The Cavaliers steamrolled the Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, avoiding the sweep and preventing Golden State from celebrating a second title in three years on Cleveland’s home floor.
While we all remember the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals last year, things are very different this time around – to the point where it seems downright impossible that the Cavaliers could repeat the feat this season.
Here are five reasons why Cleveland won’t come all the way back to beat Golden State and repeat as NBA champion.
The officiating will never be as bad again as it was in Game 4
We shouldn’t be talking about the officiating after a game that the Cavaliers led wire to wire and won by a margin of 21 points. But it was so bad at the start and so inconsistent throughout that it undoubtedly became Game 4’s primary story.
Cleveland was awarded an absurd 22 free-throw attempts through the game’s first 12 minutes, which played a big part in the Cavaliers scoring 49 points in the first quarter and getting out to a 16-point lead. The referees were bad on both sides the rest of the way, calling a flagrant foul on Kevin Love in one moment for an accidental swipe at Kevin Durant’s head on a drive to the basket, while ignoring a punch from Zaza Pachulia to the groin of Iman Shumpert in another play later in the contest.
The officiating wasn’t solely to blame for the Warriors’ loss. But the way it went early in the game certainly helped the Cavaliers’ cause, and that performance just isn’t likely to be repeated at any point during the remainder of the series.
Cleveland cannot continue to score at the level it did in Game 4
I’m not a big fan of using the word “sustainable” to question whether a team can continue to win while playing a certain style of basketball. Every game plays out differently, of course, and players at this level are talented enough to duplicate an incredible performance, impossible as that sometimes may seem.
But Cleveland cannot and will not score at the level it did in Game 4 for the rest of the series.
The Cavaliers set an NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers made (24), and one of them came from J.R. Smith from nearly half-court as the shot clock expired. They scored 49 first-quarter points (again, thanks to those 22 free-throw attempts), on the way to a preposterous total of 86 in the game’s first half.
Cleveland returned to Earth in the second half, scoring 51 points over the game’s final 24 minutes. It’s true that the offense of the Cavaliers has improved as the series has gone on, but asking them to outscore the Warriors like this three more times is simply too tall a task.
The Warriors will be at full strength
Draymond Green is as important to what the Warriors do on both ends of the floor as any player on the roster, and once he was suspended for Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, the Cavaliers were given an easy first step in their comeback attempt, winning by 15 points on the Warriors’ home floor.
Cleveland won’t have any similar good fortune in 2017.
The Warriors will almost certainly be at full strength in Game 5, and in the unlikely event that Zaza Pachulia receives a suspension for that groin shot to Iman Shumpert, it would have almost no impact on Golden State’s chances to get a win.
Green toed the line with his emotions in Game 4, and that was probably enough of a reminder of how last year’s series unfolded for him to tone it down a bit the rest of the way. If the Cavaliers are going to make another historic comeback, they’ll have to do it with all of Golden State’s best players healthy and available for the remainder of the series. And coming away with four straight wins against that group just doesn’t seem possible.
Stephen Curry won’t continue to disappear
Curry finished Game 4 with just 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting in 38 minutes on the floor. We’re not exactly going out on a limb here by guessing that won’t happen again.
The reigning MVP has only scored fewer than 21 points one other time in his previous 15 playoff games, and that came in the first round against the Blazers, where he scored 19 after playing just 31 minutes because his team was on its way to a blowout victory by a margin of 29 points.
Curry’s averaging just one-tenth of a point per game less than Kevin Durant is during these playoffs. He’s been as reliable a scorer as possible for Golden State, and he’ll return to form at home in Game 5.
The Cavaliers haven’t shown they can stop the Warriors
One thing lost in the Cavaliers’ Game 4 victory was the fact that they didn’t do a single thing to slow the Warriors down. Cleveland scored and scored and scored — more than perhaps anyone could have expected, and more than perhaps it ever will again in this series. But Golden State was pretty sharp offensively itself.
The Warriors scored 68 first-half points on 54.5 percent shooting, and finished with 116 for the game. That’s right in line with how they’ve been scoring in these Finals, with totals of 113, 132 and 118 in the first three games of the series.
Conventional wisdom says that Cleveland cannot win three more times without finding a way to slow its opponent’s offence. Even after an impressive Game 4 victory, that’s something we still haven’t seen.