Will the 2014-15 NBA season come to an end on Tonight or will the Cavs force a Game 7? Purely as a fan, let's hope the latter. What can we take from Game 5 to improve betting options in Game 6?
Professional sports leagues are all about copying from teams that succeed. Obviously not everyone will find a future Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round of the draft like New England did with Tom Brady. Back when Jimmy Johnson left the University of Miami for the Dallas Cowboys, the old adage was NFL defenses won with as much size and physicality as possible. Johnson turned that on its head by building his defense with lighter, faster players. It led to three Super Bowl wins (one by Barry Switzer using Johnson's players).
In the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks this season mimicked the offensive, free-flowing style of the San Antonio Spurs. Atlanta's head coach is Mike Budenholzer, a former Spurs assistant. It certainly worked as the Hawks had their best regular season ever before being swept in the conference finals by Cleveland. You aren't going to win a title in the NBA without a true superstar. That has been proven. But teams are going to try and copy the success of Golden State. True, the Warriors have a superstar in Steph Curry but I'm talking about their use of "small-ball" and it's what has changed the Finals.
Golden State changed the complexion of this series, in my opinion, in the fourth quarter of Game 3 when the Warriors nearly rallied from a huge deficit only to come up short. Coach Steve Kerr clearly saw something in that quarter, however. He decided to start 6-foot-6 swingman Andre Iguodala in Game 4 over 7-foot center Andrew Bogut, who is still a pretty darn good defensive player and rebounder. It worked wonders as Iggy was spectacular in Game 4's 103-82 win. Bogut played only three minutes. Yes, Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov had his way with the smaller frontcourt by scoring 28 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. But the move wasn't about dealing with Cleveland's offense but in spurring the Warriors'.
We might not see Bogut again in this series. In Game 5, a 104-91 Warriors win, he didn't play a second. Iguodala had another strong game, despite going 2-for-11 from the free-throw line, and Curry exploded for 37 points in his best game of this series. To try and combat the smaller lineup, Cavs coach David Blatt played Mozgov just nine minutes and he did nothing. James Jones and Mike Miller played a combined 32 minutes off the bench as Blatt tried to load up with shooters. It didn't work as they totaled only three points. Miller should not be playing any minutes at this point in his career.
I'm not sure what else Blatt can do because his bench is so lousy with the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Maybe start J.R. Smith over Mozgov? Smith wasn't very good in Game 5, either, shooting just 5-for-15 (all but one attempt was from long range) and not scoring in the second half. Dust off Shawn Marion for 10 minutes or so? I do believe that Blatt has to extend his bench a bit because it sure looks like the Cavaliers are tired. Especially Matthew Dellavedova, who was 2-for-9 from the field in Game 5. When he was defending Curry, the MVP shot 9-for-14 for 22 points. With the trio of Curry, Draymond Green and Iguodala on the court, the Warriors outscored Cleveland by 26 points. That threesome is plus-8.6 in the first five games.
There's only so much LeBron James can do. He put up another triple-double on Sunday and scored or assisted on a whopping 81.3 percent of the Cavs' field goals, a career high. James has played 228 of a possible 250 minutes in this series. Crazy.
Maybe playing at home Tuesday will be enough of a spark for Cleveland to essentially empty whatever it has left in the tank, and I'd take the 4.5 points at sportsbooks, but the Cavs aren't winning a Game 7 in Oakland. Also, when the NBA Finals have been tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has taken the series 20 of 28 times.