The first time was between Games 1 and 2. LeBron James has noted that each of the extra days has come while the series is out west, where the Warriors sleep in their own beds while the Cavaliers are subjected to the squalor of the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.
But the Cavs won Game 2 to grab homecourt advantage. After looking spent in a Game 4 loss at home, they have an extra day’s rest to try and do it again. A potential Game 7 is next Friday, also in Golden State, also preceded by an extra day off.
In the meantime, here’s another edition of the Three-Man Weave.
1. The Warriors are 6-1 this postseason in Games 4 and beyond. Have they figured out the Cavaliers?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER: I’m not ready to go that far, because they have let themselves open to be beaten in three ways (all of which Cleveland will need to have clicking in order to win Game 5): on the inside, because they cannot stop Timofey Mozgov when they are playing small; on the perimeter, if the Cavs can find someone who can hit a 3-point shot; and by LeBron James, whose fourth-quarter disappearing act in Game 4 should serve as the exception, not the rule. The Warriors clearly have better personnel 1 through 7, but it should not have taken them three games to figure out that the team that plays hardest is the team that wins. A 21-point loss is no different from a one-point loss, and the Cavs will flush Game 4 down the toilet and come out refreshed Sunday night after an extra day’s rest. This series is a tossup.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR: They certainly seem to be taking steps in that direction. Golden State also was in a 2-1 hole in the conference semifinals against Memphis and responded in Game 4 on the road with the same two elements that got it done in Cleveland – a visible increase in intensity and effort and a key strategic move. Against the Grizzlies, it was coach Steve Kerr’s decision to have Andrew Bogut “defend” guard Tony Allen, daring him to shoot while shading the paint. Against the Cavaliers, it was benching Bogut in favor of Andre Iguodala, which jump-started their dormant offense. Kerr may only be using eight players, but those eight change from series to series and even game to game as he is picking from a pool that’s 10-deep, a very nice luxury.
PAUL LADEWSKI, COLUMNIST: It sure seems that way. The only wonder is that Steve Kerr and his staff didn’t figure them out days ago. Only one player can beat them — and his name isn’t Joe Harris, either. In the first three games, James was allowed to dribble, dribble and dribble some more, slow the game to a crawl, reduce the number of ball possessions and conserve energy. That changed in Game 4, when Iguodala made his first start of the season as the designated James stopper, a role in which the savvy swingman had some success in the past. Yet Iguodala didn’t do it alone. The defense also pressured James to give up the ball more often, which put the onus on Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith beat them. Yeah, right.
2. What, if any, are Cavaliers coach David Blatt’s options at this point?
SHERIDAN: Sing lullabies to LeBron James so they guy will get some sleep; bring extra espresso for Delly, who clearly needs his caffeine fix to be effective, dehydration be damned; find an eighth guy who can knock down a 3-point shot, be it Shawn Marion or Mike Miller or even Joe Harris, who does not have the experience of Miller or Marion but is in the NBA for a reason – because he can shoot it. The bottom line is that somebody needs to be a 3-point threat for Cleveland aside from J.R. Smith, who is channeling his inner Knick, and Iman Shumpert, who couldn’t hit three straight 3-point shots if you left him alone in the gym for a half hour. Blatt can’t beat the Warriors if he can’t at least show some semblance of keeping pace with them from behind the arc.
BERNUCCA: Miller and Marion have to play. Through four games, the Cavs have two players averaging over 42 minutes, including Tristan Thompson (26.8 mpg in regular season) and four more averaging more than 30 minutes, including Matthew Dellavedova (20.6 mpg). Yes, Miller is 35 and Marion is 37. But are you telling me that two savvy veterans with Finals experience can’t ham-and-egg their way through four minutes per half for potentially three more games? Miller certainly can’t shoot worse than his teammates did in Game 4, and Marion is always good for a putback or a flip shot. Depending on the score, Blatt can also pull James late in the first and third quarters and let him go the rest of the half when he returns, as he did in Game 2.
LADEWSKI: Simple — convince Bingo Smith to come out of retirement. Otherwise, he can have Marion and Miller shake off the cobwebs, because not even James can take on such an enormous load and not feel the effects. James gave his coach a nudge in that direction when he said, “We haven’t played many guys throughout this playoff run. I think it would help some of the guys that are playing some high minutes, for sure.” Blatt also can pull a Kerr and start J.R. Smith and bring Matthew Dellavedova off the bench. If the Warriors continue to pressure James as expected, Smith would figure to get more open looks. Hey, can he shoot any worse? Dellavedova may have more value in a reserve role, where he can provide some much-needed energy and seems less reluctant to get involved on offense. This much is certain: Blatt has to do something, especially in the fourth quarter, when his team has been outscored 63-36 in the last two games.
3. In this day and age, can the MVP of the NBA Finals come from the losing team?
SHERIDAN: If LeBron goes for 40-plus in Games 5, 6 and 7, yes. The Cavs really have no business being in this series with the caliber of players they are trotting out, and Game 4 notwithstanding, James has been superhuman to get them to a 2-2 deadlock. If we get to a Game 7 and it is tight down the stretch because James is going bananas again, that may be enough to get him the award. The NBA usually asks for ballots to be turned in before the game ends, although they were patient with me when I was a voter in the 2010 Finals and cast my ballot for Pau Gasol because he was the best player on the court in the final three minutes. I wrote Gasol’s name on my ballot with under 30 seconds left.
BERNUCCA: It would require a perfect storm of circumstances. The Finals MVP was first awarded in 1969 to Jerry West, whose LA Lakers blew a 3-2 lead and lost Game 7 at home to Boston. West was the leading scorer in five games, going for 53 in the opener, 42 in the finale and averaging 38 with seven assists. For James to win Finals MVP with the losing team, (a) the series would have to go seven games; (b) James would have to be spectacular in that seventh game; (c) Steph Curry would have to continue to be ordinary by his standards; and (d) Andre Iguodala would have to stop his Kawhi Leonard impersonation. Even then, Finals MVP winners of seven-game series often go to the player from the winning team who plays best in Game 7 (James Worthy, Cedric Maxwell).
LADEWSKI: Why not? Nearly 46 years have passed since West became the first – and last – player to pull it off, but there’s precedent for it. And if the Cavaliers lose this series, it should happen again. Is there any reasonable doubt that James has been the MVP thus far? Given the rag-tag bunch around him, it is no small miracle that the Cavaliers are still in the series. In the first four games, James put up 35.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 45.8 minutes. The Logo averaged 37.9, 4.7, 7.4 and 43.9 in the 1969 Finals. To this point, Iguodala rates as the Warriors’ best all-around player, but in terms of value to their respective teams, he’s not in James’ country – let alone zip code – right now.