James' heroics not enough: Cavs drop Game 5
By TAYLOR ROSEN
College Contributor Network
In any NBA Playoffs series, Game 5 is usually the all-important decisive game. The winner of Game 5 in the NBA Finals ends up winning the ring 71.4 percent of the time.
On Sunday night, in what was a pivotal must-win Game 5 of the NBA Finals for both teams, we finally saw why Stephen Curry received the MVP award this season. He was magnificent and there was nobody on the Cleveland Cavaliers who could stop him.
Using the small-ball lineup again that was so effective in Game 4, and living off of the 37 points from MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors finished out the Cleveland Cavaliers, 104-91 in the crucial game on Sunday night that moved them a step closer to the franchise's first NBA title in 40 years.
Curry hit seven shots from downtown, including a few off balance contested step back jumpers in crunch time in Matthew Dellavedova's face. Dellavedova has done an excellent job fighting through screens and staying as closely attached to Curry as humanly possible throughout the entirety of this series, but on this night, Curry torched Dellavedova and the Cavaliers.
Curry scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including seven straight to put away the game after Cleveland got within eight points in the final 2 minutes.
We might be witnessing the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers, who are playing without two all-stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, running out of gas in the most important moments of the series.
Although the Warriors have shrunk their rotation down to eight guys, they still have the deeper team, which has played less overall minutes than the seven to eight guys on the Cavaliers roster who have had to shoulder the heavier load for this entire series.
What we have seen these last two games has been the Warriors slowly wearing down the Cavaliers throughout the game. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, the Cavaliers have exerted most of their energy and they have been unable to dig deep and finish off the Warriors in these last two games.
The one guy on the Cavaliers who continues to dig deep is LeBron James. Yet again, James had another brilliant historical performance. James shot 15 of 34 and played another gut-wrenching 44 minutes. He nearly completed his triple-double by halftime. James finished the game with a game-high 40 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists while slowing down the pace as much as he possibly could.
James made a 34-footer with the shot clock about to expire midway through the fourth, and Curry answered with a step-back 3-pointer in Dellavedova's face. Klay Thompson, who scored 12 points, followed with another from deep three off of a screen for the Warriors.
Andre Iguodala later hit a 3 and then grabbed a rebound, tossing in a left-handed put back while being fouled by Tristan Thompson. Iguodala strutted back to midcourt, staring at the announced crowd of 19,596.
Curry added a cutting layup, then lost Dellavedova off the dribble and stepped back for a 3 that gave Golden State a 96-86 lead with 2:44 left.
After Curry sank that shot, it was all but over. The Cavaliers knew that was the proverbial dagger, and after that shot went down you could tell the focus shifted from Game 5 to Game 6 for the Cavs.
So what must the Cavaliers do to pull off the unlikely and win the next two games? It starts with their leader, James. He needs to continue to be aggressive in attacking the rim and looking to set up his teammates. On Sunday night, James had some support from his swingman J.R. Smith, who had been struggling immensely the last few games of this series.
Smith came right out of the gates firing on Sunday night. Before halftime, he had hit four three-pointers and was leading the Cavaliers in scoring off of the bench. By the time the second half rolled around, Cavaliers coach David Blatt had decided to replace starting center Timofey Mozgov with J.R. Smith in the starting five.
Initially, this move seemed like a logical tactical adjustment to counter with the Warriors small ball rotation, but that's not how it played out for Blatt's Cavaliers.
Smith lost his hot shooting touch somewhere in the first half, and was never really able to get it going again in the second half when he was needed most. He finished the game with 14 points.
If the Cavaliers will have any chance at winning these next two games consecutively, they will need Smith at his absolute best. At times, his head didn't seem to be in the right place, and it showed through some poor decision making from Smith, which led to turnovers and momentum swings for the Warriors.
If you ask me, as of now, this series is far from over. You cannot count out the best player on the planet (James). When he's playing at a level this high, anything is possible.
It would also be interesting to see if the young Warriors can handle the big stage and pressure that comes along with any Game 7 in the NBA Playoffs. Throw in that Finals patch stitched on the back of each jersey and it makes it that much more nerve-wrecking.
It remains to be seen if the Warriors possess that killer instinct and the ability to end it in Cleveland. Witnessing yet another opposing team be crowned champions in Quicken Loans Arena would leave Clevelanders with an additional taste of misery they've already had on their tongues for 51 years and counting.
Taylor Rosen is a junior at Kent State University. He spent time with The Stater covering Kent State football and basketball. Taylor is from Cleveland, and has Cleveland sports under a microscope. Follow him on Twitter: @TRosen12