Order was restored to the NBA Finals Friday night, and by that we acknowledge that Game 4 was largely a disordered mess.
That, though, is one of the ways in which the Golden State Warriors find their pace -- by using defense as an instrument of chaos until their offensive pyrotechnicians find the right ammunition and range to wreck the evening for everyone not specifically themselves.
In other words, the Warriors traded unfocused haymakers with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a half, then reordered themselves at both ends of Quicken Loans Arena after the half and turned the pivotal game of the series into a practice run for the coronation to come, 108-97.
Yes, Stephen Curry healed whatever it was America decided was ailing him, and yes, Klay Thompson re-revealed himself as a confident shooter. They combined to score 63 points on 39 shots (38 on 22 in the second half) and convert half their 22 threes to get the most notice.
But head coach Steve Kerr never tires of saying two things. First, as regards Curry and Thompson, he said, “You can’t keep them down forever.” But second and even more important, “Sometimes our best offense is our defense, and we went out and got some stops, and got our offense going.”
Indeed, the series resumes, and perhaps ends, in Oakland Monday evening, with the Warriors having reassembled the true difference between them and the Cavaliers -– neither the 33-point winner nor the 30-point loser but the obstinate grinders with that little touch of rocketry.
In other words, they defended the Cavaliers into exhaustion and eventually capitulation, and then finished the job with the Freres La Eclaboussure at their brazen best. Indeed, they forced the Cavs to become what undid the Oklahoma City Thunder -– a two-man team, which is two too few.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving took 21 of the Cavs’ final 23 shots and 33 of Cleveland’s 38 shots in the second half. They became easier to defend, and ultimately easier to enervate. James ended up playing 45:34 and Irving 43:23, and plainly hit “E” a lot sooner than the scoreboard said they should -– for James, a reminder how he was worn to a 270-pound husk by the end of last year’s Finals.
“When it’s time to win and you’re in the NBA Finals, you’ve got to play as many minutes as you need to,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said when asked about their 88:57 of playing time. “If you’ve got to play 96 minutes, you’ve got to play 96 minutes.”
Okay then. The raw numbers looked pretty enough –- 59 points and 13 assists between them -– but the more evident truth is that with a seven-man rotation, only having two real contributors is an invitation to an anaconda necktie. And in truth, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, who did not shoot well but rebounded, distributed and defended fiendishly to apply the knots.
More to the point, the other Cavs fairly well froze themselves out of the diorama. Kevin Love, just cleared from his concussion, played 25 minutes and was largely the defensive liability he had been, Richard Jefferson, who had stood out in the first two games, got only two shots in 24:53, and J.R. Smith reverted to the reluctant and errant shooter. In sum, the Cavs were only what James and Irving could give them, and eventually only what they would allow them to have.
On the other hand, Curry, who played a “paltry” 39:39, looked too skittish early and then as rested and refreshed as he ever does. “I thought he was in a little bit of a hurry, because he wanted so badly to break out. I thought he took some tough shots, they were switching everything, and I thought if he was a little more patient, he could have given it up and gotten it back. Which he did.”
Thompson relocated his touch, Shaun Livingston hit three delicate midrange jumpers in the second half to help the Warriors catch and pull away from the Cavs, and Harrison Barnes saw to it that Cleveland didn’t take another early lead by hitting his first three shots. In short, the Warriors again put more cards in play than Cleveland has in total, and are now 48 minutes away from a second championship, one they can celebrate at home Monday night if they play their cards right and don’t have one more 25-point loss in them.
All they have to do is leave the 96-minute games to the two Cavaliers that seem to matter, and do what they do – restore order when it needs to be restored.