As I was sitting at work yesterday waiting for the final bell to ring, all I could think about was getting home for Game 5. It was a night that homework would wait until today, the gym would wait until afterwards (or the next day) and sleep would be sacrificed. It was a night that could shape some of the most important basketball storylines of my generation.
What was on the line? Would Stephen Curry step up and eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers at home the way you would expect a two-time consecutive MVP to do so, or would he continue to be seen on the NBA Finals edition milk cartons? Would basketball’s golden boys become the reason that LeBron James topples from the NBA’s highest mountain for the third straight season? Would LeBron descend into the basement of basketball immortality being remembered for his NBA Finals record more than anything? Would LeBron have one of those iconic games we’d talk about in 20 years? Would LeBron be capable of single handedly pushing the series back to The Land? If Cleveland were to lose, what would it write for the futures of Kyrie Irving, or Kevin Love? Would Draymond Green sneak into Oracle and check himself into the game knowing the officials wouldn’t say anything because they’re deeply, deeply intimidated by him? Would he kick any of the security guards in the nuts? Did this series mean more to LeBron James or the 73-9 Golden State Warriors?
All of the questions were in play for Game 5, but most of the questions were at stake for LeBron and his crew as they were the ones with their backs against the wall of elimination. Before the game had started I decided three things were in play for this pivotal instant classic:
1. Draymond Green would prove he is the glue of the Golden State Warriors. He isn’t the best player on the team, but he is the most important. The straw that stirs Golden State’s championship drink.
2. Regardless of the score, this game would reflect the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland.
3. And lastly, most importantly, LeBron James had to have one of the best performances we’ve ever seen out of him to achieve a victory down 3-1 on the road of the NBA Finals.
For whatever reason I was anticipating an all-time game. I knew I had to cancel any plans I had and watch this game by myself. It would either be the moment that the Golden State Warriors completed their mission of greatness by finishing a superhuman, unprecedented season. Or perhaps, it could become the moment that LeBron James forced this series to turnaround and eventually upset the Crowned-In-December Warriors. Anytime you’re getting an elimination game from LeBron, record it (since 2011).
And for that, the best way I could do this article was by writing a retro diary. I expressed the feelings that I wanted to at the exact moment they happened, and reviewed them the following day. Enjoy.
Pregame: As usual, Oracle is full of loud Golden State fans who are bouncing off of one another the way that your little cousins do after drinking too much Mountain Dew Live Wire during the July 4th weekend. Well, or else the way you would if you were a fan of a basketball team that managed to do nothing for what seemed like 62 years. Either way, while I was surfing through the crowd I couldn’t find the Instagram model that sleeps in the mind of Ayesha Curry. Not yet. No sign of her, yet. I have a feeling she will make it out for what could be her team’s final game if she made it all the over to Cleveland.
Stop Game 2 immediately and let this chick play Ayesha 1-on-1 pic.twitter.com/NfBT9M7mfJ
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) June 6, 2016
Before the game had started there must have been a booth somewhere in the concourse that allowed fans to come up and assemble their very own poster versions of the crying LeBron James face because there was a bevy of them throughout the crowd.
One of the more underrated aspects in sports is not only signs, but fans in general. You obviously see all of the great signs behind the set of College GameDay and things of that nature, but it’s American heroes like the fat Cleveland fan slapping his bicep in Game 4 that make sports great.
Of course these signs were suggesting that LeBron was a baby for asking the league to take a look at the incident that lead to Draymond slapping him in the kids and being suspended. Say what you want about LeBron being a snitch, or Draymond being a dirty player. Either way, LeBron defended what he believed in and you can’t get too upset for that.
And just so you know, it’s really really hard to get suspended from the NBA Playoffs. The only way Draymond was going to get suspended was if he got another (his 4th!!!) flagrant foul, which he did according to the wording in the rule book. He’s a habitual line stepper. You literally get three strikes and still have one more chance and Draymond stepped over the line, again. Stop feeling bad for him. It’s his own fault that he’s a serial inseam smasher.
Once the horrible pregame montage of poor music and random clips from the last two Finals wrapped up, we were brought to the panel of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson who spit out 6 or 7 cliche quotes before we even had the jump. Just a reminder that Mike Breen has called every NBA Finals since 2006. Another reminder, I had the over (22.5) on how many cliche quotes Jackson would spill out of his mouth.
12:00, 1st Quarter: The Cleveland Cavaliers are for real going to play an elimination game in the NBA Finals while wearing all black t-shirt jerseys?
11:25, 1st Quarter: LeBron touched the ball for the first time and the crowd let him hear it, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Before LeBron can even think, Iguodala swipes away the ball with the hand speed of a North American X-15 rocket aircraft and goes the other way for the first score of the game.
