OAKLAND, Calif.—Like everyone else, Draymond Green only could watch as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sent the NBA Finals back to Cleveland.
And it became abundantly clear just how much the Golden State Warriors need their fiery forward after they were buried by Cleveland’s dynamic duo.
James had 41 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists to go with Irving’s 41 points in the Cavaliers’ 112-97 victory over the Warriors last night.
Klay Thompson scored 37 points while Stephen Curry had 25 for the Warriors, who now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
But the Warriors sorely missed Green, who was suspended one game after striking James in the groin in Game 4.
“Draymond does a little bit of everything,” Thompson noted. “Obviously his play-making, his communication, and his heart and soul.
“It’s not an excuse, though.”
With Green next door in Oakland Coliseum, the Cavaliers shot 53 percent, hit 10-of-24 three-pointers, and handed the Warriors just their fourth home loss this season.
“It’s too simple to say that [the Warriors lost because of Green’s absence],” Golden State coach Steve Kerr stressed.
“We weren’t very good defensively.
“We knew we were without Draymond so there’s no point in harping on that,” he added.
“We had to play better and we didn’t.”
Green was suspended after the NBA retroactively charged him with a flagrant-1 foul for the incident with James during Game 4.
The foul triggered an automatic suspension, and left the Warriors and their fans fuming at the decision.
Green watched the game sitting with general manager Bob Myers while his teammates tried to pick up their exiled comrade.
But it was clear from the start that they missed him badly, especially on the defensive end.
Even though he stands only 6’8”, Green is a ferocious interior presence for the Warriors, which allows the rest of their versatile group to switch liberally and make it hard on the Cavaliers to get open looks from the perimeter.
But Cleveland had little trouble getting to the basket last night, with James and Irving plowing into the paint without fear against Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao, and James Michael McAdoo.
Kerr went with Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup in place of Green to match up with James, but struggled to find suitable help at centre.
“He’s our centerfielder in the back when he’s able to see the whole floor,” Curry said of Green.
“Tonight it was obviously different rotations and we tried to adjust on the fly with different matchups,” he noted.
“But we just didn’t execute as well.”
The Warriors still are in the driver’s seat heading back to Cleveland. No team has ever lost in the NBA Finals after leading the series 3-1.
They will get Green back for Game 6 but it is unclear if Bogut will be there, as well.
“I like our position a lot more than I like theirs,” Kerr said.
But now they face a Cavs’ squad that heads back to Cleveland with the one thing the Warriors wanted to take away—hope.