The Cleveland Cavaliers looked overmatched against the Golden State Warriors in Thursday's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Cleveland couldn't capitalize on home-court advantage at Quicken Loans Arena, as the Warriors played their best Finals game yet in a 103-82 victory to level the series at 2-2.
A 7-0 run to start had Cavs fans ecstatic, highlighted by a magnificent no-look pass by superstar LeBron James to cutting big man Timofey Mozgov, who threw it down with authority:
Mozgov played tremendously with 28 points and 10 rebounds, while James had 20 and 12 in those respective categories to go with eight assists.
Unlike the prior three contests, quick pace characterized Thursday's showdown, a flow that heavily favored Golden State. Reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry led the way for the Warriors with 22 points and six assists.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr decided to remove center Andrew Bogut from the starting lineup, plugging in Andre Iguodala and going small instead.
Per NBA.com, Iguodala—who matched Curry's 22 points and was a talismanic defender as well—made his presence felt by promptly producing on offense in his first start of the entire season:
Although going small seemed to backfire in the beginning, the uptempo brand of basketball was ultimately too much for a thin, fatigued Cleveland rotation to overcome. The final quarter went to Golden State by a decisive score of 27-12.
Kerr spoke afterward about how he didn't feel obligated to reveal his pregame adjustments, per CBS Sports NBA:
When Bogut was on the floor for part of the three minutes he saw, things got scary in the second quarter when he fouled James, who fell into a camera and began bleeding from his head.
Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico described the deflated atmosphere in the arena at that juncture:
Sam Amick of USA Today observed how well the Warriors weathered the initial storm despite continued cold shooting from Curry:
When Golden State seized a 48-33 advantage in the second quarter, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a fact that suggested the game was all but over:
The lead settled at 12 points at halftime, leading to this anecdote from the NBA on ESPN:
Golden State was 6-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc in the opening half, while the Cavs hit just two of 13 attempts from deep. There were opportunities to be had in the paint, but the disparity from the perimeter was the big difference.
Cavs faithful favorite Matthew Dellavedova struggled early but hit two three-pointers to start the second half. However, Dellavedova had to leave just minutes into the third quarter, simply appearing too tired to carry on.
Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy provided his take on that particular development:
Instead of continuing to push the pace, Golden State became a bit timid, failing to move the ball quite as well as the Cavs fed off the crowd and picked up their defensive intensity. The pace began to slow, and Mozgov went to work on the inside and James asserted his will more often in attacking the paint.
On the strength of those tactics, a 20-8 run cut the lead to 65-62, and the Golden State lead hovered around one possession for the rest of the quarter until Curry scored the last of the points on a beautiful step-back three.
From there, it was evident the Cavs were gassed. They had no cohesion on offense in the final 12 minutes, and the Warriors were suddenly back to the quality of play that won them the tougher Western Conference.
ESPN's Tom Haberstroh had an interesting stat with regard to James' stagnant last quarter:
Prior to Game 4, Warriors forward Draymond Green, who had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Game 4, described how his side felt in what was essentially a must-win situation, per SportsCenter:
This Warriors mentality was evident, as they didn't flinch when the Cavs had their third-quarter run. Entering the Finals as the favorite, Golden State seemed to come out flat in the last few contests. With doubts from outside their locker room possibly creeping in, the Warriors responded in a big way.
Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick referred to how Golden State's deeper bench gave it a big edge in the end:
Following the win, Green noted how he needed to get out of his own way and also spoke to what his side did with the luxury of greater personnel, per Skolnick and the Akron Beacon Journal's Marla Ridenour:
Not only did the Warriors' greater availability of bodies help from an energy standpoint, but it also allowed Kerr to make the key changes of playing David Lee more minutes and starting Iguodala.
Now the momentum is squarely back in Golden State's corner. Kerr's squad will return to Oracle Arena with the chance to go up 3-2 and push the Cavs to the brink of elimination with a win Sunday.
Injuries have depleted Cleveland's core, and it's really showing at the worst time despite the gallant efforts of those who are playing massive minutes. James needs to conjure up some magic for the Cavs to have any hope of stealing Game 5 in Oakland—and a shot at winning another contest for the rest of these NBA Finals.
The magic from James must come in the form of leadership and building his supporting cast's confidence, rather than taking over as a scorer. James himself was 7-of-22 shooting, but more importantly, Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert combined to go 7-of-35 and 3-of-22 from downtown.
No matter what James does, Cleveland won't win if that perimeter trio isn't knocking down shots. All of those players helped get the Cavs to the Finals in the first place, and they must continue to perform to keep this championship showdown competitive.