Opinion: Last chance for the Cavs in Game 6

Jimmy Miller

Well, that was quick.

As I wrote in my column prior to Sunday’s NBA Finals game, momentum shifts quickly in a series. Although I also wrote the Golden State Warriors carried the momentum into Game 5, their subsequent home victory on Sunday meant the Cleveland Cavaliers have no chance at truly holding momentum in a must-win game for the rest of the season.

Sure, the Cavaliers have home court advantage for Tuesday’s Game 6 contest, but the Warriors don’t care. Take a look at some of their other impressive road victories this postseason. It doesn’t ultimately matter to them, or at least it shouldn’t.

What they actually care about, much to Cleveland’s chagrin, is that their role players have finally figured it out. Their rookie coach, Steve Kerr, has finally hashed out a starting five that makes sense against the Cavaliers (small, quick). Steph Curry, the league’s reigning MVP, hadn’t dominated a single game prior to Game 5, but he is scoring enough points (many of them in pivotal moments of the game) that it doesn’t matter if his playoff scoring average is down to its lowest this entire postseason. His free throw percentage aside, Andre Iguodala is piecing together enough quality minutes to be a significant force in the Finals. Despite playing less of big man Andrew Bogut, the Warriors haven’t lost much physicality on defense, as Draymond Green continues to punish the Cavaliers on plays where neither he nor his defensive assignment have the ball.

Despite all of this, it’s not over for Cleveland.

The big knock on the Cavaliers this postseason is that their star LeBron James has been keeping the Cavaliers afloat practically all on his own. Media and fans alike started to call for the Cavaliers’ demise after the injury to Kevin Love, and the buzz got even louder once Kyrie Irving went down for good due to his season-ending knee injury. But James and perhaps the best supporting cast he has ever had in Cleveland (take a look at the 2007 NBA Finals roster) managed to take its first Finals lead ever after Game 3.

Of course, all of that talk about the Cavaliers being done resurfaced last Thursday following Golden State’s dominant Game 4 victory. Even I admit, watching the Cavaliers get bullied again in their Game 5 loss, especially in the second half, made me think about how it might be another “wait until next year” situations. But the Cavaliers did show some signs of progress on Sunday, even though the loss will glare at them for a long time if the series ends Tuesday.

First, J.R. Smith showed it’s possible for him to get over his Finals slump. His play in the early stages of the Finals led me to believe he’d never reach his full potential in this series (and he still may not), especially after his sloppy play on defense and tendency to commit stupid fouls. However, his hot hand in the first half of Sunday’s game proved he might be due for a big game. Secondly, and certainly most importantly, LeBron proved his Game 4 dud and injury wasn’t going to sink his season. It’s encouraging when your star continues to play well, especially when he’s so vital to the offense.

Finally, the Cavaliers showed they can make some adjustments on defense. While it may have seemed like neither team wanted to score at the beginning of Game 5, it’s simply not true: It’s more of a testament to the Cavaliers’ defense when the Warriors struggle on offense, not the other way around. Curry is one of the best pure shooters the league may ever see, sure. When Klay Thompson gets hot, he’s not that much worse than Curry from beyond the arc. If Green is the third option on offense right now, the Warriors are in good shape, and yet the Cavaliers continue to contest shots and make these games interesting until the very end.

If the Cavaliers can grind out a win Tuesday, a Game 7 toss-up suddenly becomes exactly that. It won’t matter what happened in Games 4 and 5, and on the Warriors’ side, it won’t matter that they blew Game 2 at home and dropped Game 3 in Cleveland. It suddenly becomes a match for the title that maybe nobody can fully predict.

Usually, I play the role of cynical Cleveland fan, but tonight, I’m playing the role of hopeful thinker.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].