The Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves 14 points down to the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter on Christmas Day. The Cavs then ignited a furious comeback to come away victorious in one of the best regular season games you’re likely to ever see.
With the Cavs dominating the last period once again to take home the win, here are seven reasons why the Cavs have the Warriors’ number in the fourth quarter.
- THE CAVS KNOW WHO THEY ARE.
After being battle tested and lifting the NBA championship last campaign, the Cavs fully understand who they are. With this comes the accountability and trust the Cavs players and coaching staff have with each other. Once the fourth quarter comes along, the Cavs know exactly what is required from one another to lift themselves in big games. They rally together, and when the ball is put in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving’s hands, the rest of the players out on the court understand their role in what is about to take place.
The same cannot be said about the Warriors in crunch time, who seem to turn the ball over and struggle to find what is needed to close out games. The Warriors preach on moving the ball and running in transition, but that all seems to slow down when palms get sweaty, whereas the Cavs remain calm and go about finishing strong.
Bizarrely, even despite winning 73 games last season behind the excellent play of Stephen Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, the final possession was run for new recruit Kevin Durant. This illustrates the Warriors still can’t figure out who they are, or who they want to be. Is it Durant’s team? Is it Curry’s team? Is it Green’s team? The Cavs have no such problem, as their collective growth continues to feed off each other knowing exactly who they are.
- GOLDEN STATE DO NOT HAVE A TRUE AND CONSISTENT CLOSER.
The Warriors have all the offensive talent in the world, but none of their players are true and consistent closers. When the Warriors win games, they usually do it through creating open looks for one of their snipers, or break open a team with their ball movement. However, when they face elite opposition like the Cavs who are superb individual defensive players, and also possess the ability to rotate multiple times in a possession, their need for a true closer becomes apparent.
Klay Thompson is a brilliant offensive talent and shooter, but his skill set does not allow him to take over games. Steph Curry continues to struggle against the Cavs and continues to struggle against elite defenses that are physical with him in big games, finding it difficult to get his shot or create offensive for others. As for new Dubs man Kevin Durant, he is still coming up short in big moments, which has been a consistent theme throughout his career and especially his postseason career. This was on show again on Christmas Day, as Durant had a mere three points in the last period after dropping 33 through three quarters. He failed to get a shot off or even call a timeout when he went to ground on the last possession.
The Cavs on the other hand have two consistent and proven closers in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. James’ three point play, his buckets around the rim, and his dish to Iman Shumpert for a big corner three pointer in the fourth were just some of the massive plays we have become accustomed to from The King, and Irving continues to drill game winners season after season.
When the game is on the line, the Cavs have two players that have proved they can be the difference, whereas the Warriors are still trying to find someone.
- CAVS VERSATILITY IN LINEUPS.
One of the reasons why this Cavs team is so special is due to their versatility in personnel. Because of this, Tyronn Lue and his coaching staff can go to multiple lineups when closing games, leaving the Warriors not knowing what the Cavs are going to throw at them.
With the addition of defensive stud Deandre Liggins, who locked up Steph Curry on Christmas, the Cavs find themselves with numerous options when closing out the game. The Cavs can go small with LeBron at the power forward position and Tristan Thompson at the center position, they can go super small with LeBron at the center position surrounded by wing defenders and shooters and Irving at the point. They can go with a big rebounding lineup of James, Kevin Love and Thompson occupying the front court. They can go with a big shooting lineup with Channing Frye and Kevin Love playing together to stretch the floor, and these are just some of the numerous lineups and designed personnel that can play together to create an advantage for the Cavs.
All in all, the Cavaliers have the superior advantage versatility. It was more evenly spread playing field for the Warriors last season in this department, but due to the reconstruction of their roster to accommodate Durant which saw them lose most of their depth, this becomes harder to counter, especially defensively for the Warriors.
In these dominant fourth quarters, the Cavs have tapped into this luxury, and have exploited the Warriors by using different lineups which create match up problems.
- TYRONN LUE OUT COACHING STEVE KERR.
