The Cleveland Cavaliers managed to avoid a sweep in the NBA Finals by routing the Golden State Warriors 137-116. The series now continues in Game 5 in Oakland with the Warriors up 3-1 in the series. Game 5’s matchup will be THE most important game of the series, if the Warriors win, the series is obviously over, but if the Cavs win, I think we’re going to get another Game 7.
One of the reasons why fans shouldn’t turn away from the Finals just yet is because win or lose, Game 7 or not, fans will be in for a treat watching Kyrie Irving light it up for the rest of the series. We talked about his struggles in the first two games of the series, but ever since then, Irving has been on a tear, averaging 39 points on 55% shooting from the field. He’s also averaged 3.5 assists, and 6.5 rebounds in the last two games.
Going back to last year’s Finals, Irving has been absolutely amazing in elimination games (remember, the Warriors were up 3-1 going into Game 5 last year as well). In the four elimination games Irving has played in, (the three from last year, and Game 4 this year), he’s averaged 32.5 points, 3.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1 block, according to Basketball Reference. He also shot 53% from the field in those four games as well.
So what gives? How does Irving somehow always seem to save his best for when the team needs it the most? And what does that mean for the Cavs going forward? The answer lies in both Irving’s mindset, and the adjustments that the Cavs have made in those games.
For Irving, the change is simple: it’s now or never!
Irving, who grew up admiring the tenacity of Kobe Bryant, always believed in fighting till the last horn blew, and not going down without a fight.
“It’s do or die time for us,” Irving said. “There’s no other way to put it. If you don’t show up now, you’ll have to wait to next year to show what you’re made of. I’m not the type to wait, especially if the moment is right there in your face.”
As much as we sports fans would love to believe that “will power” alone wins championships, there have also been some adjustments that the Cavs made that has helped Irving as well.
The Cavs have done a better job of not just using Irving in isolation situations all game for him to score. In the first two games, Irving was facing a lot of double teams and traps all when he was in primary isolation mode. In Game 4, although a majority of his points were still isolation plays, the Cavs did a much better job of switching up the game plan a little bit, and using Irving in off-ball screens and cuts, allowing him to get some easier looks. Even in Game 3, when Irving had 38 points, almost all of his shots, whether they went in or not, were extremely difficult looks. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr even stated after the game that the game plan was to make both Irving and James work for every shot because it would tire them out towards the end. In Game 4, Irving had more open looks and easier shots (although he still made his fair share of unbelievable shots between defenders).
Besides the different plays that the Cavs ran, the other role players on the Cavs played much better as well. Everyone who played significant minutes for the Cavs shot over 50% from the field, and the extra help offensively lighted the load for Irving and James. The other Cavs need to continue to play with that same level of energy and efficiency in Game 5 and beyond.
I believe the Cavs can still pull of the upset of the century by beating the Warriors after being down 3-0. It has never been done before in the NBA. They made history before, watch Irving and company do it again this year.