Finals Game 4: How Sweep It Is

Game 4 went as expected for those who were expecting Golden State’s greatness to come shining through, with the Warriors defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 108-85, to sweep through the 2018 NBA Finals with a 4-0 series victory, giving the Dubs three NBA championships in the past four seasons.

How great is that?

Only a handful of NBA dynasties (’50s/’60s Celtics, ’80s and ’00s Lakers, along with ’90s Bulls) can testify to how Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are feeling right now, while back-to-back Finals MVP Kevin Durant can surely relate now to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only five men (you can also count the man whom the award is named after) to win the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award in consecutive seasons since the trophy was first given out 50 championship series ago.

“I just know what we’ve been able to accomplish is really meaningful and something that not very many players have been able to experience,” says Curry at the postgame press conference.

“So wherever that puts us in the conversation of history of the NBA or titles or dynasty or all that type of stuff—I’m a three-time champ. We’ve got a lot of three-time, two-time champs in there and we’ll have plenty of times in our lives to discuss that later. We just want to keep this thing going as long as we can.”

As for Game 4 itself, the game went according to the Warriors game plan, with Stephen Curry lighting up the Cavaliers for 12 points in the game’s first six minutes to put Golden State up from the get-go, 19-11, giving the Dubs a lead they would not relinquish throughout the night.

From that point on, Splash Stepbrother Durant took over the playmaking, scoring six of his eight quarter points in the period’s second half, while also doling out six points in assists to Nick Young and Draymond Green on a pair of three-pointers, giving Golden State the early 34-25 first-quarter lead.

Even with Klay Thompson picking up two fouls in the game’s first five minutes, the Dubs’ offense could not be slowed, with four different Warriors draining five of nine three-pointers in that first quarter.

Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

What truly stood out, though, was how easy the Warriors got all their first-half buckets, not only from the NBA MVPs of the 2013-14 (Durant), 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons (Curry), but also from their rim-running, backdoor-cutting complements who made the Cavalier defenders pay for trying to trap Curry or Durant at the top of the perimeter.

“We set a lot of screens because they were switching everything,” said Warriors Coach Steve Kerr in his postgame discussion with the NBA TV panel. “When Steph got going in the first quarter, then they started blitzing him every time and there were all kinds of openings.

“Let’s be honest, Cleveland was not a defensive team this year—they ranked 29thin defensive efficiency for most of the season. We felt like we could attack them, and if we kept the ball moving, there would be some breakdowns. Eventually we got them.”

That was precisely why the Warriors first half shot chart show all their buckets coming from either the three-point line, baskets at the rim and shots off the left block.

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

No midrange baskets anywhere—mostly rim-runners and threes and shots from the free-throw line.

Then, in the second half, when Golden State made their trademarked third-quarter run (25-13) to put the game away (86-65 after three periods), it was the Dubs’ D in retrospect that put the clamps down on Cleveland.

To be more specific, it was a novel switch-everything man-to-zone defense that shut down LeBron James and Company in Game 4, with Cleveland’s never-say-die offense finally sputtering out in a second half where the Cavs only scored 33 points in the 24 minutes that closed out the season.

Throughout the series, Coach Kerr and his defensive guru Ron Adams got the Warriors to lock in on three-point ace Kyle Korver so that he never got involved in helping LeBron out.

That, plus the reintegration of playing a healthy Andre Iguodala on LeBron, gave the Warriors the necessary tools it would take to slow down the 6-8, 270-pound point forward from his nightly historic playoff performances.

“Locking in on Korver and getting Andre back for Games 3 and 4 allowed us to try to put the pressure on LeBron here in Cleveland,” says Kerr.

As a result, the Warriors played their best defense of the 2018 NBA Finals Friday night, holding Cleveland to 92.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 4, in a series showcase where Golden State broke the Finals record for offensive efficiency mark with 120.1 points per 100 possessions, topping the 2014 San Antonio Spurs’ “Beautiful Game” Finals series record of 118.5 offensive efficiency.

“I think tonight everybody just played their roles well,” says Durant at the post-game press conference. “Steph came out and was aggressive for us early, set the nice tone for us and everybody else kind of filled in.

“Our defense was great—34 percent from the field. I think the whole series, the whole playoffs our defense has been great. We finished it off with a championship. We’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room that don’t care about anything but just being better basketball players every day and winning.”

Durant finished Game 4 with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Curry finished with 37 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals.

And 10 other Warriors finished in the scoring ledger as well, with the Golden State organization finishing the 2017-18 season as League champions in a year marked by injuries, adversity and overcoming the Houston Rockets in a seven-game West Finals series.

“Definitely our toughest championship,” said Curry afterwards.

“It had to be our toughest because of the cumulative effect,” said Kerr to the NBA TV panel. “This was the first year where I felt I couldn’t reach the team. But we got it done, which will make us appreciate this all the more.”

All-Star Curry missed 31 regular season games and six playoff contests due to injuries, while All-Stars Durant, Thompson and Green missed an additional 35 regular season games. And still, the Warriors winning machine kept rolling along through yet another 100-plus game marathon.

To put it all in perspective, the Warriors played a League-high 411 games during the past four regular seasons and postseasons, and also won 62 more games than any other NBA team during that span (Golden State 328-83; Cleveland 266-143).

Not only did they dominate the present competition, the Dubs’ dynasty dethroned a lot of ghosts from NBA history.

As for the Cavaliers—particularly LeBron—the questions begin. The fate of the franchise hangs on LeBron’s decision this offseason. The team is stretched out, both cap-wise and potential—there’s no room to add impact free agents as presently constructed and the aging roster of the core—Kyle Korver is 37, J.R. Smith will be 33, Kevin Love will be 30, George Hill is 32, Jeff Green will be 32—means the window of opportunity might be shut, with or without LeBron. There are some youthful bright spots on the team—Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Tristan Thompson, Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman are all in their 20s and could still improve—and the Cavs hold the No. 8 selection in the upcoming draft, but is that enough to convince LeBron to come back? LeBron did say postgame that his decision will be based on family. With two older boys—LeBron Jr. entering high school soon and Bryce in middle school—and a young daughter, the stability of being home makes the most sense. Of course the rumor mill surrounding LeBron’s free agency won’t cease churning. The allure of more titles will be there—a team like Houston will offer the best chance for that in 2019—while Los Angeles and Philadelphia, with their riches of young talent could extend LeBron’s championship run another three or four seasons. The only certainty with LeBron and with him, the Cavs, will be uncertainty as they enter the summer.

As for the Golden State Warriors, they are positioned—especially since Kevin Durant went on the record that he’ll be re-signing with the team in the offseason—for the next five seasons to compete—and likely dominate—for championships. Curry and Durant is/will be 30, but Green and Thompson are just 28. The keys for the Warriors to keep the championship drive is to somehow replace 34-year-old Andre Iguodala’s rare combination of defense, leadership and glue game, and continue to retool the bench with quality role players.

What is certain for now is that after 103 games, the Warriors will finally get to rest on their laurels.

And as you can see, there are plenty of laurels.