2015 NBA Finals, Game 4: Attack of the Small-Ball Warriors Led by Andre Iguodala
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Basketball
Unclear if small ball made Warriors better or if Cavs were just exhausted in game 4.
On the surface, Golden State’s dramatic, last-minute, “Ha-ha, we lied to you!” lineup change didn’t really work. The new super-small starting lineup was minus-1 in 14 minutes, got murdered on the glass, and barely nudged the pace up from the snail-like tempo the Cavaliers had imposed upon this series.1
On the surface, this was the ultimate “make or miss” game. Golden State nailed 24 of 45 uncontested shots, according to NBA.com. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala nailed the open corner 3s they had missed in prior games, and Draymond Green coaxed in a few of those floaters Timofey Mozgov had previously obliterated — including a ferocious chest-to-chest and-1 in the second quarter.
The Cavs, meanwhile, went a frigid 6-of-29 on uncontested looks, emboldening the Warriors to take an extra step away from Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert in order to squeeze LeBron James.
Golden State coaches and officials were adamant after the game that going smaller had reinvigorated the team. The Warriors felt like themselves again, scrambling around the floor on defense, scrapping for gang rebounds — Green says the team’s guards are more attentive when they know he’s the only big man under the rim — and at least trying to rush the ball up the floor.
“Our competitive level was higher,” Kerr told me outside the Warriors locker room. “It was, ‘Holy shit, this is the NBA Finals, and we better start playing every possession like it’s our last.’”
He added, laughing: “It only took four games. I think when you compete like that, the ball tends to go in more. There is karma in this game.”
How the Cavs can win the finals:
Shumpert especially needs to seize a more active role. The Cavs cannot gift Curry the chance to hide on Shumpert. When Curry is on Dellavedova, the Cavs pivot right into James/Delly pick-and-rolls; they should use Shumpert more in that same way when Curry is on him.
Cleveland should also keep right on posting up Mozgov against Green, Barnes, and whatever Lilliputian Mozgov encounters. Mozgov has nimble feet, a soft touch, and an angry streak in backing those little dudes all the way under the damn rim. The Warriors mixed in some fronts, even drawing a three-second violation as the Cavs pinged the ball around in search of an open passing angle, but Cleveland shouldn’t shy away from its size advantage.
The Cavs have done periodic damage spotting up Jones as a small-ball power forward around LeBron pick-and-rolls, but it hasn’t been enough to really hurt Golden State, and when Jones is your best small-ball bench option, you’re probably not equipped to beat Golden State in a small-ball series. That is where the Cavs really miss Kyrie Irving to maximize the punch in their small-ball lineups.
But the Cavs, even in this limited state, are equipped to beat the Warriors. They have proven that. They’ll have to do it once more on the road to win what has turned into an intriguing, and potentially epic, NBA Finals.
Some random Game 4 notes as we head back to the Bay:
• Watch the cross-matches in Game 5. Iguodala is guarding James, but the Cavs have James guarding Barnes. The Cavs got two early transition baskets, including a Mozgov dunk, while the Warriors were scrambling around trying to find their proper assignments.
Golden State got one back when Green brought the ball up and found no one guarding him, since his guy, Tristan Thompson, had picked up Iguodala amid the offense-to-defense confusion. These little games-within-the-game can decide things.
• Kerr seems to have concluded that Iguodala is his only workable option on LeBron. When he saw the Cavs insert LeBron early in the second quarter while Iguodala was still on the bench, Kerr immediately burned a 20-second timeout to get Iguodala back in. Kerr confirmed to me afterward that he used the timeout specifically for that purpose, rather than risk even one possession with Barnes on LeBron.
• Kerr didn’t repeat the mistake he made at the end of the first half in Game 3, when he left Ezeli in to guard Jones for the last Cleveland possession. When he saw that the Cavs had inserted Jones, Kerr swapped in Barnes for Lee.
• It’s unclear if James can even come out at this point. The Cavs were minus-6 in the seven minutes James sat, and they have zero offense without him. Their non-LeBron offense resembles how Golden State might look without talent — a bunch of guys running around, cutting, and screening, producing no usable advantage.
• Curry, meanwhile, played the whole second half until garbage time — a huge departure. I loved that.
• The degree to which Golden State is playing Dellavedova to pass on the pick-and-roll, and specifically to toss a lob pass, is getting comical. Both defenders shade toward Tristan Thompson, conceding a floater. Dellavedova nailed three such floaters in Game 3, but he lofted a couple of no-chance-in-hell lobs in Game 4.
