The Warriors are at their most inexplicable when they take obstacles in their way and throw them back at the opposition. At the end of the third quarter of Game 4, Golden State held a two-point lead, but it had just played one of the most fascinating frames of its postseason. The Cavs, who led at the half and shot nearly 53 percent in the period, were somehow ceding control of the flow. The Warriors shot only 36 percent in the quarter, but Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 5-of-9 shooting from 3. Curry baited his prey into trapping his pick-and-rolls with Thompson, creating a win-win situation for two of the greatest shooters who have ever lived. Somehow, the Warriors had turned the entire game inside out.
See, it was the Cavs who had dictated the nature of the game. Cleveland emphasized the possessions war, and Tristan Thompson decided in the first quarter that he was going to be Mel Gibson in The Patriot. He had five offensive rebounds in the first quarter, helping the Cavaliers extend possession on half of their missed shots. He played remarkable individual defense when switching onto Steph Curry, making full use of his flexible hips and low center of gravity to take good-looking opportunities away from the MVP. He flailed and hollered; he was the lifeline.
But in that third quarter, the offensive-boards war shifted to the Warriors, with former Cav Anderson Varejao, of all people, absolutely crushing Cleveland’s morale, grabbing three crucial offensive rebounds. The Cavs’ intensity waned.
Offensive rebounding is not the great equalizer against historically great perimeter shooting, but it gave the Cavaliers a chance. It’s a draining thing to commit to, though, and the Cavs don’t have the depth to compensate for everything else malfunctioning. They couldn’t hit their 3s, nor could they hit their free throws. LeBron found himself caught in double teams as soon as his feet reached the paint; his forced passes might have outnumbered his made field goals. No matter how much of a revelation Tristan Thompson was, if he served as the emblem of the game, something was bound to unravel; the man who set the tone for Game 4 was held out of most of its final four minutes. The refs called the game loosely, so both teams scrapped. It felt like a return to last year’s Finals’ tactics. The Cavs revived caveman ball, bringing out their sticks and stones to combat the Warriors’ heavy artillery — and for the first half, it worked. But you can’t fight a war of attrition with the Warriors without killing yourself first. Golden State made 17 3-pointers on 47.2 percent shooting from behind the arc, the most prolific single-game perimeter performance in NBA Finals history. You can’t out-hustle that.