Great Shooting, Poor Officiating, Lifts Cavs in Game 4
Golden State blows an opportunity to complete the greatest NBA playoff run by sweeping every round including the Finals. Their chance to finish the postseason unblemished loomed heavy. But the energy produced by the Quicken Loans Arena crowd loomed heaviest. Cleveland fans should be commended for their steadfast support of a team on the brink of collapse. Their cheers certainly uplifted the Cavaliers, lighting the fire they played with from opening tip to final whistle.
Cleveland started Game 4 with the intensity expected of a team fighting for their playoff lives. Every play called was effective, and every outside shot taken founds its way through the basket. After J.R. Smith’s second three-pointer of the first quarter, Golden State was forced to call a timeout as Cleveland built a 9-point lead early. Clearly the Warriors' focus was awry as they immediately committed a turnover on the inbounds play directly following a timeout.
With just 5:30 left in the first quarter, all Cavalier starters had scored and contributed to the 29 - 13 Cavalier lead.
The Warriors looked ill prepared to match the Cavaliers competitive intensity. If one coupled the Warriors lackluster start with the abysmal one-sided officiating, and it’s understandable that Game 4 was destined to finish in a 137-116 blowout in favor of the Cavaliers.
To pretend the officiating had no impact on Game 4 would be disingenuous. From the start of the game, Cleveland enjoyed a decided advantage with the referees. Golden State was called for 12 fouls in the first quarter compared to Cleveland’s 6. Cleveland parlayed those 12 Warrior fouls into 22 first quarter free throw attempts. The quick whistles disproportionately affected the Warriors, as they were prohibited from playing pressure defense. Risking fouling out was too great, thus, Cleveland had their way in the final three minutes of the first quarter, when their insurmountable lead exploded.
The Cavaliers’ 49 points in the first quarter was the most points scored in any quarter in any Finals game ever.
Pushing Cleveland's lead further out of reach was their stifling defense. Cleveland's defensive intensity matched the pressure of their high-powered offense. Cleveland players were jumping into passing lanes on defense and helping off of screens to prevent penetration. Cleveland was hungrier and more disciplined. Tristan Thompson owned the boards. The few missed Cleveland shots were corralled by Thompson allowing the Cavaliers to take advantage of second chance opportunities.
J.R. Smith’s sharpshooting continued in the second quarter igniting the crowd, and his newly found marksmen status persisted throughout the game. Smith finished the game with 15 points, shooting 5-9 from beyond the arc. His brilliance from three-point land was only bested by teammate Kyrie Irving. Irving scored 40 points and made 7-12 in 3-point baskets. While future Hall of Fame inductee LeBron James, had another prolific Finals performance. James moved past Magic Johnson for the most all time triple-doubles in the NBA Finals, recording his ninth. James filled the stat sheet scoring 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists.
Possibly more impactful than poor officiating, was the Cavaliers accuracy from distance. The Cavaliers broke the Warriors NBA Finals record for most 3-point baskets after draining 24 in Game 4 at a rate of 53 percent. The Warriors look to turn around