Cavaliers

Not Dead Yet—Cavs vs. Warriors Game 5: Behind the Box Score

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers – 91

Golden State Warriors – 104

Golden State leads series 3-2

Box Score

Alright, deep breaths everyone. If this plane’s going down, it’s going down. Freaking out and blaming all of the other passengers won’t prevent the plane from going down; nor will accusing them of secretly hoping the plane goes down. Spontaneously coming out of the closet and/or confessing that you once killed a man in a hit-and-run in Dearborn, Michigan (and that not a day goes by where you don’t see his face) — while cathartic — won’t prevent the plane from slamming into the side of a mountain and exploding in a giant fireball, either.

It’s been a hell of a ride for the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans this season, and only one of two things will happen: they’ll survive this violent turbulence and somehow disembark in the promised land; or, they’ll burn up and disintegrate in the upper atmosphere after flying closer to the sun than anyone could have hoped given the circumstances. The Cavaliers went down 3-2 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals after a demoralizing Game 5 loss on the road. They’ll have a chance to force a Game 7 on Tuesday in Cleveland, but first let’s share our feelings and thoughts on what happened in an episode of “Behind the Music: The Cavs-Warriors Game 5 Box Score.”

81.3 percent – There’s a lot going on in this series from a statistical, strategic, psychological, and inertial standpoint. But the energy in Game 5 was primarily dictated by this stat: LeBron James scored or assisted on 81.3 percent of the Cavs field goals, which vaporized his career high in that category. I would be remiss not to mention that LeBron James had his second triple-double of the series, with 40 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists. According to Basketball-Reference.com, James’ Game 5 performance was only the eighth 35+ point triple-double in the playoffs since 1985, and James now has five of those games (including three this postseason alone and two in the Finals). He’s now only two triple-doubles behind Magic Johnson for the most all-time. James was incredible and his effort superhuman, but the way he has carried the Cavaliers continues to be the defining trait of the series (and really, his career in Cleveland). James had 44.0 percent of his team’s 91 points, and a stupid 68.8 percent of their measly 17 assists while playing more than 44 minutes again. Sure, a lot of James’ burden is self-inflicted, and he needs to learn to trust the offensive system and his teammates for the sake of teaching his team to be more independent and resilient without his help — but that’s talk for after the Finals. Right now, James feels that his team’s best chance to win is for him to do everything. He’s right about what the Cavs need him to do and he’s nearly succeeding at it too. It’s easy to say, “Hey, let some of these other guys pitch in some,” but as our next stat shows, that’s not necessarily a prudent strategy, either. When Superman lets a bad guy escape while trying to save the world, just say Drat! and move on, don’t blame him for not waiting for the police to show up.

17-of-47 – If you remove James’ 15 made field goals on 34 attempts, then the rest of the Cavaliers shot 17-of-47 from the field for 36.2 percent. After carrying a 54.4 percent true shooting percentage into the Finals, the Cavaliers (as a team) have had a true shooting percentage of 47.6 in the Finals. That’s a drastic drop. And, as a rule of thumb, anything below 40 percent is inviting failure. Meanwhile, the Warriors as a team made nearly half (48.0 percent) of their field goal attempts. A lot of the Cavs’ struggles are because the Warriors defense is excellent, but it’s mostly just erratic aim. In Game 5, the Cavs were 14-of-37 (37.8 percent) on uncontested field goals. They even had more uncontested field goals than the Warriors (36) on Sunday night, but the Warriors made half of their open looks. A lot of the misses are probably a result of fatigue, regression toward the mean (after shooting very well in the Eastern Conference Finals), and a disjointed offense created by LeBron-centricity, but every coach looks dumb when his players miss open looks. Where is James to go with the ball when his teammates can’t even manage to shoot 40 percent — the benchmark for mediocrity — on uncontested shots.

2 – Outside of LeBron James, the Cavaliers only made two three-point field goal attempts in the second half; further accentuating the team’s poor shooting. The primary culprit was J.R. Smith, who went 0-of-4 in the second half after making four threes in the first half. In what ended as a 13-point loss after the Cavs led with 7:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, one or two made three-point field goal swing the entire complexion of the game, and the Cavs didn’t do it in a game in which they attempted an astounding 35 three-point field goals. The three-pointer below that James took from San Diego nearly kept the Cavs in the game late.

