Like everyone else, Draymond Green could only watch as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sent the NBA Finals back to Cleveland.
And it became abundantly clear just how much the Golden State Warriors need their fiery forward after they were buried by Cleveland’s dynamic duo.
James had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists to go with Irving’s 41 points in the Cavaliers’ 112-97 victory over the Warriors on Monday night.
Klay Thompson scored 37 points and Stephen Curry had 25 for the Warriors, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. But the Warriors sorely missed Green, who was suspended after striking James in the groin in Game 4.
“Draymond does a little bit of everything,” Thompson said. “Obviously his playmaking, his communication, and his heart and soul. It’s not an excuse though.”
With Green next door in Oakland Coliseum, the Cavaliers shot 53%, hit 10 of 24 three-pointers and handed the Warriors their fourth home loss this season.
“It’s too simple to say” the Warriors lost because of Green’s absence, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “We weren’t very good defensively. We knew we were without Draymond, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better and we didn’t.”
Green was suspended after the NBA retroactively charged him with a flagrant-1 foul (unnecessary contact) for an incident with James during Game 4. The foul triggered an automatic suspension and left the Warriors and their fans fuming at the decision.
Green watched the game sitting with general manager Bob Myers while his team-mates tried to pick up their exiled comrade. But it was clear from the start that they missed him badly, especially on the defensive end.
Even though he stands only 6-foot-8, Green is a ferocious interior presence for the Warriors and allows the rest of their versatile group to switch liberally and make it hard on the Cavaliers to get open looks from the perimeter. But Cleveland had little trouble getting to the basket on Monday night, with James and Irving plowing into the paint without fear against Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao, and James Michael McAdoo. Kerr went with Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup in place of Green to match-up with James, but struggled to find suitable help at centre.
“He’s our centerfielder in the back when he’s able to see the whole floor,” Curry said. “Tonight it was obviously different rotations and we tried to adjust on the fly with different matchups. But we just didn’t execute as well.”
Golden State’s most effective lineup all season long — the “Death Lineup” with Green at centre, Harrison Barnes at power forward, Iguodala at small forward and the Splash Brothers in the backcourt — made life miserable for its opponents with its ability to switch on defence and get out in transition on offence. Green often would lead those fast breaks, playing a point forward while Curry and Thompson spread out on the wings for 3s.
The 3s were still there in Game 5 — the Warriors made 14 of 42 from long range. But the defence that helped them surge to a 3-1 lead in the series was nowhere to be found, and Bogut had to be helped off the court two minutes into the third quarter with an injured left knee.
James followed Bogut’s exit with a dunk and Irving hit his third 3 of the game to give the Cavaliers a 74-68 lead and never looked back.
Leading up to this game, the Warriors blamed LeBron for Green’s suspension. They viewed James stepping over Green as a blatant show of disrespect and openly chided him for complaining about Green crossing the line with some of the trash talk that he hurled the four-time MVP’s way during the exchange. Thompson said James “got his feelings hurt,” Marreese Speights tweeted a baby bottle emoji and even Curry’s wife, Ayesha, got in on the act.
If they were trying to humiliate James, it didn’t work. Instead, it appears to have just made him angry.
While absorbing merciless boos from the amped-up Oracle crowd every time he touched the ball, James steamrolled to the basket with no regard for the smaller Warriors.
The Warriors are still in the driver seat heading back to Cleveland. No team has ever lost in the NBA Finals after leading the series 3-1. They will get Green back for Game 6, but they face a Cavs squad that heads back to Cleveland with the one thing the Warriors wanted to take away — hope.
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