Iguodala’s defense on LeBron has been so good this series that after starting the game out like this it may have made LeBron think that getting punched in the dick were the good ol’ days. No, seriously. If you don’t believe Andre has absolutely defended the life out of LeBron up until this point (and Kevin Durant last round) than you just aren’t being realistic.
Of course Draymond and Thompson helps on LeBron, but that’s what makes the Warriors so difficult to defeat. They have the ability to switch everything on defense because they’re all about the same size and the differences in their defensive tactics make it nearly impossible to get into a rhythm if you’re trying to slow down one player. You’re constantly getting different looks of length, toughness and agility.
9:16, 1st Quarter: Kevin Love catches the ball on the block, goes to his Cleveland signature “bang, bang, contested right handed jump hook” as he looks rusty, again. Bad miss. Get Kevin Love some oil!
I heard a theory the other day that Love is so worried that he isn’t going to get the basketball back that once he touches it in a position he likes, he ends up shooting the ball almost every single time. Instead of taking advantage of his opponent, he’s simply trying to do too much.
To me, what is odd isn’t that he isn’t scoring or that he isn’t getting the touches that a star would, but how differently he looks in Cleveland. For example, he goes straight into his Cleveland signature move rather than reading his defender and countering what he does. Kevin seems to almost instinctively dive into that move 9/10 times while he’s on the block.
While he was in Minnesota Love would take a nice little one-footed fall-away, or drive to the rim and spin back to his left hand or use a plethora of one dribble stepbacks. Maybe he just needs his coach to tell him he’s a “bad motherfucker”, again.
For whatever reason, Love hasn’t been comfortable for two seasons in Cleveland. I’m all in on the Love-Needs-A-Fresh-Start bandwagon.
7:30, 1st Quarter: LeBron catches a pass at the top of the perimeter from Kyrie Irving and without any hesitation lets it fly through the bottom of the net. Silences the crowd, 8-12 Warriors. An encouraging sight if you’re a Cleveland fan, to say the least.
6:23, 1st Quarter: Andre Iguodala, once again, gets loose with the ball in transition and tries to dunk the ball on the entire team, but is fouled. As much as I can’t stand his body language, facial expressions and constant showing of the Tim Duncan gene (the ability to never commit fouls), he’s one of the best transition players in the game. So exciting to watch as he lopes through the open court like an antelope with a low dribble.
To be honest, I just had to check how old Andre was (32). Why does it feel like he’s 44 years old? I was just about to go on a rant about how good Golden State has been to revitalize his career. I mean, it has to an extent, but doesn’t have the same meaning if he’s 32.
5:48, 1st Quarter: Iguodala with a strong putback dunk. For the first time all series I believe he’s going to win the Finals MVP, again. At this moment he’s outplaying everybody and if they clinch tonight he has an interesting case after the Draymond incident.
Iguodala has been on a different level defensively throughout all of the playoffs. Tremendous start for the reigning Finals MVP. Whether it has been bursts of his offense or consistent defense that displays waving arms that are the length of pool noodles, he’s been relentless.
4:08, 1st Quarter: LeBron dribbles the ball up the court and steps into his second three of the game and ties it at 22-22. LeBron looks locked in, but it’s really surprising to me that LeBron hasn’t attacked the rim in stretches yet. Even more surprising when Mike Breen reminds me after Game 4 his coach paid a fine for saying he gets no calls from the referees. LeBron is guaranteed 20 free throws this game! Attack the rim LeBron, attack the rim!!!
2:54, 1st Quarter: LeBron realizes the mismatch of Barnes on him in transition and attacks his chest. He flies through the lane for an easy right handed layup that he hasn’t missed since second grade. 24-25 Warriors.
Not a big coincidence that LeBron is looking hungrier while Iguodala is catching a blow.
1:08, 1st Quarter: Andre Iguodala rips the ball out of Dellavedova’s hands after Cleveland gets two offensive rebounds from Dellavedova and Jefferson missed threes. The ball is then pushed up the court and whipped around to the other side of the court where Curry is …. WIDE OPEN…. and misses. Pretty sure the roof would have peeled off of Oracle and everybody would have looked up to see Draymond Green riding down from a blimp to half-court with E-40. Also, pretty sure Curry has missed more open threes the last two series than he has in his whole life.
00:52, 1st Quarter: Cleveland finally attacks Iguodala out of the pick and roll and get Varejao to switch onto LeBron. As you would guess he blows by him and gets fouled at the rim.
00:10, 1st Quarter: Shaun Livingston nails a shot from the elbow, plus the foul. The Oracle roof is starting to peel off of the structure. This is when I tell myself to remember this moment because it felt as if it was going to be one of those nights for Golden State. This could be the point of the game where they blow this thing open is all I kept thinking.
Also, is it just me or does every Livingston jump shot look like he gets fouled at the top of it?
