OAKLAND --Draymond Green watched the Oakland Athletics clobber the Texas Rangers Monday night. He even got a standing ovation for emerging from a Coliseum bathroom. Under normal circumstances, pretty heady stuff indeed.
Instead, it was one of the many clues as to why the NBA Finals are returning to Cleveland for a sixth game instead of being a coronation for the suddenly vulnerable Golden State Warriors.
The Cleveland Cavaliers . . . well, okay, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, or of you prefer, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James . . . jackhammered this series back to Ohio by uber-dominating Game 5, which the Cavs won, 112-97. Each of them scored 41 points, shooting and hitting with an impunity normally associated with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but in all phases owning their space, their opponents, their teammates and the Oracle Arena haters’ brigade as well.
This was their night, cold and raw.
But in doing so, they also revealed that Golden State is not a metronome guided by pure shooting, stubborn defense and clever substituting. This was a matter of two men beating 11, which might well have been 12 had Green not been suspended for persistent sass and troublemaking on school ground.
After all, when two guys go for 82 (30-for-54 shooting, 9-for-15 from three), 19 rebounds and 13 assists, they’re going to leave a mark on anyone.
But the Warriors’ night was worse than that, almost geometrically worse.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Cavs stun Warriors in Game 5, force Game 6]
Center Andrew Bogut collapsed in an agonizing heap in the third quarter with what looked at first and second wince like a season-ending left knee injury after being hit by Cavalier J.R. Smith while blocking his shot. Thompson (37) and Curry (25) were largely abandoned offensively by their mates, who shot a collectively miserable 13 for 47. The curative powers of the 3-pointer were far more toxic than therapeutic, as the Warriors missed 18 of 21 from beyond the arc in the second half. Steve Kerr’s frantic substitutions and matchups seeking a combination or several that would catch hold that almost left them paralytic with confusion.
Oh, and Green’s absence was very well noticed and preyed upon by the Cavaliers. It will be mentioned between now and Thursday.
“Draymond wasn’t here, so we played without him,” Kerr said, avoiding the rhetorical thicket of having to talk about Green’s suspension. “We obviously knew he wasn’t here, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn’t.”
But everything else went south as well, especially the Green-infused defense that normally buoys them in difficult times.
“It’s too simple to say (that Green was the difference),” Kerr said with slowly rising acidity. “Those two guys (James and Irving) played terrific games, and shot the ball very well. I thought our defensive communication was lacking. We had some plays where we didn’t pick up in transition, and we had some cross-matches that we didn’t identify and they got free, especially Kyrie, and they made a lot of shots in transition where we simply weren’t there.
“They shot 53 percent and scored 112 points, so yeah, the defense was the issue for us. We had a good offensive first half, made some shots, had 61 points, and then we got kind of bogged down in the second. We tried a lot of things, and none of them seemed to work.”
No, they didn’t. Other than Andre Iguodala (15 and 11 in 41 minutes), the Warriors were largely inert in a game that was probably meant to be theirs, and they not only never established a lead worth mentioning, they could never close on the Cavs when they did.
In short, the Warriors were worked over, broken down and left for rubble and shards by two men in what can only be described as a severe case of trophy interruptus.
Not that doom is the blue plate special here. As Kerr said, “We go back to Cleveland and tee it up again, but I like our position a lot better than theirs.”
But competitive amends must be made across the board in Game 6, starting with Green. With Bogut out, quite possibly for the sixth and if-necessary games, Green will have to do more than merely apologize for the accumulation of high crimes and misdemeanors that rendered him civilian. He will be booed as James was, and he will have to respond in what is his version of kind. Not with a 41-point night, necessarily, but everything that makes him valuable – rebounding, shot-blocking, defending, third-option shooting, you name it.
Oh, and with a re-re-re-re-renewed commitment to staying out the eyes of the league office. He has found that he is now considered “that guy” by the league’s dean of students Kiki Vandeweghe, and now he has to regain his reputation as the Warriors’ vitally needed third game disruptor – rather than as the A’s Fan Of The Night.