By Chris Molicki
After a Draymond Green suspension and otherworldly performances by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers head back to Cleveland with the hopes of forcing a Game 7. While it’s unlikely that the Cavs would beat the Warriors in Golden State in a Game 7, it’s all about staying alive for LeBron and company and knowing that anything can happen in a deciding game. Cleveland played extremely well in Game 5, but that was mostly because James and Irving were out of their minds. There were some red flags in the victory that could be their downfall against a fully healthy Warriors’ team. Here are the keys to Game 6 for Cleveland to live another day.
Ride Homecourt: Like Golden State, Cleveland has some of the loudest fans in the NBA. And there’s nothing like going on a crazy run of JR Smith threes, Kyrie crossovers, or LeBron manhandlings that gets the crowd going. The Cavs need to make sure that the crowd doesn’t disappear from the game. If Cleveland plays well and the fans are constantly on their feet, it might lead to the Warriors settling for a Game 7.
All About LeBron: I might sound like a broken record but this is all about LeBron. The Cavs go as he goes. The offense must run through him for the most part (although it’s encouraging to see that it can run through Irving). It was a good sign that James was taking and making jumpers, giving the Warriors’ defense yet another thing to worry about. Cleveland’s offense depends so heavily on James, and Tyronn Lue is going to have to be smart with LeBron’s minutes. He’ll need to give him a bit of a rest, but the offense basically dies when the King is off the floor.
No Love: This isn’t an overreaction to Game 5, it’s just what my eyes have been telling me: Kevin Love cannot play major minutes in this series. He looks timid, uninvolved, and slow-footed. Love has been pretty terrible on defense, and his offensive/rebounding game hasn’t even come close to making up for it. At this point, Love has been relegated to nothing more than a spot-up shooter. I understand the depth on this team is thin, but they work so much better when Love is on the bench. Maybe Matthew Dellavedova gets more minutes in small lineups, while Timofey Mozgov could play a little more to provide the defense that Love can’t. At this point, I would find it hard to play Love more than 20 minutes a game, and that’s on Lue, who will have a lot of tough decisions in Game 6.
Scrap the Late-Game Hero Ball: It hurt the Cavs in Game 4 and it helped them in Game 5, but the fact remains that resorting to isolation plays late in games is a recipe for failure. Irving managed to conjure up some sort of magical witchcraft and hit some of the tougher shots I’ve seen in a long time. But the reality is that those plays usually don’t work, and they completely short-circuit an offense. If Game 6 is close heading into the fourth quarter, why should the Cavs deviate from their original offense and just go one-on-one? They need to stay true to their identity and keep the ball moving, or they won’t be so lucky this time around.
The Efficiency of Uncle Drew: Kyrie Irving put up 41 points in Game 5, and he was extremely efficient in doing so. Uncle Drew made 17 of 24 shots, and he needs to keep those numbers up. The difference between this year’s Finals and last year’s is that LeBron actually has a real second option to shoulder the offensive load. But we’ve seen Irving display bad shot selection and have poor shooting nights before. It happened in the fourth quarter in Game 4. James is one of the best to ever play the game, but he’s not going to beat a 73-win team without some help. That’s up to Irving to continue to step up on offense and defend on the other end of the floor.
Curry and Green’s Mentality: I don’t know what’s wrong with Stephen Curry. He might actually be hurt. I don’t like to use injuries as excuses, but reports came out that Curry will likely need some offseason surgeries. Or maybe he’s just come back down to Earth. Curry spent the past two years lighting the world on fire. Maybe it was just the longest hot streak we’ve ever seen? Regardless of what it is, when Curry’s off, he seems disengaged, and that greatly hurts the Warriors as a whole. The Cavs need to get on him early and often.
Draymond Green will be returning from his suspension, and all eyes will be on him. Does Green play more passive in order to avoid additional punishment? Does he come out roaring and bring his usual fire to the game? Does he take it too far again? Or does he do what he did in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, when he should’ve been suspended, and mentally check out (for reasons unknown)? As we saw in Game 5, Green is incredibly vital to this team on both ends of the floor. James and the Cavaliers need to make life miserable for him and see if they can break him.
Don’t Forget About the Role Players: Just because you take out Curry, Green, or Klay Thompson, doesn’t mean your job is done. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala have been legitimate threats in this series. LeAndro Barbosa has even had some moments. And how many times have you seen Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli crash the boards and extend possessions? That’s absolutely demoralizing for an opponent. When Cleveland’s on defense, all five players need to be rolling on all cylinders and leave no man unaccounted for.