OAKLAND, Calif. — You could say it’s same time, next year, but in truth, Game 5 of the NBA Finals Monday night at Oracle Arena is a wholly different beast from Game 5 between the Warriors and Cavaliers a year ago.
The Warriors held a 3-1 series lead last year, same as now, but Draymond Green had been suspended for Game 5 after an altercation with LeBron James, and those Warriors didn’t have Kevin Durant in their arsenal.
Of course, the Cavs made NBA Finals history a year ago as the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title, but this year, they are trying to dig out of a 3-0 hole, which never has been done in any round of the NBA playoffs.
“Totally different situation, different team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “We’re in a much better position this year. We’re healthy, we’ve got Kevin Durant. That’s a good thing. But [the Cavs] are better, too. We have to bring it. We got to take this game and do it with efficiency, competitive defense and alertness and awareness for 48 minutes. We didn’t have any of that in Game 4.”
The magnitude of the Cavaliers’ 137-116 Game 4 win was a glaring reminder of what can happen to any team that lets its guard down against the Cavaliers. They set NBA Finals records for points in a quarter (49 in the first), points in a half (86) and made three-pointers (24).
In the process, the Cavs prevented the Warriors from becoming the first team in NBA history to go 16-0 in the playoffs.
“We won three games in a row in the Finals, 15 in a row overall in the playoffs, and you just think it’s going to happen,” Green said of the Warriors’ expectations of a sweep. “All of a sudden, you get smacked in the face, and it’s like, whoa. You remember what can happen.
“Obviously, this is our second opportunity to close this thing out, and you don’t want to keep letting the series prolong. So you have to come out with a killer instinct and a punch-face mentality.”
Kerr added: “The biggest adjustment you make in the playoffs is always an emotional one. Are we going to get after it and compete? That’s up to us.”
Both teams have made most of the necessary adjustments. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said his team was “too nice” in the first three games, asked for more physicality and got it.
Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who struggled in the first two games against the defense of Klay Thompson, played great in Games 3 and 4, hitting seven three-pointers in a 40-point performance in their Friday night win. The Cavs also did a good job of double-teaming Steph Curry and limiting him to 14 points and 4-for-14 shooting in Game 4. Thompson was held to 13 points and 4-for-11 shooting.
James is of the same mind as Kerr about the importance of mind-set. Despite last year’s comeback, James knows the Cavs must be that much better in Game 5 because of Durant’s presence.
“Like I said before, [the Warriors] create so many different problems, so much firepower, that we always have to play great in order to win,” James said. “We knew coming into Game 5 last year that if we don’t protect the ball, don’t limit their three-point shooting, then we can get blown out of this arena. It’s the same way.
“We know what our keys to victory are [to have] the best possible chance to go home with a Game 6. If we don’t stick to that plan, we’ll be going back home without a game.”