NBA Finals Diary- If You Want a 7th, Then 6th Must Be Better than 5th

I am not a basketball scholar.

My career ended when high school began. When your driver’s license reads, 5’2”, 110lbs, the writing is on the wall. When that’s the case and you make up for lack of physical attributes with a clear and stunning lack of shooting or ball-handling attributes, the writing is on the coach’s evaluation sheet.

But I do watch a lot of basketball. Despite swearing it off when LeBron James left Cleveland an era ago, and despite telling anyone who would listen that I wouldn’t watch an NBA game if they played it in my driveway, I watched it. I watched as much of it after LBJ left as I did before he went to Miami.

And while I enjoyed nearly every second of Game 5, the moment it ended I realized that Game 6 couldn’t look anything like Game 5 if the Cavs want to take this series back to Oakland for Game 7. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were otherworldly Monday night.

That’s the good news and the bad news.

The good news boils down to being that what James and Irving did Monday in Oracle Arena was unprecedented. Literally, it had never been before, having two teammates both go for 40+ in the same game. It also obviously made necessary Game 6. But the fact it's never been done before means it's unlikely that what got Cleveland a Game 6 can get them that Game 7.

The Cavaliers have to approach Thursday’s game differently than they did Monday’s second half, when James and Irving basically constituted the entirety of the offense and no other Cavaliers, save maybe Tristan Thompson, were remotely involved.

Looking to that type of “game plan” would be fool’s gold for Cleveland, specifically because it can’t be replicated.

The joke around the country Tuesday morning was that the Cavs’ ‘Big Three’ of James, Irving and Kevin Love, combined for 84 points in their Game 5 win. The joke being, obviously, that James and Irving had 82 of those 84 points while Love seemed to endlessly circle the perimeter of the Cavaliers’ offense and actively avoided going anywhere near the ball.

It was funnier Tuesday than it is today. Because the Cavaliers are going to need Love Thursday night. They’re also going to need someone else to step up and contribute on the offensive end. Whether that’s J.R. Smith, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson or anyone else doesn’t really matter. They just need more balance and more involvement to get this series back to Oakland for a winner-take-all series finales.

The good news is that for the first time in two postseasons, it appears the basketball Gods may be smiling on Cleveland. Because, while Draymond Green returns from his well-deserved suspension, the Warriors have lost C Andrew Bogut for the remainder of the series.

That’s a really big deal that not a lot of people are giving enough attention to.

Bogut may have more illegal screens than points scored in a given game, but he’s a huge component to Golden State’s defense. He’s a presence at the rim and he’s a legitimate 7-foot shot blocker. Even in just seven minutes Monday night, before going down with his knee injury early in the 3rd quarter, Bogut had three blocks. All those spinning, acrobatic shots Irving hit over Klay Thompson in the 2nd half, well those may have met a different outcome with Bogut guarding the paint or backing up Klay Thompson with his huge wing span.

Green is a terrific defensive player. But he’s also 6’7” tall and can’t jump. What Green can do is expertly force guys to Bogut for a block that gets the Warriors going quickly the other way. Green’s tremendous ability to do so may be rendered less effective, if not impotent, without Bogut there to clean up the mess.

Bogut’s loss is big also in that it eats away at the Warriors depth. Green gives Golden State great minutes at center. Golden State is +53 in minutes where Draymond is playing the 5-spot. In all other minutes when Draymond isn’t playing center, the Warriors are -44.

That may sound counter-intuitive when talking about how important Bogut’s loss, given Golden State is actually better with Green at center than when Bogut is there. But Green simply CAN’T play center for the entire time he’s in the game. He’s not built for it and Warriors coach Steve Kerr will need to make sure Green gets his rest and that the other Warriors big men play some productive minutes when Draymond is on the bench or playing away from the basket.

What it means for the Cavs is that they have to attack Green and the paint aggressively. Without Bogut that task is simply easier. If they can attack Green and have cutters hitting the lane they’ll give the Warriors fits. If they attack Green, have cutters in the lane and kick the ball out to open shooters, then other guys will contribute to taking the onus off James and Irving.

What the Bogut injury has done is give Tyronn Lue an opening that he and the Cavaliers can exploit. Not to mention it puts an added amount of pressure on Green to not only play well, but to play smart. The Warriors are in trouble if Green gets into foul trouble. Green is in trouble if he can’t control his temper or his antics. The flagrant foul situation doesn’t reset just because Green already served a game. It’s still there and still ticking.

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