LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each scored 41 points Monday, a pretty good formula to win an NBA Finals game and concurrently save a sagging season.
It also helped that the Golden State Warriors ran out of people to play down low.
Draymond Green was suspended for the game and then Andrew Bogut went down with a knee injury, erasing two-thirds of the Warriors’ usual frontcourt by the time Monday ended with a 112-97 Cleveland victory.
The Cavaliers still trail in the NBA Finals, 3-2, but Game 6 is Thursday in Cleveland and the Warriors might be without center Bogut, their main shot-blocker-rebounder who landed awkwardly after blocking a shot and had to be helped off the court in the third quarter. Results of Bogut’s MRI exam Tuesday were not immediately known.
Without anybody to man the middle, the Warriors were exposed to James’ drives again and again.
“We played I think, what, four, five different people at center, just trying to find something that would work,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said after Game 5.
Green will be back from his one-game sabbatical, but the Warriors might need to pluck someone from the underwhelming bunch of big men on their bench: Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao or Marreese Speights.
Ezeli filled in for the oft-injured Bogut during the regular season, starting 13 games and averaging 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots. Those numbers were actually better than Bogut’s average starting line with the exception of blocked shots (1.6 a game).
The Warriors, though, would welcome the experience of Bogut in such a high-stakes game.
“Hopefully he’s OK,” Kerr said Monday. “We need him.”
For all their statistical successes on offense this season, the Warriors were dreadful defensively in Game 5.
Klay Thompson was a minus-21 in the plus-minus department. Andre Iguodala, tasked with guarding James, was minus-13. Shaun Livingston was minus-16 off the bench. Those are not pretty numbers.
Green’s return can only help. The Warriors’ most versatile player finished second in the NBA’s defensive-player-of-the-year voting.
“I’ve said it all along that he is the best guy in the NBA as far as reading when to help, triple switches and kicking guys out of mismatches, knowing when to go, when not to go,” Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s an underrated shot blocker, and he can guard one through five, so that definitely hurt their defense [Monday].”
With Green off the NBA’s naughty list, the Warriors took the unexpected flight back to Cleveland on Tuesday. They were 50-3 at home this season until James and Irving crashed the championship party that would have taken place at Oracle Arena. It was Golden State’s worst home loss since Oklahoma City beat them by 19 in April 2013.
The Warriors were wounded but not worried.
“Well, we’re in the same place we were last year — up 3-2 heading back to Cleveland,” Kerr said. “If you told me this before the series, I would have taken it. So we’re in a good spot.”