Everything was going so swimmingly well. The Golden State Warriors were 3-0 up in the Finals. The addition of the purest scorer in the NBA to a 73-win team had worked (who would have thunk it). The team was on schedule to complete an unprecedented 16-0 sweep of the playoffs. The Warrior fans certainly felt they deserved it after what happened in the 2016 Finals. And the Cleveland Cavaliers could shrug their shoulders and say, “They had Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, what you gonna do.”
Except, as Rocky told us, it ain’t over till it’s over. The Cavaliers got off the mat and punched their weight in Game 4. They made 24 three-pointers, looking more like the team which ranked second in the league in three-pointers made per game. Their effective field goal percentage was a ridiculous 66.7%.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined for 71 points in the game. And that for many is the stat of the night, that’s why they won. Except they also put up a collective 77 in Game 3. But they lost that one. So how does that work out?
The answer to that is rather simple: this series is not the battle of the superstars. At the start of the series many said that James and Irving would win a match each on their own when they went supernova. But they have been going supernova practically every night! James has been putting up 31.8 points a game in addition to 10.5 assists and 11.8 rebounds. He is averaging a triple double when it matters. Irving has been dropping 30.3 points a game in addition to puncturing the Warriors confidence with plays like this.
On the other side, Durant is the leading scorer of the series with 34.3 points a game and Curry is good for 25 a night. Curry is also picking up 8.5 rebounds a game to go with two steals (second best in the series, not bad for someone who is usually the smallest guy on the floor). For comparison, Irving has given the Cavaliers 4.5 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game.
The statistics are pretty clear. The superstars are cancelling each other out. Who, then, are the men who are making the difference?
Sort the points table in descending order and the number three and four spots are occupied by Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors and Kevin Love and JR Smith for the Cavaliers. And you don’t really need stats for that. Anyone who has been watching the series will tell you that these four are the supporting cast in the match-up.
The supporting cast add value to the show but the spectacle doesn’t really centre around them. Their contribution is appreciated but it is not their shoes which break sales records. In fact they usually don’t even get their own signature shoes.
It is surprising then that this series will be won or lost depending on which supporting cast brings their A-game. It doesn’t matter if the superstars dazzle every night. If the other starters don’t come to play, it will all be for naught.
We saw clear evidence of this in Game 4. Smith had three points in Game 1 and zero in Game 2. The Warriors won both those games comfortably. He got 16 in Game 3, the game which the Cavaliers almost won but for a Warriors avalanche in the final two minutes. In Game 4, he scored 15, all from behind the three point line including a Curry-esque shot from mid-court which had no right to go in.
Similarly, Love was okay in the first three games. He scored 15 in the first game, 27 in the second (but shot only 28.6 percent from behind the three-point line) and nine in Game 3 shooting 14.3 percent on three-pointers. The Cavaliers’ game depends a lot on Love making threes on assists dished out by James. Game 3 in particular would have gone to the Cavaliers if Love had shot anywhere close to his normal levels. Game 4 then saw him make six out of his eight three-point attempts and guess who won?
On the other side, Thompson and Green have been playing at sub-par levels all series. Thompson, in particular, has been earning more praise for his defensive effort, which has been stellar, than his shooting, which is worrying for a man considered to be one of the best marksmen in the NBA. The Warriors need him to get hot and absolutely torch the Cavaliers in at least one game.
Green, while being a defensive behemoth, is also important to the team as a playmaker. So far, he has been flirting with ejections in every game picking up four, five, five and four personal fouls in the four games respectively. This has caused the coaching staff to bench him at times when they might want him on the court which causes the game plan to go awry. His assists too have fallen from 7.9 in the regular season to a measly 4.5 in this series.
The Warriors should still win the 2017 Finals. They have to win just one of the remaining three games. The firepower they have is good enough to thump any opposition. They have four All-Stars. They have Durant and Curry. Losing from this position would be an unacceptable result for them.
A 1-3 hole in the Finals should be too great for even James to drag his team out of. Except of course, as Cavaliers fans have been reminding everyone while chanting “Cavs in seven”, the men from Ohio did exactly that just last year.
All statistics courtesy Basketball Reference.
Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 16:10 PM