On Sunday night, the powers that be finally recognized that flipping the script of history can be richly rewarding at the box office and worthy of multiple awards. The Broadway musical Hamilton conceived and created by Lin-Manuel Miranda captured an almost-record 11 Tony Awards with its retelling of the American Dream in vivid technicolor and hip-hop aesthetic.
Similar to this coronation at the 70th Annual Tony Awards, first held in April of 1947, another crowning was supposed to do like history do; repeat itself. The Golden State Warriors won the first NBA championship in April of 1947 and seemed set to repeat last season’s title on Monday night.
But let’s get this settled from the giddy-up. In my opinion, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have won Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals whether the Warriors’ suspended Draymond Green had played or not.
LeBron James, speaking after the 112-97 win, agreed. Sort of.
“I think from a mental standpoint it wasn't about anybody that was on the floor,” said James. “We just had a mindset that we wanted to come in here and just try to extend our period and have another opportunity to fight for another day. And that was our main concern, and we were able to do that.”
My thought was that as the Warriors are wont to do; their history is that the team takes quarters off - even games. The offense so amorphous and audacious that it can rattle of a 12-0 run in two-minute time spans as if playing in a self-contained space-vacuum it’s often triggered by tenacious team defense in a way that complacency comes with the territory.
That’s why the suspension of Green was actually a positive omen for the Warriors. Without its agitator and augmenter, the Dubs would have little room for error and thus execute its game plan more efficiently. As the game progressed and entered halftime all knotted up, 61-61, it appeared, however, as if the two-man band of LeBron and Kyrie Irving would wilt in the second half to the more balanced Warriors.
Two men can’t beat five, right? (Where is the Love?)
LeBron seemed to start out passive. While the Warriors built an early 19-13 lead, LeBron kicked the rock out to Richard Jefferson for a brick three that resulted in a long offensive rebound he gathered to only pass the pill to Matthew Dellavedova for another missed three pointer.
Fortunately, in the first half, the Cavs were led by Irving, who was knocking ‘em in from mid-range, short-range and deep. His eyes have a slumber-like expression, but Irving is woke unlike Rip van Winkle who fell the hell asleep. Kyrie’s ball handling and shot making wizardry recalled visions of Zeke dancing on opponents’ heads as NBA TV alluded to during its postgame coverage with clips from Isiah Thomas’ career.
There on that set, he also revealed how he became so adept at finishing with his left hand as a result of breaking the thumb on his primary right shooting hand as a high school freshman. The bad break turned into a silver stroke as he began to shoot floaters and layups with his offhand that we all see today.
Kyrie’s first half production was all he could do to fend off the Warriors’ Klay Thompson, who was redefining the art of “Klaymation.” Thompson, who I criticized for his lackluster NBA Finals performances, broke out with 37 points on 11-for-20 shooting.
In the first half, the Cavs couldn’t seem to grasp how to defend Thompson’s slip-screen move, where he goes to set the pick but eases on out to the perimeter for uncontested jumpers, resulting in 6-for-11 from three-point land. When that was covered, he drove to the hoop either pulling up with short mid-range shots or getting fouled at the rim that allowed him finish the game 9-9 from the free throw line.
Alas, most of that damage was done in the first half.
Perhaps, the first turning point of the game occurred early in the second half. The Warriors’ center Andrew Bogut began wincing in pain on the floor, grabbing his knee, upon an awkward fall after blocking a JR Smith shot. At that the point, 10:29 left in the third quarter, the Cavs led by a score of just 67-64. Subsequent free throws by Klay brought the score to 67-66.
However, without Bogut’s presence (who never returned) in the paint grabbing rebounds and protecting the rim, the Cavs seized the moment. A few plays later, LeBron on an assist from Kevin Love cut back door for a driving dunk to put the Cavs up 71-66. It’s as if LeBron’s alter-ego of Hulk-mode fully emerged.
LeBron’s early passivity may be just a precursor to his final metamorphosis. Most superstars when angered or called upon for superhero antics become more vociferous and outwardly energetic. LeBron though settles into a slowed down demeanor almost repressing the natural urges to retaliate. His face hardens, his emotions deaden, and then he goes to work.
It totally fits that, as reported, he watched the Godfather II prior to Game 5. The protagonist Michael Corleone maintains the family’s resolve through cool, detached decisions, never letting emotions rule the day like his dead brother Sonny. With his new brother Kyrie replacing Dwyane Wade, he may not get Wade’s defensive prowess, but he gets a younger sidekick who can drop 30-plus in three straight NBA Finals games.
The duo just created the new 40/40 club as the first teammates to score at least 40 points in the same NBA Finals game. LeBron also added 16 boards, seven dimes and three blocks to his 41 points, while Kyrie supplemented his own 41-point-game with six assists.
Kyrie also scored 12 points in the deciding fourth quarter that contained two other critical moments.
The Cavs built a 99-90 lead but Steph Curry seemed to get ignited. After a game of lax ball handling and passes that seemed to result in more than the official record of four turnovers, he cut the lead to seven with a layup.
Despite finishing with 25 points, he missed several jumpers that could have turned the tide in the Warriors favor. No more so than at the 8:30 mark of the fourth quarter after cutting the lead to 99-92, Curry missed a wide-open three following a nice pick by Anderson Verajao.
Kyrie shut the door with a three on an assist from LeBron at the 5:33 mark pushing the lead to an insurmountable margin of 109-96.
The stage is set for more drama in Game 6.