Written by J.A. Adande at ESPN.com
On the campus of the Old School, they will pass out mimeographed copies of the box score from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals and point to this as a moment that the tried-and-true ways prevailed, that inside beat outside and that the star system stayed intact.
The Golden State Warriors spent most of the past two years subverting all of those steadfast NBA truths, raining in 3-pointers and sending LeBron James to defeat after defeat on many nights when he was the best player on the court. Not in Game 5. Not when James controlled the floor with 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots — owning or sharing the game-high totals in each of those categories. And not when Kyrie Irving was the next-best player — more valuable in the fourth quarter, actually — with 41 points of his own.
James called Irving’s game “probably one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen live.” LeBron’s visual history would have to include his own 45-point, 15-rebound, 73 percent shooting Game 6 in Boston in 2012 to keep his first championship run in Miami alive. That one still ranks higher for its singular majesty; Dwyane Wade was the Heat’s next-highest scorer that night with 17 points.
Monday night was the first time a pair of teammates went for 40-plus points in the same NBA Finals game. And now the Cavaliers still have hopes of another historic achievement: becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.
It helped that this wasn’t exactly the same Warriors team that won three of the first four games in this series. Draymond Green served his one-game suspension for exceeding the flagrant foul points threshold in the playoffs for his whack at James near the end of Game 4. Without him, the Warriors were lost on defense and couldn’t go to the lineup configuration featuring him at center that had wreaked havoc on the league since last year’s Finals.
Their roster was further depleted by a left knee strain suffered by center Andrew Bogut early in the third quarter. With none of their backup centers making contributions, the Warriors went supersmall by sending Shaun Livingston in with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. They couldn’t provide enough offense to make up for their defensive shortcomings.
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