LeBron, Cavs dominate Warriors to force Game 7 in NBA Finals: Takeaways
Suddenly this series has become a classic
There will be a Game 7 in Oakland on Sunday, as the Cleveland Cavaliers avoided elimination again on Thursday. LeBron James scored 41 points for the second straight game and the Cavaliers beat the Warriors 115-101 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
1. So, this LeBron guy is quite something
James was extraordinary. He set the tone in the first quarter, using screens to get switched onto Stephen Curry, setting up Tristan Thompson for easy buckets and attacking the basket whenever there was an opportunity. He was all over the place on defense, too.
The highlights: An impossible pass through multiple defenders to Thompson, a dunk off a no-look lob from J.R. Smith on the break, a block on Stephen Curry followed by some trash talk. None of those plays, though, capture how thoroughly he controlled the game from start to finish. He was by far the biggest reason the Cavs outscored the Warriors 31-11 in the first quarter, and the biggest reason they kept their composure when Golden State made multiple runs after that.
James' 41 points came on 16-for-27 shooting, with 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals, three blocks and just one turnover in 43 minutes.
"We're going to ride him, and he had another unbelievable game," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. "That's what we expect of LeBron. And that's what he's been doing his whole career."
2. Tristan Thompson is everywhere
Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, but Thompson was the second-best Cavalier. The big man has been solid for most of the Finals, but this was by far his most productive performance -- he made all six of his shots, scoring 15 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and dishing three assists.
Against Golden State, it is crucial to compete on the glass and be physical around the basket. That is Thompson's job, and so is switching onto smaller players and containing them on the perimeter. Thompson has been doing all of that consistently, and his scoring is a bonus. It is no coincidence that, with the Cavs' season on the line, Lue played him 42 and 43 minutes in Games 5 and 6, respectively.
"The last two or three days, we really have focused in on Tristan being in the right spots because he's very important to what we're trying to do," Lue said. "And defensively being able to switch 1 through 5 with him is great for us. So we need him on the floor. And I thought tonight he really got to his spots."
3. Weird night for the MVP
Curry scored 30 points on 20 shots and broke the NBA record for 3-pointers made in an NBA Finals series, but it was a frustrating evening for him. He got in foul trouble halfway through the first quarter and never got out of it, eventually fouling out on a questionable call in the final frame, throwing his mouthguard, yelling at a referee and getting ejected. All of this is incredibly uncharacteristic of him, but lots of strange stuff has happened in this series.
To be clear: Curry did not have a bad game. He scored 15 points in the second quarter when the Warriors desperately needed to get something going on offense. Cleveland did most of its early damage when he was on the bench. He had four turnovers, though, and while Warriors coach Steve Kerr said three of the fouls were "absolutely ridiculous," some of the others were seemed a little silly and avoidable.
4. The Barnes problem
Golden State needs more out of Harrison Barnes, who missed all eight of his shots, including five from 3-point range. This followed a 2-for-14 performance from Barnes in Game 5. Kerr limited him to 16 minutes because of his struggles, but expects him to bounce back.
"Well, he's had two tough games in a row, but this is the NBA playoffs," Kerr said. "This is what happens. It happened to me several times in the playoffs when I was playing. You have a couple bad games, you think too much, you're struggling, the focus is brighter, the lights are brighter during the playoffs so everybody notices. The regular season, you have a couple bad games, nobody cares. But I'm really confident in Harrison. He's gonna start on Sunday and he's still one of our key guys and I'm very confident that he'll come out and play well."
Barnes does not need to be a star for the Warriors to win. He needs to make open looks, though, and he's not doing that right now. When an offense succeeds in creating good looks, but one player repeatedly fails to finish the play, it can be deflating for the team and frustrating for the player. Kerr is right that slumps happen to everybody, but this is a horrible time for it. It was jarring to see the Cavaliers appear to intentionally leave him wide open in the second half, but he failed to make them pay.
5. Yikes, Iguodala
A few days ago, it looked like Golden State swingman Andre Iguodala could be on his way to his second straight Finals MVP. Now, it is unclear what he can give the team when the stakes are as high as can be.
Iguodala's back bothered him all night and he played through it for 30 minutes, but he needed to go to the locker room to have a heat pack applied to his back during the game. Whenever one of the best defenders in the world has trouble making a simple close-out, there is obviously a major problem.
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