9 – After the best game of his career in the most important basketball game of his career (and Cavaliers team history) in Game 4, Timofey Mozgov was rewarded with just over nine minutes of playing time in Game 5. Some people,1 took this as a major failure on coach David Blatt’s part. I’m probably the biggest Mozgov supporter outside of the former Soviet Union, but I’m not going to fault Blatt for changing his game plan for Game 5. Every game demands adjustments to or from things that worked. In Game 4, the Cavs lost by 21 in Mozgov’s career game, and they were still -5 when he was on the floor. Instead of getting bigger (which is difficult to do when the Cavs only have two remaining, playable bigs), Blatt opted to go even smaller, playing only Tristan Thompson (nearly 40 minutes) or even no bigs for much of the game. It was a strategy that worked up until the last half of the fourth quarter. There are clear and obvious trade-offs between Thompson and Mozgov: Mozgov is a better rim protector, but has to sag off smaller Warrior players (like Iguodala in Game 4) in order to protect the rim; Thompson is much more capable of switching on pick-and-rolls; Mozgov is more skilled offensively; Tristan can score more points without any of the offense flowing through him. Do the Warriors not get five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter if Mozgov plays the entire fourth quarter? Possibly not. But it was another game that the Cavaliers had within their grasp, and though I’d like to see more Mozgov, I won’t fault Blatt for adjusting his game plan and doing something that wasn’t totally stupid and largely worked for three-and-a-half quarters. The team appeared to play with more energy all night.

17 – In a series in which he has been brilliant only in stretches, Stephen Curry ignited for 17 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 37 in Game 5. He hit 3-of-5 of his three-point attempts in the quarter, most of which were contested (he was 4-of-6 on contested field goals attempts in the game). Dellavedova was overmatched trying to defend Stephen Curry; but every basketball player on earth is overmatched trying to defend Stephen Curry. Though Delly was a tumor on offense in Game 5, he defended much better than he did in Game 4 (presumably because he got his pre-game cup of black coffee and some perfumed love notes from his more smitten fans), and did about as well as could be asked of anyone tasked with defending the best shooter in the universe. There is no defense for a behind-the-back step-back three-pointer from Curry. Furthermore, the Cavs strategy to trap or string-out Curry on the pick-and-roll, force the ball out of his hands, and hope the rest of the Warriors can’t make the right play, is the right strategy. (This has been proven repeatedly when the Cavs have switched Thompson onto Curry, which has not worked.) But Curry and the Warriors continue to make the right play, and make the shots asked of them — Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Leandro Barbosa, Zombie David Lee, and Draymond Green have all (generally) done non-stupid things when given the ball, especially in Games 4 and 5. And when Curry boils over for 17 points in a quarter, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable when the rest of the team isn’t taking a figurative crap on the court.

It’s practically a miracle that the Cavs made it this far; and it will take nothing short of a miracle for the Cavs to win Games 6 and 7. Coach Blatt and LeBron James have been asked to fly a plane through a thunderstorm with a broken wing and busted propeller, so it stands to reason that the flight’s going to be a bit bumpy. The Cavs still have a chance. So instead of stupidly blaming Blatt or (even more stupidly) James, I’ll quote Russell Hammond from Almost Famous as this plane shakes and rattles in the inclement weather and we all hope it doesn’t slam into the side of a freaking mountainside before we get to say our goodbyes: “If something should happen, maybe I never said this enough … I love all of you.”

  1. Primarily a certain loud-mouthed individual on a certain four-letter network that will remain unnamed. []

  • Dave

    I’ll put it this way: I’d take Livingston or Barbosa before Delly, and Ezeli or Speights before any healthy Cavs big man not named Mozgov or Thompson.

    That’s the talent differential.

  • Harv

    … plus, we’ve killed a lot of time enjoying actual high level sports drama when we otherwise would have been debating whether a defensive back is pouting about a new contract, whether a 36 year old journeyman QB is best suited to this particular offense and Johnny this Johnny that Johnny Johnny Johnny.

  • chrisdottcomm

    My point was speaking to your final statement on how this series has taught the Warriors the grit needed to win an NBA Finals that accompanies the much needed talent….”the horses” as you put it.

    Have all the grit you can but if you lack the talent you’re a longer shot as the Cavs are now.

    So I was just pointing out if the scripts were flipped, Golden State will be in the same boat we are in now.

    Which then got me wondering if Golden State really did learn about what it takes to win a Finals. They’ve cruised the regular season, they faced no adversity and most importantly no injury.

    Can you really say they’ve learned ..eh hem…”true grit” from this? Or did they just learn that they have to play in 5th gear instead of 4th against a depleted Cavaliers team?

  • chrisdottcomm

    Dude, THERE’S A FOOTBALL TEAM IN CLEVELAND???