End of 1st Quarter: 32-29 lead for the Warriors. The Cavaliers feel like they’re down 10, but are quietly hanging around thanks to JR Smith and a non-attacking LeBron James. There is a pile of suggestions bouncing around the Twittersphere of whether LeBron has looked aggressive enough in this elimination game.
Without looking at the score I would have guessed it was 28-38 Golden State. Cleveland was fortunate to still be in this game.
10:48, 2nd Quarter: Kyrie Irving nails a three to give Cleveland their fist lead of the game. Kerr takes a timeout and likely reminds his team they have a chance to close out this series at home and should try to do so before the best player on the court (LeBron) decides he can do something about it.
9:31, 2nd Quarter: And then, it happened. LeBron “The Greatest Chase Down Block Artist in the History of the NBA” James literally catches Curry’s layup and throws it into the stands for a young fan. The camera instantly shows LeBron’s face and it’s just that blank, focused look on his face that Boston Celtics fans remember for all of the wrong reasons. No trash talk. No smile. No stare down. He came back to the floor and was focused on the next possession.
This was the moment where every blogger, writer, media member and basketball fan silently checked themselves as they without saying a word admitted LeBron James is still the best basketball player on this planet.
This was the moment that it became evident LeBron knew he had to win this game. This was that “it” that everybody has been waiting for that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have and James apparently does not. Well, don’t get too excited, but it had officially arrived for those who believe he isn’t bout it bout it.
7:14, 2nd Quarter: Klay Thompson nails a 30 footer. If I’m the Cavaliers, I want anybody else to beat us besides Curry and Thompson. You. Can’t. Let. Klay. Heat. Up. Ask Durant and Westbrook.
6:57, 2nd Quarter: LeBron is palming the ball several feet above the top of the key as he awaits a screen from Tristan Thompson. As he attacked the basket you could see that he wasn’t the typical version of LeBron that we are accustomed to seeing. As he turned the corner on his path, he attacked the basket with the thought of not just getting to the basket, but rather by getting to the fucking basket. He wasn’t playing around, but was rather playing alone against the 73-win Golden State Warriors. Tie game 44-44.
5:46, 2nd Quarter: Mike Breen voice: “Thompson, waaaay outside… BAAAAAAAAAAAANG!” You. Can’t. Let. Klay. Heat. Up. Ask Durant and Westbrook, again.
4:57, 2nd Quarter: While trailing by one point, LeBron pulls the ball out and continues to attack Andre Iguodala’s soul out of the pick and roll. This time, a step back fall-away to his right. Anytime LeBron goes to his step back rather than attacking the rim you know one of these three things:
1. He’s HOT.
2. The game is on the line.
3. He’s wide ass open.
(Two of the above statements were true in this scenario.)
1:53, 2nd Quarter: After knocking down another open jump shot the possession before, LeBron comes down and makes Iguodala play peek-a-boo around a Kevin Love screen as LeBron blows through the Golden State defense for another easy, easy layup to tie the game at 58.
Cleveland has been able to whether the storm throughout a down pouring of Klay Thompson trey balls that would usually extend the Warriors lead to about 15 points. However, on a night LeBron and Kyrie had everything going, it wouldn’t matter. The only chance the Warriors had at slowing down the King was sitting in a suite at the Oakland Coliseum a short 50 yards away with his fists balled up ready to swing at someone’s sack.
1:20, 2nd Quarter: After ANOTHER three pointer, LeBron high steps through Speights weak defense as if he’s trying to get through quick sand. Speights is just convienient enough to foul James on his way to a two hand dunk at the rim. And one. Tie game, once again.
It really did seem like no matter what was going to happen, LeBron would answer the bell. Every single time the Warriors looked as if they were going to jump away James would attack the basket, or find an open teammate. LeBron was going toe-to-toe with a team that was in discussions with the Showtime Lakers early last week. Each basket James and his copilot Kyrie Irving created was literally chipping away at the prematurely etched in stone legacy of the Golden State Warriors.
Halftime: If I would have found an NBA legends lamp before the game and rubbed it until the Kazaam version of Shaquille O’Neal came out, my three wishes would have been simple — For the Inside the NBA crew to do halftime, a camera televising Draymond Green from his suite and more wishes.
The analysis is good, but the Inside the NBA crew is just many moons more entertaining.
11:02, 3rd Quarter: LeBron knocks down another three pointer to start the second half after his defender decides to contest his shot one step above the free throw line. How can you be so blatantly disrespectful to a guy who has taken all of your amazing defensive statistics and lit them on fire in one half?
LeBron was crawling back to the position he put his team in last season. The only difference was that this time the mountain he had to climb was higher.
