CLEVELAND -- It’s difficult to know which Cleveland scene might haunt the Golden State Warriors more if they complete the collapse. Will it be Draymond Green’s suspension-worthy poke at LeBron James’ groin in the waning minutes of an already-decided Game 4? Or will it be the onslaught of missed 3-pointers to begin Game 6? After a 115-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, the Warriors might end up with a long offseason to ponder the options.
Golden State began this game moving the ball and getting open shots. One slight issue: As happened in the second half of Game 5, the shots kept missing. That issue was compounded when Stephen Curry picked up his second foul on a James drive and was pulled for the remainder of the first quarter. In retrospect, coach Steve Kerr likely erred in doing this, as the Cavs' lead ballooned beyond 20 points. But in retrospect, maybe nothing would have worked on a night when non-Curry Warriors started out 1-of-17 from distance.
The Warriors managed to make things interesting, insofar as LeBron would let them. A Thompson-powered run allowed Golden State into single-digit territory entering the fourth quarter. But in that last stanza, James proved too good. He finished with 41 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
He also was the backstop against all Golden State runs, a question for which the Warriors never had an answer. James' finishing touch in a one-man show was the puppeteering of Tristan Thompson as crunch-time finisher. LeBron seemed to do it just because he could.
The nadir of this particular game might have actually validated Kerr’s decision to bench Curry with foul trouble. Curry picked up his sixth foul after getting tangled with James, and earned the rare ejection on top of it with a hard toss of his mouthpiece. It was nirvana for the Cleveland crowd.
Yes, the Warriors still own home-court advantage in Game 7, but that edge is suddenly looking less advantageous. Their starting center -- Andrew Bogut -- is out with a knee injury. Backup Festus Ezeli hasn’t been the same since his own knee surgery. And now, Andre Iguodala is hobbling. Of course, he only has the minor task of constantly guarding LeBron James.
This is how quickly things can turn in the NBA Finals. Golden State was up 3-1, having silenced Quicken Loans Arena. A suspension and a couple of injuries later, and the Warriors are on the precipice of disaster.
Maybe it had to be this way. For all their excellence, the Warriors have a reckless bent. This is the team that rides a bike without a helmet. Maybe it will be their undoing, or maybe all the current Golden State angst will be washed away on Sunday. We have one game to find out.