The Golden State Warriors said they were going to play with a chip on their shoulder in Game 5 of the NBA Finals without the suspended Draymond Green. It turns out missing the player with arguably the biggest chip on his shoulder in the entire league is a big deal. The Warriors sorely missed Green on both ends as the Cavs roared back into the series with a 112-97 victory at Oracle Arena.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr started Andre Iguodala in place of Green, and they jumped out to a quick seven-point lead that had Oracle roaring. But it quickly became clear that Green's absence would be a problem. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving both started hot and stayed hot, pulverizing the Warriors by both scoring 41 points each, marking the first time in finals history teammates have scored 40 points in the same game.
Kerr desperately searched for answers within his big-man rotation that were never found. Andrew Bogut was ineffective before leaving with what looks like a serious knee injury, and Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo all had little effect on the game. The Cavaliers' quickly realized James and Irving could attack mismatches with great success without Green on the floor.
The carnage began in the first quarter and never stopped. Here's LeBron attacking Harrison Barnes in transition, knowing Barnes can do little to stop him with a head of steam and McAdoo can't provide even close to the same rim protection as Green:
Minutes later, LeBron got Varejao on a switch and blew right past him, with the helpless Shaun Livingston only able to commit a foul to deter an easy bucket:
With Varejao looking like a fool on that play, he tried to take a more conservative approach on pick-and-rolls later in the game. It resulted in James draining comfortable shots like these:
While LeBron's jumper is often hit-or-miss, it was clearly on in Game 5. Letting him walk in to lightly contested 15-footers is asking for trouble.
What's also asking for trouble is Marreese Speights trying to guard LeBron in the pick-and-roll. Speights was victimized on three straight possessions at the tail end of the first half, with the third and final play a complete fatality:
Here's another Speights special, where a miscommunication with Livingston turned into an easy Richard Jefferson layup:
Ezeli was beaten several times, as well, and with none of the big guys providing much, Kerr even tried to go to a small lineup featuring Barnes at center. But Barnes is no Green, and that small group was outscored by nine points in eight minutes of play.
Here's one especially bad breakdown where Stephen Curry got lost in no man's land and Barnes as the "rim protector" wasn't able to recover to make a contest:
Irving's success was more a function of him making tough jumpers and also taking advantage of some transition breakdowns to get good looks at three, but he had a late bucket against the Barnes-at-center lineup that may have been a bit more difficult if it was Green and his long arms protecting the basket:
Barnes rarely blocks shots, and you can kind of see why with this clunky attempt. Curry defended the initial drive relatively well and forced up a contested look, but Barnes failed to further deter the shot with his awkward contest.
The Cavaliers scored nearly 111 points per 100 possessions in Game 5 after managing under 102 points per 100 possessions in the first four games and a putrid 85 points per 100 possessions in the first two games at Oracle, per NBA.com. They also shot 24-of-40 (60 percent) in the paint after making just over half their shots in the painted area over the first four games.
Again, part of this offensive outburst was simply incredible shotmaking by the Cavaliers' two stars, as they shot 19-of-30 on contested shot attempts, per SportVU. But without Green to act as the conductor of the defense and to provide relentless energy all over the floor, the defensive breakdowns occurred early and often.
The defensive woes were bad enough, but Green was also missed offensively. The Warriors scored 61 points in the first half in large part due to Klay Thompson's three-point barrage, but things bogged down in the second half. Missing open shots is one simple way to diagnose what went wrong, with Barnes and Curry the most prolific perpetrators of this, but part of that may have been a function of fatigue as they tried to make up for the absence of Green.
Green is Golden State's primary facilitator, and with him out Cleveland had one less playmaker to worry about. No Green also meant no Curry-Green pick-and-rolls, a staple of the Warriors' attack. The Cavaliers made it a point to attack Curry as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, knowing that Green wasn't there to wreak havoc in 4-on-3 situations.
With Green returning for Game 6, the Warriors still have to feel good about their chances despite the struggles on Monday night. Game 5 simply proved how important Green is to this team, and he may be called upon for an even larger role if Bogut is out and Kerr chooses to start with the "Death Lineup."
Green will no doubt be up to the challenge after dealing with the disappointment of missing Game 5 thanks to his own doing. With a big performance in a victorious Game 6, he'll have a great argument for being named finals MVP.