Every time it seems like the NBA Finals are about to end, the Cleveland Cavaliers fight back to extend the series.
The Golden State Warriors had a chance to close out the series at home in Game 5 on Monday, but Cleveland battled back at Oracle Arena with arguably its best effort of the postseason. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each scored 41 points, and the Eastern Conference champions were able to stay alive for another day. All of a sudden, the squad is one home win away from forcing a Game 7, where anything can happen.
Still, the pressure will only mount as the action returns to Cleveland for the highly anticipated Game 6.
NBA Finals Game 6
Where: Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland
When: Thursday, June 16
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
The question heading into Game 5 was whether the Warriors could win without the suspended Draymond Green. It turns out the answer was a resounding no.
Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher discussed the forward's impact on the team:
Golden State missed his versatility offensively, especially when Harrison Barnes finished only 2-of-14 from the field in an increased role. However, the biggest difference came on the defensive end, with Cleveland scoring 112 points—just the second time in the series the squad topped 100.
Green was the primary defender on James in the first four games, holding the superstar to a respectable 24.8 points per game with 23 total turnovers in this stretch. With the All-Star not on the court, James exploded for 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and just two turnovers.
This isn't a coincidence.
Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue gave a lot of credit to Green after the game, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
He’s their best defender. I’ve said it all along, that he is the best guy in the NBA as far as reading when to help, triple switches and kicking guys out of mismatches, knowing when to go, when not to go. He’s an underrated shot blocker, and he can guard one through five, so that definitely hurt their defense.
The problem for Cleveland is Green will be back in Game 6 and likely ready to make a major impact on both ends of the court.
As good as Irving also was Monday night, it won't be easy for the point guard to make as many impossible shots again, even at home.
On the other hand, the Warriors still have the depth that has helped the team win all year long.
Klay Thompson was as good as ever last game with 37 of the team's 97 points in the loss. While Stephen Curry was overlooked, he still had 25 points despite not shooting as well as usual. With a deep bench full of contributors such as Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala (assuming he goes back to the bench after starting for Green), the Cavaliers will have their hands full.
Considering Curry still hasn't even shot the ball as well as he is capable of this series (42.4 percent from the field), the Warriors are even more dangerous.
In order for Cleveland to win, it will need its best players to be as good as they were last game while Kevin Love (two points in Game 5) does something to justify his time on the court. The squad can also rely on the home-court advantage at Quicken Loans Arena, where it is 8-1 in the postseason.
Both sides have plenty going in their favor as well as a lot of pressure to win at this stage of the series. Although the individual games to this point have not been close, there should still be plenty of excitement going forward.
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