CLEVELAND -- Game Four of these NBA Finals was a clear triumph for the Cleveland Cavaliers, chaos and conspiracy freaks, and a momentary defeat for the Golden State Warriors, historical inevitability and the league’s judgment on official selection.
Now while you argue about the proper ratios between these six factors, we will remind you that in the wake of Cleveland’s richly merited 137-116 victory Friday night, there is a Game 5, it is Monday night, and the game officials will be Joey Crawford, Joey Crawford and Joey Crawford.
(We’re lying, of course. The three officials will quite likely be Monty McCutchen, Danny Crawford and Scott Foster, because result aside, this game was a hot, fetid mess, and cooler, smarter heads will have to be imposed).
And we will remind you of one other thing. The right team won Game 4, and any bleating about the officials changing the game misses the greater point. Cleveland came out with the proper level of desperation-fueled energy, made a disproportionate number of its shots both inside and outside the arc, set records for points scored in each of the first three quarters (49, 86 and then 115 points), got to rest LeBron James for more than two minutes, and comprehensively overwhelmed the Golden State defense throughout the game.
That’s just to cool your roll on blaming the officiating crew of Mike Callahan, Marc Davis and John Goble. Callahan, a veteran of such games, was mostly undone by Davis and Goble, the latter working his first Finals game ever, and the game spiraled out of control early and stayed that way.
That being true, Cleveland was still better, again and again. I now refer you to Warrior coach Steve Kerr:
“Give them a ton of credit. They made a bunch of tough shots, but we not sharp defensively. It’s never one thing. They played a tremendous game. But the biggest thing was that they brought a level of physicality that we didn’t match.”
“(That physicality) It benefited them tonight, for sure. I don't think they're necessarily a more physical team, but they were the aggressors, they came out, hit us first, and they deserved to win because of that physicality and aggressiveness.”
And when asked a more pointed question about the officials, he responded the only way a man who likes to keep $25,000 in his pocket whenever possible, he responded only with a sardonic laugh and a “Nice try.”
Now that we don’t have to keep track of 16-0 postseason series, we can get back to the matter of the Warriors and Cavaliers, and more to the point, how the Cavs took a look at their own doom and shoved it back with a vengeance.
LeBron James (31/10/11) and Kyrie Irving (40/7/4) finally got measurable and visible contributions from Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Richard Jefferson (an aggregate (51/20/8) at the same time, set Finals records for points scored in each of the first three periods, and Golden State responded either tepidly or petulantly to Cleveland’s seemingly endless rushes.
At the opposite end, the Warriors were only 11-for-29 from three, their best defenders were well into the minus (Kevin Durant, -22, Draymond Green, -19, Klay Thompson, -9), and they let the chaos of a poorly officiated game affect their attention spans.
If there are things the Warriors can draw to this other than reminding themselves that closing is hard work and that the Finals are typically about testiness, it’s that Green didn’t get tossed due to some legerdesifflet (whistle magic) that changed a first half technical credited to Green was assigned to head coach Steve Kerr, thus making Green’s second-half technical a relative insignificance.
There are now two days for those messages to be absorbed, and for the Warriors to re-establish their superiority, even if it won’t be a historical wonderment any more.
Instead, the only history that can be made from this point on is by Cleveland, and only if the Cavs win the next three games. They’ve already become the third NBA team (and seventh professional team) to avert a sweep in the Finals, at least temporarily, with the others being:
* The 1947 Chicago Stags, who won Game 4 of the first-ever BAA title series but lost in five to the Philadelphia Warriors. The BAA later morphed through merger with the NBL into the NBA
* The 1949 Washington Capitols, who won Games 4 and 5 but lost the BAA finals in six to the Minneapolis Lakers.
* The 1951 New York Knicks, who won Games Four, Five and Six but lost to the Rochester Royals in seven.
* The 1974 Utah Stars, who prolonged the ABA finals to five games against the Julius Erving New York Nets.
* The 1975 Indiana Pacers, who cheated death for a game against the ultimate ABA winners, the Kentucky Colonels.
* The 1996 Seattle SuperSonics, who beat the fourth Michael Jordan championship team in Games 4 and 5 before succumbing.
Of those teams, only the Knicks, Bulls and Pacers still exist in their current locations and names, so history just got ancient as well as irrelevant.
Indeed, we will be burden with no more team-of-the-epoch narratives, no more comparisons with the favorite teams of the guardians of yesteryear. There is just the hard painful slog of finishing off a very good team, or expiring in the attempt. The very basis of the NBA Finals.
Except, of course, for one last swing at the unprecedented. At game’s end, the fulfilled Quicken Arena crowd chanted, “Cavs-In-Seven” repeatedly, but for the first time it was done with gusto rather than blind loyalty. True, the Cavaliers still have a long way to go to become the 1951 New York Knicks, let alone the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, but at least we have the germ of a series now, at the relatively inexpensive costs of a record that cannot be, and the momentary deferral of years of dynasty talk.