Just under two weeks ago, 15 members of the Sheridan Hoops staff offered their Finals predictions. Seven of us still have a chance to have both the correct winning team and number of games.
Will the Warriors close it out? Can the Cavaliers stay alive?
Here are the big questions entering Game 6 in our latest edition of the Three-Man Weave.
1. What does Cavaliers coach David Blatt do with Timofey Mozgov?
CHRIS SHERIDAN, PUBLISHER: Stop being an idiot and play the guy. Blatt’s mistake (his first one) was running too many plays for Mozgov right out of the gate. Mozgov had never sen a double-team before, and the Warriors did a great job of flustering Mozgov with the double-teams and by forcing him onto the high block to catch passes. Mozgov should be able to get his points off offensive rebounds and alley-oops. If seemed as if Blatt was saying: “If I can’t run a play for him, I can’t use him.” Blatt’s stupidity at times is astounding.
CHRIS BERNUCCA, MANAGING EDITOR: Go back to how he used Mozgov in Games 1-4. The 7-footer averaged 16.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 31.8 minutes through the first four games. Most of his points came on lane flashes, putbacks, short corner jumpers and free throws (23-of-32 from the line). Very few came off direct post-ups, which forces LeBron James to the perimeter and makes him less dangerous. Mozgov’s presence on the interior also makes the Warriors think twice about driving the ball to the rim. This worked for four games. Blatt and the Cavs have no margin for error. Go back to it.
PAUL LADEWSKI, COLUMNIST: The Cavaliers can’t beat the Warriors at their own game, which the overmatched Blatt tried to do with a smaller lineup in Game 5. He should play to his team’s strengths of height and heft, which is what Mozgov and Tristan Thompson provide close to the basket. The Cavaliers lost Game 4 even though Mozgov scored 28 points. But remember, James had his worst performance of the series. If the homeboys slow the pace, control the paint area and James comes up big this time, don’t be surprised if the series returns to Oakland on Friday.
2. Has Stephen Curry or Andre Iguodala been more valuable for the Warriors?
SHERIDAN: Tough call, because on a game-to-game basis, Iguodala has given them more, but Curry’s Game 5 performance was a series-changer, and he has had his moments — late in the fourth quarter in Game 2, the entire fourth quarter in Game 3. Iguodala’s nine straight missed free throws in Game 5 took some of the bloom off him, but that does not erase his contributions throughout the series on both ends of the floor. If Golden State wins Game 6, the award probably will go to Curry if he can score 25 or more points.
BERNUCCA: I believe it has been Iguodala, because his ability and determination in defending James primarily straight up without getting into foul trouble has helped Golden State’s overall defense. His free-throw issues notwithstanding, he is third on the Warriors in scoring at 14.6 points and shooting 55 percent from the field, including 41 percent from the arc – the same as Curry. Remember, his insertion to the starting lineup for Game 4 turned the momentum of this series. Curry has been spectacular at times and certainly is being held to a higher standard – as the MVP should be. And since Game 1, Curry has had the benefit of being matched up against a backup point guard, not All-Star Kyrie Irving.
LADEWSKI: It’s a close call, but Iguodala has been more consistent at both ends. Because he is the best option against James on defense, it is easy to overlook that the Warriors have scored 121 points per 100 possessions while he has been on the court, by far the highest rate among their regulars. His shooting has been excellent, and while his 2-of-11 performance at the charity stripe in Game 5 was hard on the eyes, it didn’t hurt his team. Also don’t forget that in a crucial stretch late in the fourth quarter, Dolla Billz scored five consecutive points to break open a tight game.
3. Which team gets Game 6, and why?
SHERIDAN: I am sticking with the Cavs, who I picked to win in 7 … but Blatt is killing me. Again, the Cavs need three things: A 40-point game from LeBron James, a dominant game from one of both of their bigs, and some consistent 3-point shooting. Why Blatt has not given more minutes to Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and/or Joe Harris is confounding. J.R. Smith has played one good half the entire series, and there comes a point where you pull the plug when a guy is shooting you out of championship contention. The other big factor in Game 6 will be James. He is on his home court, this is the biggest challenge of his career
(at least in my book, if not his), and he will need to be somewhere between 40 and 50 points to get the job done. I don’t put it past him.
BERNUCCA: The Cavaliers. I also picked Cleveland in 7, and who doesn’t want to see a Game 7 in the NBA Finals? But those are emotional reasons. More practically, the Cavs certainly will be helped by being at home, where role players usually play much better. Tristan Thompson’s offense is becoming a factor and Mozgov will be back in the mix (right, David?). Some were quick to judge James when he said, “I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s that simple,” after the Game 5 loss. But I think part of that was to remind his teammates that they always have a chance playing alongside him and try to rebuild their confidence. I’m also not quite sure the Warriors – all of whom are in their first Finals – have the collective sense of urgency to close it out with a Game 7 at home in their hip pocket.
LADEWSKI: Pure and simple, don’t bet against James in a must-win situation at home. And never, ever bet against Game 7 in a series that has had boffo TV ratings — conspiracy theory alert! — especially in a postseason that has been remarkably without drama and memorable moments.