The Warriors won 73 games in the regular season and were situated nicely to dominate the Finals. After going up 3-1, it looked like they might close things up in the early stages of game 5. They didn't, of course, and the series is back to being exciting. But do the Cavaliers have an actual shot at winning game 6? Are they outperforming their expectations or is Golden State underperforming?
Think back to the NBA Finals in 2011. You might remember it as LeBron and the Heat vs. Dirk and the Mavericks. The story-lines surrounding the series were bigger than the series itself, and LeBron struggled in the Finals, scoring just 17.8 points per game. He dropped from 26.7 in the regular season, which was the largest season-to-Finals scoring drop in NBA history. People noticed. It fueled the summer's hate-articles about how the Heat were what's wrong with the NBA and how James had to join up with his friends to chase a title that he might never get and blah blah blah.
Obviously, things worked themselves out and Miami won the next two titles.
This year, Stephen Curry averaged 30.1 points per game in the regular season, continually being hailed as one of the greatest shooting seasons in NBA history because of the difficulty of the shots that he was making. Curry is averaging 22.2 points per game in the Finals, only 1 point different than LBJ's legendary drop-off from 2011.
What's happening out there? Surprisingly, Steph Curry is actually shooting the ball fairly well this series. He's at 42% from beyond the arc, which is below his average, but the difficulty should be increased by the Finals. In fact, he's shooting better from 3 than he has in any other series in this playoffs, he just hasn't been a difference-maker other than 38 points in game 4. Curry has actually been shooting about as well as you might expect, all things considered, but Cleveland has done a good job of preventing runs of dominance. They've run guys off the 3-point line on multiple occasions - even if it means giving up a layup. The layup prevents the roof-blown-off excitement that a Curry step-back three can generate.
So Curry is playing at par. Klay Thompson is similar for the same reasons: Cleveland has run him off the line pretty well, although his explosion in the 2nd quarter of game 5 was ridiculous. Even so, he cooled off. Some of it was defense, some of it was the law of averages.
On the other side, Cleveland played...well? The Cavaliers won an elimination game in Golden State, so yes, they played well. But on the other hand, did they? Kyrie was unbelievable, but it's nearly impossible to think that he's going to play that well again. 71% shooting in high-volume is not sustainable - it was a minor miracle that it lasted all night. These aren't super-high percentage shots...
The same goes for LeBron James. These two were other-worldly great in game 5, as you know. LeBron is now finishing his 9th season as a Cavalier and I've seen about 80% of those games. I can confidently tell you that the shot below is not going to continue going in 50% of the time.
So by that estimation, the Cavs are playing above their baseline, right? They overperformed in game 5 and that's how they lasted til game 6, right?
Maybe not. The Cavaliers bench essentially played 45 minutes in this game and combined to record 12 points, 2 rebounds, and 7 turnovers. Shumpert did manage a steal and two blocks, and RJ pulled 3 steals, but otherwise the bench was non-existent. This is especially alarming because the Cavs run the risk of exhaustion in these faster-paced games. They need guys like Dellavedova to come in and be effective instead of collecting 3 fouls in 3 minutes of the 1st quarter.
I'll save the rant and ask this about the bench: What happened to Channing Frye?
Moving on: The Cavaliers played arguably their worst team-basketball game of the playoffs, recording just 15 assists (15 or 17, depending on your source) on 44 made field goals. They're just not sharing the ball. Remarkably, the Cavs have lowered the bar for passes-thrown in each game of the Finals. According to NBA.com/stats, here's the total number of passes the Cavaliers have thrown in each game: Game 1 - 272, Game 2 - 269, Game 3 - 251, Game 4 - 247, and Game 5 - 219.
After each of the losses, the coaching staff and media have all spouted off about the Cavs playing too much isolation. Well, it's actually getting worse, even with the game 5 win.
So to sum it up, with the ball actually moving less than normal, the Cavaliers are looking for trouble. Golden State will be happy to help them find it. Cleveland still has a shot at home, but they'll need their guys to come out hyper-aggressive, and if Kyrie's jumpers aren't falling, they need to get the ball moving again and get open looks for Love, RJ, Delly, or whoever plays.