Parsing through a record-setting Game 4 that still left a lot to be desired.
By: Bogart Lipe
After the kind of disastrous collapse they experienced in Game 3, many believed the Cavs would be gutted and couldn’t keep up with the Warriors in Game 4, who were staring an immortal 16-0 playoffs record in the face. Kevin Durant was coming off a career signature moment after what proved to be a game winning 3 in front of LeBron, Steph Curry continued his stellar play, and they seemed like a runaway freight train, unable to be stopped let alone slowed down by anyone. LeBron-led teams are a different beast however, and they yet again showed it Friday. They got off to a roaring start, ballooning their lead to 19 in the first quarter, eventually settling for a 16 point lead after scoring a record 49 first quarter points. Some will point to the 22 free throws taken by Cleveland in the first stanza and a blatant Kyrie backcourt violation that was unfathomably missed, and questions early on arose surrounding the officiating crew’s motives, although the referees eventually evened out their asinine calls for both teams. Regardless, the Cavaliers, as well as their raucous crowd, deserve a heaping amount of appreciation for their efforts. Most teams would fold in a similar situation, and it’s a testament to the team’s mental fortitude as a whole as well as their leader LeBron James. Beating this version of the Warriors is ridiculously difficult, and it will take a record setting 4 game stretch for the Cavs to pull this series off. For one night they did so, but the chances of the Cavs once again hitting 24 threes and holding KD and Steph to 13-35 shooting combined are slim at best. But as both teams know, especially every Warriors star, all it takes is one game to turn a series around. Although the Cavs were able to extend theirs and the NBA’s season, the NBA brand did anything but come out feeling good about itself after the game.
A total of 51 fouls were called, 67 free throws were taken, and 7 technicals were given out Oprah Winfrey-style in what ended up being a 3 hour long event that felt more like 17. The first quarter alone progressed as slowly as possible, lasting over 45 minutes. The scoreboard quickly swelled, and a game in the 130s seemed like destiny. For some, this was entertaining sport, seeing two teams constantly run and jump and shoot. However, when the Cavs have 49 first quarter points and the halftime score becomes an eye-opening 86-68 split, one must wonder what happened to the “old NBA” (as a 21 year old, I can’t even begin to imagine how fans of the 80s and 90s NBA felt watching). Not long ago, this would be the final score of a Finals game, yet another half was set to be played. In a game involving 200 or more possessions, singular possessions become less and less significant and at times leads to a deflated feeling as a fan. Instead of enjoying the play-by-play performance of the best athletes in the world, an All Star Game attitude sets in, hoping only for a close game in the fourth quarter. The minutia that would get us there becomes less important because of the frantic pace when a shot is being taken every 10 seconds. For some this may be enough, as many who watch the Finals do so casually, but for basketball fans this is increasingly frustrating. Watching this many all-timers on the court at once makes fans’ mouths water in anticipation of constant nail-biters like we were catered to time and time again in last year’s Finals. Instead we got Friday night. Every possession is supposed to matter. Instead a high powered pace that was hard to keep up with ensued in the first half. The game then became frequently sloppy, and when both teams weren’t running amok they were hoisting 3s, with 84 being attempted in all. This would be ecstasy if you graduated from Daryl Morey University, but is undeniably an eyesore to others. Nearly half of all attempts in the game were 3 pointers, and the Cavs made 24 of their 45 attempts, another Finals record for makes, while the Warriors only made 11 of 39. And especially and most egregiously, the refereeing crew was atrociously inconsistent. On many occasions the NBA lived up to its Charmin-soft reputation with touch fouls being called in mid-June with legacies on the line, while in other situations the refs let the two teams tackle, slap, and slam each other. Both teams had numerous blown calls they could point to in favor of claiming the refs “rigged” the game, and after watching the film both teams will agree the refs were simply appalling towards both teams. The crew never seemed to have a handle on the game, fully encapsulated by an awe-inspiring sequence in the third quarter involving Draymond Green.
Earlier in the first quarter, Green elbowed Iman Shumpert battling for position after a jump ball and received a foul call that he clearly did not appreciate. He made this obvious, and proceeded to argue the call, which is commonplace for the emotional ball of inferno that Draymond resembles. A whistle followed. The scorekeepers as well as everyone in the arena and watching all over the world thought Dray was called for a technical. Then, in the third quarter Draymond received a Rasheed Wallace-quick technical foul, sending the Warriors bench and Quicken Loans Arena into a frenzy. Draymond picked up his second tech, and was on his way out of Game 4, a déjà vu of types dating back to him being suspended and consequently missing Game 5 last year. But after a delay, the officials retroactively changed the technical in the first quarter charged to Draymond and gave it to head coach Steve Kerr, a puzzling decision to say the very least. Doris Burke emphasized that the original technical was assessed to Draymond, and that the referees changed their own call from an hour prior, allowing Green to stay in the game. The confusion piled onto the already evident emotion on the court from both sides. Dahntay Jones, the defending Worst Player in the League title belt owner, got a technical earlier for simply talking trash to Durant from the bench. Matt Barnes got into it with a Cavaliers fan behind the Warriors bench, resulting in the fan being ejected. Even LeBron and Durant showed some emotion, politely arguing with each other after KD was fouled by Kevin Love, claiming he was hit in his head (which he was, and for which Love was given a Flagrant I after another extended delay). The ultimate eye sore Zaza Pachulia got into the action, swinging his arms during a scrum that came close to Iman Shumpert’s groin area, which nowadays requires at the very least a Flagrant I based on precedence. Zaza is historically dirty, and he received no repercussions for his clear intentions, even if he didn’t execute to the extent I’m sure he wanted to. Chippy play continued, Draymond committing a few border line flagrants himself, and the game stayed choppy until the benches were emptied with a few minutes left, finally putting the game to rest.
This surely can’t be what the NBA planned for in a pivotal Game 4 with the championship on the line, but it was self-conflicted with the crew they employed. Warriors fans will point to Mike Callahan, who has now officiated 12 straight Cavalier wins, the last three times the Cavs have beaten the Warriors, and the fact that in the last 8 games he has refereed a Warriors game they are 4-4. This is likely just a slew of coincidences lumped together, but it will fuel conspiracy talk regardless. Marc Davis was voted the third worst official in an anonymous poll of NBA players and coaches. John Goble was officiating his inaugural Finals game. When the NBA is providing 2 days of rest between games it is hard to imagine why the very best officials aren’t being provided, particularly because of the historic implications of this series. The league has always had a fishy history with officiating and this was another devastating black eye on their overall incompetence.
The game was, in a word, bizarre. After the fiasco with the Draymond-ejection-that-wasn’t, the game seemed more and more like a WWE match with the puzzling plot twists occurring. Dwyane Wade With Hair was courtside (looking eerily like Gucci Mane but this is neither here nor there) and a few times it did not seem totally unreasonable that Wade would saunter out of the Cavs locker room as a theme song blared and join the Cavs on the court. Even the old and dusty Deron Williams scored in the game, who through 3 Finals games had as many points as I did. Fans were ejected. Players that seemed were meant to have been ejected instead were not. We will have a Game 5, and the Cavs will need to play as well if not better in Oakland on Monday night to extend the series further. Even though the Cavs led by double digits throughout, it still eerily felt that the Warriors would have a chance to win at the end of the game. That speaks to their greatness, and to beat them the Cavs will not only have to be great, but nearly perfect. Let’s just hope the refs don’t get in the way again.