NBA Finals: Will the Cavaliers Force a Game 7?
Game 6 of the NBA Finals will be starting in hours, and there are some fun wrinkles that make it must-watch television.
The Cavaliers are at home again and are coming off a historic Game 5 performance as Kyrie Irving and LeBron James each scored 41 points to go along with ridiculous efficiency and gaudy stat lines. The Cavs are 18-1 at home in the playoffs thus far, so playing tonight’s game in Cleveland might give them the extra boost they need.
But there's more to this game than just James, Irving, and the home-court advantage. That is, at least, if the Cavs want to force a Game 7.
Cleveland Home Cooking
Home-court advantage has certainly been a thing in the playoffs, and the Cavaliers’ are no exception -- 18-1 at home in the playoffs is impressive.
As for the numbers, the Cavs have scored 10 more points at home than on the road, and they're shooting 8.6% better from the field. They're taking and making more two-point shots and rebounding better on the offensive glass, but they're having much less success at the free throw line. The Cavaliers’ free throw percentage is down by more than 10%, but that can be a volume issue, as they've taken an average of seven fewer free throws per contest. That will be the key for them tonight: put pressure on the Warriors rim protection with strong drives to the basket.
Draymond In, Bogut Out
Draymond Green's absence was certainly felt in Game 5, but it can't be solely blamed when Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were simply making all their shots. Many were well contested, but the Cavs’ duo was feeling it. Getting Green back will be a big boost for the Warriors, but now they're losing their best rim protector in Andrew Bogut, who failed to play the second half of Game 5.
This is a great opportunity for the Cavaliers to use their shooting success from Game 5 to facilitate their penetration. Bogut’s absence will mean more Festus Ezeli, and Ezeli hasn't played much in the Finals and thus doesn’t have much rhythm to work with. He's also fairly foul prone, and in 35 minutes in this series, the Warriors are giving up 108.4 points per 100 possessions with Ezeli on the court.
That's not great.
So whether or not the Warriors have a big out there, the Cavaliers need to be aggressive with drives and ideally get Ezeli into foul trouble early.
When there aren't any Warriors' bigs on the floor, the Cavaliers need to attempt to drive to the rim. According to NBA.com, both Irving and James are averaging about 10 points per game alone on drives to the rim. They should have continued success driving, and since they shot so well last game, there should be some open perimeter opportunities for guys like J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson.
Ultimately, the Cavs should look to use their success from Game 5 to attack the rim relentlessly. Whether they're drawing fouls, finishing at the rim, or finding open shooters, the Warriors defense will be reacting to LeBron and Kyrie, so it will boil down to them making the right decisions on those drives.
Some Help, Maybe?
The Cavaliers have been extremely top heavy in these Finals in terms of scoring. Only James and Irving are averaging 10 plus points per contest for this team, and that's probably not going to cut it. Kevin Love is finding himself relegated to the role player life, generally due to his ineffective 28.6% shooting mark from three thus far. J.R. Smith is shooting a respectable 37% from three-point range, so finding him open on penetration will be crucial to the Cavaliers’ success.
Another benefactor from the Bogut injury, which will force the Warriors into more small-ball lineups, is Iman Shumpert. Shumpert did a pretty good job on Curry in Game 5 by forcing him into tougher shots than he’s used to. He has been one of the better catch-and-shoot players on the Cavs, making 37.5% of his attempts, and he's scored on all of his drives to the rim. This could be a game for him to potentially break out and make a difference for a Cavaliers team that sorely needs a significant role player contribution on both sides of the ball.
The Cavs Need a Little Luck
One factor that can’t be measured in this matchup is the Warriors propensity to just make shots. And last game, they missed quite a few open shots.
Harrison Barnes was one culprit, missing six nearly wide-open uncontested three-pointers. Klay Thompson also only had 2 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, so perhaps some game-planning is to blame. With some slight fixes and more misses for Cleveland, things could go a lot differently tonight.
As it stands, we're giving the Cavaliers a 53% chance to win Game 6, but even a victory may not be enough: the Warriors still sit with 83% odds to win the championship.