• A little thing I love about Mozgov’s game: He’s really good at disguising the direction of his pick until the very last moment, and even flipping directions in an instant. He tricked Iguodala a few times on LeBron pick-and-rolls; Iguodala lunged one way, thinking Mozgov’s screen was going to send James in that direction, and fell hopelessly behind when Mozgov set that sucker the other way.
Reminder: Mozgov is under contract for just $4.95 million next season. Cavs GM David Griffin did a sensational job rebuilding this team on the fly during the season.
• I’m always impressed at how quickly teams edit highlights into the pregame montage to pump up the crowd before the introduction of the starting lineups. Tonight’s was filled with clips from Game 3, but the Cavs wisely kept LeBron’s screaming touchdown spike from Game 2 in the anchor spot.
• Speaking of anchor spots: Hurrah for LeBron relishing his place at the end of Cleveland’s lineup introductions. The man gets theater. He waits for the announcer to call his name, rises slowly from his chair, and jogs out — alone, owning the moment.
• The Cavs’ home gold jerseys swirling around against the Warriors’ road blues is a wonderful visual experience.
Robert Mays on Iguodala:
When Bob Myers was handed the executive of the year award last month, it seemed sort of funny. Sure, Myers hired Steve Kerr and held off on the Kevin Love–Klay Thompson deal — both moves that helped define Golden State’s season — but some of the franchise’s most significant choices, like drafting Thompson and Draymond Green, were far in the past. To recognize Myers was to recognize the years-long process of building the best roster in basketball.
The most significant move Myers made over that stretch — in terms of the moving pieces required to make it happen — was rarely a focal point during Golden State’s run to 67 wins. As Green and Thompson turned into stars, Andre Iguodala slid to the background, just one season after the Warriors unloaded a massive package of assets to bring him aboard.
The day the deal went down, I remember not believing it was true. It felt like a coup for a team that already had a top-tier roster (when healthy) to bring in a player this versatile — Iguodala was among a handful of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, a dynamic force in transition, and a more-than-capable secondary ball handler who could free Steph Curry to wreak havoc off the ball. In his two years as a Warrior, Iguodala has been all of those things — whether as a starter or from the bench — but last night was the culmination of the decision that Myers was so intent on making two summers ago.
For years, Iguodala has been one of the most unique players in the league, but in some ways, that’s why he was never designed to be the star he was made out to be in Philadelphia. His boundless athleticism and rare offensive skill set made it easy to understand why some would push for him to be a centerpiece, but his destiny was to be exactly what he was for Golden State last night. Back in the starting lineup and pinned as Kerr’s mid-fight changeup, Iguodala was tasked with guarding the best player in the world during a stretch when he’s looked next to unstoppable, and he was more than up to the task. He hit big 3 after big 3 as the Cavs dared him to. It was Iguodala who got out in transition and flushed down two easy dunks, pushing the pace into the red for Cleveland during the first quarter and giving Golden State the easy points it hasn’t had all series.
When Doris Burke asked Iguodala about guarding James after the game, he mentioned that he’d been facing off against LeBron for a decade. It’s hard to swallow that the 2004 draft was 11 years ago, but that’s where we are. Going to the bench this year meant that in his 11 NBA seasons, Iguodala had played nearly every role he could on an NBA roster, from All-Star to quality starter to sixth man. But last night, he got to reprise the role that Myers brought him in to fill two summers ago — the player who could swing it all for Golden State.
Gotta shoot better than 6 for 45 to win:
Cleveland is performing admirably given the losses of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But those guys are obviously important, and their ability to score from the perimeter was sorely missed last night; the Cavs lived through an absolute jump-shooting nightmare in their Game 4 loss. Look at these numbers: They made just 6 of 45 shots outside the paint. That’s 13 percent, and that’s not gonna get it done against Golden State.
LeBron’s championship teams in Miami decorated the perimeter with guys like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mike Miller (back when he was still alive), who could all be counted on to knock down the catch-and-shoot opportunities beyond the arc that James works so hard to create inside of it. But with the losses of Love and Irving, the Cavs are leaning on dudes who just aren’t nearly as reliable, and it was bound to catch up with them at some point. Game 4 was the point; the Cavs went just 4-for-27 from beyond the arc and 2-of-18 in the midrange. If this team has any chance of winning this series, somebody has to start knocking down shots. J.R., I’m looking at you, man.