teams are forced to play and usually lose. It's the temptation to abandon the offensive gameplan, throw fortune to the winds and devolve into mindless isolation play.

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost that game on Friday, and subsequently lost Game 4 in a 108-97 defeat that leaves them down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, one game away from a second-straight elimination at the hands of the Warriors. For more than three quarters, they resisted the Warriors' temptations or gave in with reasonable success. In the end, Golden State's decisive fourth-quarter run was a 12-1 affair that lasted more than seven minutes.

For the Cavaliers, that's all it took. They scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, but surviving on just a single Kyrie Irving free throw from the 10-minute mark in the fourth quarter until there were less than four remaining isn't sustainable in any regard. Cleveland moved in the first half; they used all sorts of on and off-ball screens to find shots. When they did go isolation, particularly when Irving did, it worked -- shots fell, like this one against Stephen Curry.

But a strange night of refereeing turned in the fourth quarter, with the officials seeming to collectively agree not to call anything. Irving attacks the paint over and over again, but his 2-of-9 shooting in the fourth quarter with a turnover sums up all of his problems. He'd drive into the lane, only to be blocked by Klay Thompson or met by Draymond Green exhibiting verticality.

As the Warriors buried absurd threes on the other end, it must have been impossible for frustration not to boil over the Cleveland's players. On one possession, LeBron James took his time, dribbling the ball aimlessly at the top of the key only to call for a ball screen with less than 10 on the shot clock and failing to manage a half-decent shot.

Golden State does this so well. They convinced you to speed it up with them, since nobody else's track meet can ever keep up with theirs. They encourage isolation ball, spurred on by Curry creating crazy shots for himself and them making them, but nobody else has Curry. Sometimes, they'll convince you to even slow it down, which still ultimately works out for the Warriors since they can win with virtually every style and tempo.


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On Friday, the Warriors won by convincing Cleveland to match their impossible-to-match style. It's not completely the Cavaliers' fault -- many, many teams have fallen into this trap over the past two seasons. But out there, the sensational Irving has to keep it going late in games. LeBron James, clearly not his physical, dominate self like he has been throughout the years, must find ways to create space even without a jumper.

It's probably too late now. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 lead in the Finals, and the Cavaliers don't seem like they'll be the team to do it now. They entered the second half with a lead and ended it with an offense that really didn't seem like it knew what it was doing. One point in six-plus minutes was the result. The Warriors won their mind games once again.

1 more things from Game 4

Did Draymond Green attempt another nut shot?

This angle is not a good look for Green, who is a flagrant-one away from being automatically suspended for a game by the NBA because he went over the limit.

This angle's also somewhat unfair. Green didn't throw that arm in slow motion, after all -- it's only after the fact that we see it look so bad. Clearly, Green is flailing his arms in attempt to hit LeBron James after James had disrespectfully stepped over him. That's not OK. But watching Green's play in real time, perhaps this was more of a "natural" reaction than an intentional attempted nut shot.

Given that, I suspect Green will not be given a retroactive flagrant foul. This play isn't nearly as egregious as his kick of Steven Adams, and Green got off free for that. Regardless of the ruling, there's no doubt that Green isn't in a maturation phase anymore, though: he's a full-fledged villain, definitely

Play of the night

Perhaps the most impressive moment of the all-around stifling defense from the Warriors.

4 fun things

A shirtless fan ran on the court with "TRUMP SUCKS" written on his body

Jeff Van Gundy and his wild O.J. Simpson story


Final score

Warriors 108, Cavaliers 97 (Golden State of Mind recap Fear the Sword recap)