OAKLAND, USA – Defending NBA champion Golden State dearly felt the absence of suspended forward Draymond Green in Monday's, June 13 (Tuesday, June 14 in Manila) 112-97 loss to Cleveland, the Warriors' usually stiff defense shattered by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
James and Irving each scored 41 points in powering the Cavaliers to a must-win victory that pulled Cleveland within 3-2 in the best-of-7 series and forced a sixth game Thursday in Cleveland.
Green was banned for the game on Sunday by the NBA after league officials reviewed a foul late in Golden State's Game 4 victory and upgraded it to a flagrant one.
After two prior such fouls in the playoffs, the flailing hand that struck James in the groin was enough for Green to be suspended for the potential title-clinching matchup.
In addition to tough individual defensive work against LeBron James, Green was the communicator who made the Warriors' defense flow smoothly, the only player on the team who played in every Golden State victory this season.
"He's usually pretty vocal. He's our center fielder in the back when he's able to see the whole floor," NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry said of his missing teammate.
"Tonight it was obviously different rotations and we tried to adjust on the fly with the different matchups, but we just didn't execute as well."
A defense that thrived on switching matchups against opponents was outmanned when it came to the one-two punch offered by Irving, who had a career playoff scoring high, and James, who netted 26 points in the first half and took full advantage of Green not hounding him.
"There were a couple switches that we were very lazy on, and when guys get hot like that, if you don't shore up your defense, especially in pivotal moments where you have momentum, that's when it comes back to bite you," Curry said.
James played down Green absence, citing the Cavaliers' must-win situation.
"From a mental standpoint it wasn't about anybody that was on the floor," James said. "We just had a mindset that we wanted to come in here and just try to extend our season and have another opportunity to fight another day."
James also dismissed the notion that he had extra motivation due to Klay Thompson's taunt about hurt feelings following his comments on an exchange of words with Green after the foul.
"My only motivation is my teammates and my coaching staff," James said. "That's it. I mean, at the end of the day, nothing else really matters."
Thompson, who was chasing Irving in vain much of the night, noted, "It's a big void to fill without Draymond out there."
"Draymond does a little bit of everything, so obviously we missed him big time. It's not an excuse. We still had an opportunity to win the game. But Kyrie was great and had my number. Hit some tough shots, but there's nothing you can do about it."
The message was clear to the Warriors that they needed to play better even with Green coming back from his suspension for Game 6.
"We didn't communicate," Golden State's Shaun Livingston said. "They were playing in a rhythm all night. We just weren't communicating defensively. Obviously there was a void with him being out, but we can still be better. We weren't nearly as good as we needed to be to get the job done." – Jim Slater, Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com