Tyronn Lue may be still young in his role as NBA head coach, but his knowledge and experience is well beyond his years. The Cavs have come out on top in the final periods, and a major factor has been down to coach Lue pushing all the right buttons.
He is calm during timeouts, and gets the most out of his players. He calls the right plays and is putting out all the right lineups and personnel which are giving the Cavs the best chance of coming out on top. Lue know understands the tendencies of the Warriors, and he is comprehensively out coaching his counterpart come crunch time.
- STOPS AND EXECUTION.
When facing elite competition in close games, execution in offense and defensive stops are always the difference. The ebb and flow of the game can see teams trade buckets and go through dry spells offensively, but whichever team can execute offensively as well as string together multiple stops, usually comes away with the victory.
The Cavs have become masters of this. During crunch time, the Cavs become a powerhouse defensively, forcing the Warriors to turn the ball over and take contested shots. When locked in, the Cavs are as good as they come defensively, and due to the versatility they have with their personnel, their ability to defend and cover each other is second to none. Also, as we’ve mentioned above, most importantly, they know who they are and what is required from everyone. This helps with their offensive execution, as everything is carefully constructed and played out due to the intelligence and veteran leadership.
The Warriors seem caught in the moment during the fourth quarter for long periods, and a five minute spell of turning the ball over with careless passes, as well as bad shot selection enables the Cavs to jump at the opportunity to put their foot down and seize the moment. The Cavs ability to put together multiple stops, finishing the possession with a defensive rebound and execute offensively has been the difference between the two teams since the Cavs surge to supremacy.
- NO ANSWER FOR LEBRON JAMES AND KYRIE IRVING.
When it’s winning time, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving take over the game for the Cavaliers, and put the responsibility on their shoulders to make plays to win the contest. The beauty of this dynamic duo is that they are both very different and complement each other perfectly.
The difference between the Warriors and the Cavs currently is James and Irving are simply too effective in the last period as a duo for the Warriors to handle with one on one defense.
The biggest factor is always James, for many reasons, but most importantly, because of his intelligence and selflessness. You see, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are all shoot first players. The unique aspect about James that is unlike other superstars in NBA history, is his ability to facilitate is just as effective as if he scores big point totals, especially when he’s playing with a pure and dominant scorer. James is happy and comfortable to give Irving the ball and let him make plays. This is why James has always flourished alongside great scorers like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and now with Irving and Kevin Love. James’ pass first nature works perfectly in conjunction with Irving’s ability to get buckets at will, and James is able to pick and choose his spots when to score the ball and be dominant.
It’s a perfect combination for the Cavs at the moment, and the Warriors cannot handle both of the Cavs superstars late in the fourth quarter. While the Warriors can’t figure out who takes the last shot, James and Irving don’t care who does. This has already been highlighted this season, as Irving hit the game winner against the Warriors, but just a few games prior, James sunk the game winner against the Milwaukee Bucks on the road.
They continue to grow in each other’s company as a one-two punch, making big plays on both ends, and it is proving a tall order to stop both at the same time in crunch time. With the Durant having well documented fourth quarter struggles consistently throughout his career, as well as Curry having little to no effect on the big games against the Cavs, the Warriors find themselves with no answers for the fourth quarter dominance of Irving and James.
- MENTAL EDGE.
There is no doubt the Cavaliers hold a psychological edge over the Warriors. They have beaten them four times in a row since they were down 3-1 in the finals, and they are definitely in their head.
Giving up a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter shows that the Warriors are mentally fragile when facing the Cavs. The mental edge for the Cavs has only heightened since the Warriors lost three in a row and a game seven on their home floor last June. The Warriors know LeBron James is the best player in the world, they know the Cavs are better this year than they were last year, and they know that no one on their roster can stop Kyrie Irving when he goes into Uncle Drew mode.
This was a big win for the Cavs, and they did it without a big piece to their team in JR Smith, adding to the mental advantage they already have over the Warriors.
It may only seem like one game on Christmas Day and people around the league are overreacting, or it might just be a sign of things to come in the future, as the Cavs continue to grow as a group. The Warriors may have the rest of the league’s number, but the Cavs are the Warriors kryptonite, and definitely have their number especially when the game is on the line.