How the Dubs Can Slowdown the King
Can the Golden State Warriors finish a perfect 16-0 to capture a 2nd NBA Title? This was the question going into Game 4 and it was dashed in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Cavaliers raced out to an early 24-9 lead and never looked back, taking Game 4 with a resounding 137-116 win. For the first time in the series, Golden State looked vulnerable as Steph Curry had his worst game in the Finals and the Warriors had no answer for a laser-beam focused LeBron James.
Far from out of the woods, the Cavs head back to the Bay on Monday still down 3-1 and needing to steal a game on the road in order to head back home for a Game 6. It goes without saying that the Cavs will again lean on James heavily in order to do something that has not happened in the NBA’s history: rally back from a 3-0 hole to win the series.
Was LeBron’s game on Saturday a prelude of things to come in these next three contests or was this the one last gasp before succumbing to the star-laden Warriors on their quest to another championship? Here are three things the Warriors must do to limit LeBron in Game 5 on Monday.
1) Make someone else handle the ball
The Cavs look like two different teams when going between James and Kyrie Irving at point. It speaks volumes about LeBron’s ability when he has been the better option running the floor than Irving, an All-Star in his own right. James’ ability to find the open man on the wing or pass the ball to set up better looks for himself was on full display Friday night.
Making James pick up his dribble early in the shot-clock will be key to having someone else handle the ball for Cleveland. Whether that means someone picking him up as soon as he crosses mid-court or working hard to deny him the basketball. The Cavs looked like a more efficient team with James running the point. If LeBron is allowed to run the show and get to the cup or find open teammates when the Warriors are sagging off him on defense, it could be another long night for Golden State.
2) Get out to a good start
The Dubs didn’t show great energy getting out of the blocks in the opening part of the game. Falling behind by as much as 22, the Warriors never did find that offensive gear that could cut the Cavs lead to anything manageable. Whether it was an emotional hangover from their come-from-behind win in Game 3 or saving their legs for a return home on Monday, the Warriors finally came back to earth.
Cleveland, even with James playing out of his mind, haven’t shown they have the firepower to keep pace with Golden State if it turns into a track meet. With Curry struggling and Durant being contained to some extent, it allowed the Cavs to dictate the pace of the game, much to their benefit. With an extra day of rest, if Golden State can go out in front early, it lessens Cleveland’s chances of pulling off a miracle regardless of how well James is playing.
3) Make James play big minutes
With the Cavs ahead for most of the game, James was able to do something he hasn’t done much of in the series, go to the bench and get some rest. While his breaks weren’t lengthy, it was something that has been rarely seen in the three previous games. Simply, the Cavs need LeBron to keep them in the game and it had taken a physical toll on him, especially in Game 3 with several of the Warriors players noticing how gassed LeBron was coming down the stretch.
If the game is close or the Warriors are leading, it’ll be a big benefit for Golden State to face a leg-weary James than a rested one going into the fourth quarter. Despite his efforts to prove otherwise, there was a noticeable difference between a fresh LeBron and one that has to log major minutes to keep the Cavs within reach.
Easier to accomplish in theory rather than practice, it will still be a challenge to slow down the Cleveland forward. However, if Golden State can manage to do any one of these things effectively for one more game, it can cement them a NBA Finals win and a spot among the best teams in the history of the game.