Fatigue takes its toll on the Cleveland Cavaliers

(Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports)
The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue.
                                                          Napolean Bonaparte
I'm not worried about your Cleveland Cavaliers just yet. Not by a longshot, but I'll get into that in a second.

In Game 4 of the NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers were a tired basketball team, it's pretty plain and simple.

With the Cavs virtually using a seven-man rotation, it was inevitable that the minutes in this hotly contested series were going to wear down the well-traveled legs of the Eastern Conference champions. In a regular year, the Finals often showcase a battle of wills, with the last man standing the ultimate winners of the title.

Look at the Spurs in 2014, who utilized their roster as well as any in the league during the regular season. Their four true starts, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Kawhi Leonard, all averaged under 30 minutes during the regular season. They upped the ante in the playoffs (Duncan, Parker and Leonard all averaged well over 30 minutes, while Ginobli's total went up by three minutes off the bench), and ultimately outplayed and outlasted a beat up and tired Miami Heat.

I know what you're thinking, even if you won't admit it: LeBron James and his Cavs are in the same boat this year, as LeBron James and the Heat were in last year. Golden State is one of the deepest teams in the league, with a legitimate 10-man bench (ten players averaging at least 15 minutes per game). The Cavs are definitively NOT that deep, with the loss of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Love and Irving ate up a of regular season minutes, and before they went down in the playoffs, they had nine current players that had 15-plus minutes per game, with all nine of those current players playing over 19 minutes per game. David Griffin had built a team that, at full strength, may have had slight depth concerns, but were certainly eight players deep, with James, Irving, Love, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova. In a pinch, you could bring in James Jones and Mike Miller for rest, and could toss in a bit of Shawn Marion if you needed a deep breather, or had a lead.

When Love got hurt, there was a tinge of doubt in my psyche regarding the depth. I don't dislike James Jones, but he's no #KLove. While Love has come under fire this year, and likely for good reason, I've always been a stawlwart of what he adds to this team. Jones just isn't KLove, even though he can fill the minute gap.

My point is that he was a HUGE whole to fill (I know, I know, could I be more obvious?).

Then you take away Kyrie Irving. The huge whole became wider than Draymond Green's whining mouth. While the #Cavs had Delly to take Irving's place in the starting lineup, who was going to back him up? There literally wasn't a soul to take his place. Mike Miller, who can give a minute or two here and there, is just done, and while I'd love to see Marion do anything in his last few games, or Joe Smith turn into Thunder Dan Majerle, it's just not gonna happen.

And Delly. Sheesh. While his overall playoff minutes are sitting at almost 24 a game, his finals minutes are up to 31, and that's including Game 1, in which he only played 9 1/2 minutes. He's averaged a whopping 38 minutes since Irving went down.

That leaves your Cleveland Cavaliers with six players averaging at least 31 minutes per game (don't forget the two overtime games now), James Jones at 17 mpg, and Mike Miller, who's played 15 minutes total in three games.

Cleveland is literally seven players deep, with six of those players swallowing up 30-plus minutes....

...and the series is tied at two games apiece.

I'm not yet worried about this Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.

The Cavs have dominated much of this series, for a brief moment in the first quarter of Game 4, it looked like the pattern would remain the same. The Cavs jumped to a 7-0 lead, and all was right with the world.

Steve Kerr, who laughingly lied about his roster being set with Andrew Bogut in the starting line-up, made some roster adjustments determined to alter the pace of play. With Andre Iguadala in Bogut's place, the Warriors were able to force the issue, and managed to pull the Cavs out of their methodical play.

The already exhausted Cavaliers were nearly pushed over the edge. With 3:38 seconds left in the second quarter, the Cavs were down 15, and seemingly out of the game. The game was far from over. It returned to a dogfight in the third quarter, with the Cavs battling back time-and-time again. LeBron scored four straight points in the middle of the third to draw Cleveland to within three points, at 65-62, and were only down six at the end of the fourth.

That's when it all went haywire. The Cavs, exhausted, couldn't keep up. James, who had his head gashed open earlier in the game falling into a camera, was working on fumes. They lost by 21, but the score is no indication of the bulk of the game.

The Cavs, perhaps more deserving of the term Warriors than their namesakes, just couldn't overcome the fatigue.

This isn't to take away the performance of the Golden State Warriors. Steve Kerr had a fantastic gameplan, and Andrew Iguodala, starting his first game of the year, scored 22, with eight boards. The rest of the team played well, and Kerr manipulated his lineup with the adeptness of the most veteran of coaches.

It took EVERYTHING though, to knock out the Cavs in Game 4.

LeBron was bloodied, and struggled his way to a 20-point, 12 board, eight assist game.

Dellavedova started cramping up almost immediately, and had to come out of the game after burying two three pointers at the start of the third quarter. He finished the game battling through 33 minutes, but didn't have the legs for an already suspect shot, scoring ten.

Timofey Mozgov took his game to a new level, scoring 28 points, with 10 boards, and was the only player that had the legs at the end. He really coudn't be stopped, but didn't have any help whatsoever.

Shumpert and Smith were a combined 4-21, and the Cavs were virtually non-existent outside the paint.

And this was still a game.

The Warriors shot 47% from the field, and 40% from three-point range, and sent several daggers through the Cavs in the fourth quarter. Steve Kerr was counting on it. He knew they'd die in the end. That's what smart coaches do.

His counterpart, David Blatt, was preaching that his team couldn't afford any let downs, and like Kerr, he was right. The Cavs don't have the ability for gaps in their gameplan, and they had bunches in Game 4, and they were in the game until the fourth quarter.

That brutal fourth quarter.

Yet, Stephen Curry only scored 22 points, and was far from the world beater that he was in every other series. It's clear this defense is still in his head.

Klay Thompson, who cockily whispered the crowd quiet at the end of Game 4, scored nine points in the game. The "Splash Brothers" have yet to put a game together, and where I was worried about his prior to Game 4, I think the Cavs and Blatt understand how to stop Golden State from their optimum production.

The Warriors played well last night, and while 103 points looks great to most teams, this is a major notch below their production against the Houston Rockets. The Cavs are missing shots because they're tired. Golden State is missing shots because they're rattled.

So enter Game 5. I'd be a liar if I told you that I wasn't worried that Golden State was going to build off of their Game 4 win.

It's possible.

Yet, it's equally possible that with extra time off, a healthier Cavs team could put it together again, hit some key shots, and win the game.

It's equally possible, although winning two games at Oracle won't be easy, and Golden State is a phenomenal basketball team.

But it's now down to a three-game series, and the Cavs are down, but now out. The series is set at two games apiece, and there's a whole lotta series left.

(Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)
Will fatigue be an issue going forward? I'm sure it will. Will Golden State continue to improve? It's certainly possible.

But a really tired Cleveland Cavaliers team last night stuck around for three quarter gassed, after allowing Golden State to up the pace.

Enter Game 5. Will the Cavs regain their footing, or will Golden State finally figure out the Cavs stiffening defense?

Whatever you think, don't count these Cavs, LeBron James and David Blatt out just yet. Fatigue or not, this team still has more than a little life left in them.

My guess is that Klay Thompson's ridiculously smug shushing is going to be postered all over the #Cavs locker room. My guess is that David Blatt still has a move or two left to make. And my guess is still that your Cleveland Cavaliers will bring a title back to Cleveland after a Game 6 victory... home...
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