One more time before I go: Warriors host Cavaliers for all the marbles

After Cleveland held serve at home, the NBA Finals shifts back to California for a decisive Game 7 on Golden States home floor.

Ken Blaze—USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16

After Cleveland held serve at home, the NBA Finals shifts back to California for a decisive Game 7 on Golden State’s home floor.For the Golden State Warriors, it was all good just a week ago. The 73-win steamroller had just won by 11 points on the road in Cleveland to earn a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. All that was left was the inevitable, it seemed: one more win, and Golden State would cap off their dream season with a second straight championship. Not even LeBron James — the greatest player of his generation — could stop this freight train.Or so we thought.Because ever since the buzzer sounded last Friday at Quicken Loans Arena, this series has been all Cavaliers. A day after Game 4, Golden State’s best defender Draymond Green was retroactively popped with a flagrant foul, which triggered a one-game suspension sans appeal. Green missed Game 5, and his absence was felt. This series hasn’t been the same since. LeBron and Kyrie Irving went bonkers, combining to score 82 points on 54 shots. The Warriors, minus Green, were game for 42 minutes, but a personal 7-0 run by Irving pushed the game out of reach halfway through the fourth quarter. Cleveland won 112-97, and the series was now 3-2.To make matters worse for the Warriors: Andrew Bogut, one of the top rim protectors in the NBA (the Cavs shot just 47 percent on field goals defended by the Australian at the hoop during the Finals), suffered a nasty knee injury, which has shelved him for the remainder of the season.The Finals shifted back to Cleveland for Game 6. The Warriors no longer had the services of Bogut, but Green returned to the lineup. It didn’t matter, though.Right from the get-go, the Cavs pounced on the Warriors. Led by LeBron and Tristan Thompson, the Cavs raced out to a 31-point first quarter, muzzling Golden State’s vaunted Death Lineup in the process. Cleveland held Golden State, the No. 1 offense in the league, to just 11 points in the game’s first 12 minutes — 0.46 points per possession in the opening frame.LeBron threaded the proverbial needle on several passes that resulted in easy buckets for Thompson, who recorded a double-double before halftime (he was perfect from the field and finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds). James has a tendency to answer the bell in elimination games, and Thursday night was another postseason performance for the record books: 41 points (16 of 27 shooting), 11 assists and eight rebounds. It was a near-religious experience to watch him do this in front of 20,000 screaming fans in Cleveland.James, who registered a game-high 100 touches, is the best passer in the NBA, and his combination of vision, timing and strength was on full display as the Cavs ripped off their second straight victory. James and Thompson are so good at connecting for lob alley-oops, you’d swear the two of them have telepathy.LeBron James reaffirmed what so many of us already knew: he’s the best basketball player on the planet, and when he wants to take over a game, he’s capable of controlling it in unparalleled fashion.On to Game 7The Finals now head back to the West Coast for a decisive Game 7 in Oakland Sunday night. The Warriors offense looked totally out of sorts on in Game 6. The Cavs defended hard, and cut-off Golden State’s split action sets in their motion offense. The Warriors don’t run a ton of pick-and-rolls, but all season long, the 1-5 pick-and-roll with Curry and Green has been the best play in basketball. With Kevin Love playing just 11 milquetoast minutes, Cleveland deployed speedier players on Green — James, Thompson or Richard Jefferson. This allowed the Cavs to blitz and trap Curry with relative ease. For two seasons, Golden State has countered that by having Curry hit Green with a pocket pass, triggering a deadly 4-on-3 advantage for the Warriors. However, that play simply wasn’t there in Game 6.James and Thompson were especially devastating defensively. When those two were on the floor, Golden State scored just 0.82 points per possession — a horrible number. I never thought I’d say this about the Warriors, but their spacing was totally out of wack. If Golden State is going to close this thing out on their home floor, they need to generate more movement. I think we’ll see more sets with Curry and Klay deployed as screeners, which can cause issues for Cleveland, although their more athletic lineups, with LeBron playing the lion share of power forward minutes, are far more adept at handling these type of scenarios. Love played just 12 minutes in Game 6, and it’s hard to picture that number jumping much.GSW’s adjustmentsGolden State would also be wise to mix up some of their pick-and-roll action. What they did in Game 6 was too predictable, and the Cavs smothered it. Golden State’s Death Lineup, which was outscored by 84 points per 100 possessions in Game 6, must find themselves, especially now sans Bogut. This will be their crunch time five for the biggest game of their collective lives.This is problematic, though, for a couple of reasons. First off, Harrison Barnes has been a complete disaster the last two games for the Warriors. As he heads into free agency for the first time in his young career, the former Tar Heel has gone ice cold at the worst possible time: in Games 5 and 6, Barnes shot a combined 2 for 22. Thursday night, the Warriors scored just 0.51 points per possession with the Black Falcon on the court, and you can see the Cavs baiting him into open looks. Cleveland is willing to punt on defending Barnes closely if it means more defenders in the box to muck up Klay Thompson’s cuts and Draymond Green’s runs to the rim. He’ll have open looks, and Barnes must knockdown these shots in Game 7. He’s gone just 2 for 12 on uncontested shots the last two games, per the league’s player tracking data. A slight improvement in this category could be the difference between a win and a lose.Another 20 percent of the Death Lineup is Andre Iguodala. The veteran swingman is one of the most crafty defenders in the NBA, and he’s done nicely against LeBron going back to last year’s Finals. However, Iggy, who has battled injuries this season, looked not himself in Game 6. He was clearly bothered by his lower back, and appeared hobbled at times. With Iguodala hampered and no Bogut for rim protection, LeBron had carte blanche to attack. That spells serious trouble for Steve Kerr and company.King James as the ultimate equalizerJames is a genius when it comes to managing his body. With nothing left to play for beyond Sunday, he can unleash every bit of energy he has in the tank, which should terrify the Warriors. Golden State holds the advantage of being at home and being the champs.The last time an NBA Finals went to Game 7 was back in 2013, when LeBron James and the Miami Heat were victorious against the San Antonio Spurs. Few things in sports are better championship series going the full allotment of games, and well, here we are. Sunday night at Oracle Arena should be a fun one.No pressure, guys, it’s only immortality on the line.