The NBA Finals between Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers is down to a best-of-three! The series is tied, 2-2, as it shifts back back to Golden State tonight for Game 5. Home court has been very kind to the Warriors this season, but both teams are equally capable and hungry for a win. The Cavs are looking for their first NBA title, while the Warriors want their first championship since 1975.
Both teams have put in a lot of effort into the series. But the Cavs have had an added challenge: Injuries. A lot of them.
Heading into Game 5, they are without two of their star players: Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of the finals, and all-center Kevin Love has been out since dislocating his shoulder in round one of the playoffs against Celtics. And then after Game 3, Matthew Dellavedova went to the hospital because of fatigue. Iman Shumpert hurt his already once-dislocated shoulder in Game 3 when he ran into a hard-set screen. In Game 4, LeBron James was fouled by Andrew Bogut, and hit a cameraman. He had a huge gash on the side of his head.
The Warriors’ challenges are much different and come down to one thing: Production.
Dellavedova has awed all in the series guarding Golden State star Steph Curry and keeping him off balance. So far, Curry has not played up to his standards. He scored a mere 20 points in Game 2 and was an abysmal 2-for-15 from the 3-point arc. That is a finals record for worst 3-point shooting and shocking compared to his 44.3 percent average during the 2014-15 season. Curry does seem to be stepping it up when needed, scoring 14 of his 22 points in second half in Game 4, and 17 of 27 points in second half in Game 3. But for the Warriors to win, the NBA MVP will have to stay on his game.
Cleveland’s chances rest on the shoulders of a superstar, too.
For the Cavs, James’ performance is critical. With both Irving and Love out of the lineup, LBJ has carried the team on his back. He scored 123 points in the first three games, a record for the first three games of NBA finals. “LeBron’s production is critical to us. For the most part, he has given that and more,” said coach David Blatt.
On the other hand, the Cavs will have to stop depending on LeBron James so much. In Game 4, he looked fatigued and wasn’t able to score his usual number of points. He only put up 20 points compared to Game 3 where he scored 40 points.
Defensively, though, the Cavs have restricted Steph Curry and Klay Thompson nicely. “We have been guarding them well,” said Blatt. “We have to limit them or make it difficult. That is what we got to keep on doing.” Keeping the Splash Brothers in check is going to be the key for Cavs in the absence of Kyrie Irving and Andrew Love.
That’s where Golden State’s other players come in.
The Warriors bench has given coach Steve Kerr some good choices, and they will need to continue to perform well. Andre Iguodala has guarded LeBron effectively while putting up good numbers. His biggest moment of the series was hitting a 3-pointer in Game 2 — without a shoe! He scored 15 points in Game 3 and 22 points in Game 4. “Andre is one of those guys who rises to the occasion and embraces the challenge, and he’s having a great series,” said Kerr.
Now it is the best-of-three to see who is going to be NBA champion. Steph Curry and Dubs will have to play like they did in Game 4. The Cavs will need LeBron James to score big, and for their bench to help rest the starters. The Dubs and the Cavs are both fighting hard. They have a long way to win, and lots of ball to play.
Photos: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images (James and Curry), Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images (Dellavedova), Larry W. Smith-Pool/Getty Images (Iguodala)