On the surface, this has been, on paper at least, a fairly ho-hum NBA Finals, with three blowouts in four games and the favorite racing out to a 3-0 lead that's made the ultimate outcome feel like a fait accompli. However, if you've watched these NBA Finals, you know that the margins of victory are not commensurate with the vitriol and plethora of historical story lines still in play.
Sure, thanks to Cleveland's stunning display of outside shooting (53.3 percent from three point rang) in Game 4, the Warriors can no longer make history with a 16-0 run through the postseason, but perhaps, MAYBE (probably not, but still...) we are on the cusp of LeBron James now doing his version of "watch me top myself."
The Cavaliers coming back from down 3-0 would undoubtedly be the greatest story in postseason history, considering the sheer talent of their opponent, not to mention their burgeoning hate-ability. And while the negativity of social media and debate TV chooses to focus on how top-heavy the league is (Golden State and Cleveland entered this series 24-1 in the playoffs), people are still tuning in to watch these Finals in droves. These are the most watched NBA Finals since 1998, Michael Jordan's last season with the Bulls.
I'm all for keeping this party going another two games. What are the things to watch for tonight in the rare Monday night NBA Finals game? Here are a few...
4. Draymond Green's temper
One season ago, we were siting in the same spot, with the Warriors up 3-1. Obviously, there are some gigantic differences this postseason, the most glaring being the presence of Kevin Durant in a Warriors uniform. Also, though, this was the game last season, Game 5, in which Draymond Green served his series-turning suspension. Atoning for that has been a theme for Green throughout these playoffs, and yet, with every single foul called on him, there is an animated, curse-laden protest. Green doesn't just straddle the line of acceptability with his arguing — he spits on it. If I'm the Cavs, one way to make their wretched bench useful (more on them in a moment) would be to have one of them try to goon his way into an eye-for-eye situation with Green and see if you can get him doing "Ejectable Draymond" things.
Well, your referees for tonight's Game 5 are Danny Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Stafford. I have no idea if they are good or bad officials, but I do know that Twitter will give me a thousand reasons that all three of them are blind, suck at life and couldn't be running a fruit stand, let alone officiating an NBA playoff game. The zebras in Game 4 were kind enough to give the Cavaliers 22 first quarter free throws, a huge helping hand in the 49 first quarter points scored. Then, oddly enough, they shot only nine the rest of the way, in part because they were bombing away from outside the three point arc. Then there was the whole Draymond Green "second technical" fiasco, in which the refs reassigned a first quarter technical (in the second half, mind you) from Green to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr.
Per ESPN.com, here was the ref's explanation:
"In the moment, I thought I had verbalized to the table that the technical foul was on Coach Kerr," Goble told a pool reporter after the game. "After looking at the video, I did not verbalize to the table. And looking at the video, I should have done a better job of making sure that the table knew the technical foul was on Coach Kerr."
Crawford, Malloy and Stafford are fine, I guess. I had my own recommendation over the weekend...
2. Cavaliers bench
There are no two ways about it — the Cavaliers have basically been the 1973 Sixers when LeBron James leaves the floor these last two games:
Cavaliers Last 2 Games - With LeBron James On/Off Court— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 10, 2017
Game 3 +7 -12
Game 4 +32 -11
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That Game 3-12 is particularly remarkable since LeBron only left the floor for TWO MINUTES the entire game. It's not a stretch to say that you, faithful reader, could find four friends and have a better plus-minus than -12 against the Warriors just by dribbling out the 24-second clock each time. You almost have to be TRYING to play poorly to get a -12 in two minutes.
1. LeBron James
So the only solution might be never to take James off the floor. Seriously, he has three months to rest, and I can't imagine he is going to balk at playing without a trip to the bench. If you're Tyronn Lue, you may just have to economize your timeouts, use them specifically when JAMES needs them, and try your best to extend stoppages in play any way that you can, in order to keep him on the floor for all 48 minutes. It'd be just one more thing to add to his legacy, if they're able to top last season's comeback.
LeBron's 5 elimination games vs GSW:— nick wright (@getnickwright) June 10, 2017
G6 '15 32-18-9
G5 '16 41-16-7
G6 '16 41-8-11
G7 '16 27-11-11
G4 '17 31-10-11
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.