7:35, 3rd Quarter: The Warriors haven’t made any adjustments to their smaller-small-ball lineup and are beginning to fall behind the Cavaliers. With Bogut injured in the locker room after a gruesome knee injury that doesn’t need to be shown on a replay, and Draymond unusable, Kerr decided to let them play through this stretch.
The decision Kerr made by staying so small (Curry, Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes) was made from the philosophy that has made them so successful — being unorthodox. Not even a leg kick from Draymond Green while using the crane technique could break the balls on Kerr for leaving this lineup together on the floor. He would look like a genius in a victory, or else hope to rally his team for Game 6.
4:48, 3rd Quarter: With a 7 point lead, LeBron sprung ahead of everybody on the court except for Klay Thompson — who was waiting for him in front of the rim.
For a second as LeBron was flying down the court, LeBron looked the way he has in the last two NBA Finals. He looked alone. I know Kyrie was sensational in this Game 5, but you could see in this moment how badly LeBron just wanted to win and would regardless of what it took. He looked young, fast as he ever has and just reminded us that he’s a basketball alien that might play until he’s 50-years-old.
As Klay Thompson swiped at the ball, he fouled James and caused him to barrel into the floor. As LeBron sat there catching his breath before hoisting himself up like King Leonidas vs. the Uber Immortal, something was expressed to the basketball world. LeBron was clearly the best player on the floor in an NBA Finals game that featured Kyrie having the game of his life, the first ever unanimous MVP and an extra warm Klay Thompson who must’ve extracted all of the shooting DNA out of the Curry family so he could inject it into the veins of his right arm.
3:06, 3rd Quarter: LeBron makes a reee-dic-u-lous stepback three pointer to extend the Cleveland lead to 9. This performance from LeBron cracked the all-time list way earlier in the game, but it’s important to rank his playoff performances:
1. 2012 Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 @ Boston 45 points, 15 rebounds to force a game 7.
Simply put, this is the most incredible individual basketball game I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’m convinced I’ll never see a basketball player as locked in as he was during that game. Like a Lion staring at a hyena before he attacks it.
2. This Game.
3. 2007 Game 5 Eastern Conference Finals — 48 points, scores final 25 (not an error).
4. The 2013 NBA Finals Game 6 stretch where he lost his headband.
5. 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 7 dual with Paul Pierce (loss).
8:25, 4th Quarter: Just a reminder that Kevin Love has 2 points and 3 rebounds
6:52, 4th Quarter: LeBron misses a three that everybody in Oracle assumed was going to go in. You could hear the collective ahhhhhhh-yeeeeahhhhhhhh!!!!. LeBron has finally begun to cool off only moments before Kyrie Irving pretends he’s 2003 Kobe Bryant.
5:54, 4th Quarter: Kyrie is literally sliding around on the court while dribbling, he looks like Apolo Ohno speed skating at the 2006 Winter Olympics. The only difference is that Ohno wasn’t shaking opponents around with crossovers and dropping wet jumpers in their mouth.
5:35, 4th Quarter: After another missed Curry three pointer, Kyrie tosses up an insanely contested three pointer to watch it splash through the bottom of the net, extending the lead to 13. And all of the air in the arena is officially being pushed out of the roof.
4:24, 4th Quarter: Brandon Rush checks into the game. This is either extremely optimistic or throwing in the towel. If you can’t tell, I can’t decide. 109-96 Cavaliers.
3:22, 4th Quarter: LeBron converts an and-1 after a double pivot, double pump fake, fall away from the middle of the lane. The second pump fake he mixed in was almost as good as the one he threw at Tim Duncan at the climax of the No Headband Game during the 2013 NBA Finals.
After making his free throw, LeBron ties Kyrie with 41 points and they become the first ever duo to reach 40+ points in the NBA Finals.
2:15, 4th Quarter: Warriors Full timeout called, bring in the reserves and the seats are cleared. Game, blouses.
On arguably the biggest stage of his life, with his back against the wall, LeBron responded. The Dark Knight did his best Batman impression, by saving The Land while ever critic in basketball has already tried to move on from him. While he consistently manufactured Finals appearance after Finals appearance, we allowed the unbelievable to become the norm. We stopped and gazed at the obsession that has become the Golden State Warriors for the last two years. We have talked and listened to the media discuss if the Warriors are arguably the greatest team ever assembled, rather than talking about how it takes that team to conquer LeBron James.
LeBron is the best player we have seen since Michael Jordan and it isn’t close. The things this guy does on a nightly basis throughout the playoffs are unachievable by anybody who we don’t consider to be a top five player to ever play the game.
While Game 6 could be won by Golden State and close this narrative for many, it’ll be open until LeBron James decides he doesn’t want to play anymore. Let me ask you a question. If you had to bet your life on it, who are you taking in a Game 7? LeBron James, or anybody else in the present NBA?
LeBron James now has two Game 7’s.