NBA Finals 2018: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant sparkle in Game 4; Cavs crumble en route to sweep
For the third time in four years, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are NBA champions. Curry led the Warriors with 37 points on 12-for-27 shooting and went 7-for-15 from 3-point range in the Warriors’ 108-85 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Friday.
This sent LeBron James and his inconsistent supporting cast home in a sweep. If this was James’ last game as a Cavalier, it was an uninspiring end of an era.
Kevin Durant had a 20-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, plus three blocks. James had 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
Curry and Durant each had a genuine case for Finals MVP. It ended up going to Durant for the second straight year. Here are six takeaways from Game 4:
Curry bounces back
Curry had 12 points in the first quarter, two days after scoring just 11 in Golden State’s Game 3 victory. Here are three of those points:
What even is that? Sorcery? If almost anybody else in the NBA made that shot, it would be seen as lucky. With Curry, it isn’t even particularly surprising that he swished it. I guess it’s just skill.
The Cavaliers, by the way, didn’t abandon their trapping strategy, setting up a bunch of 4-on-3 opportunities that generated wide-open looks. Curry generally made the right reads, and he didn’t allow Cleveland to take him out of his rhythm or limit his aggressiveness. While he is not often discussed as a game manager or praised for his basketball IQ, he absolutely controlled this game.
One more highlight: Here’s Curry drilling a 3 right in LeBron’s face at the end of the first half:
Cavs crumble in third quarter of doom
Golden State is so good in the third quarter that ESPN ran a feature on it this week — a week after the New York Times did the same thing. It should not be surprising, then, that the Warriors extended their nine-point lead to 15 early in the second half and ended up outscoring Cleveland 25-13 in the third quarter.
It was still jarring, though, to see the Cavs look so out of it late in the third. When Golden State took a 20-point lead, they were demoralized, leading Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris to tweet this:
And then this:
Before the final frame even started, the fans at Quicken Loans Arena booed their own team.
It is easy to focus on Durant’s scoring because he might be the most devastating scoring machine on the planet. He wants to be known as a complete player, though, and he deserves credit for how he leverages his scoring ability within the Warriors’ offensive system. While he has never been asked to be a point forward, he averaged 7.5 assists in the Finals.
Durant took some criticism for his one-on-one play in the Western Conference finals, but that was more about the Houston Rockets‘ defense than his game. Against the Cavaliers, has not only been extremely efficient, he has been actively trying to create high-percentage opportunities for his teammates. When you mix that with his stellar defense, this has been some of the best basketball Durant has ever played.
This wasn’t a good time for George Hill to have his worst game of the Finals. He had three points on 1-for-7 shooting, and — get ready for some deep analysis — that’s just not enough.
Hill has proven to be the Cavaliers’ third-most important player throughout the playoffs, and while he while his struggles are somewhat understandable — it’s hard to know when to be aggressive when the game plan calls for James to dominate the ball — they are also pretty frustrating. In theory, Hill is the perfect type of point guard to partner with James. In practice, it has been hard to know what to expect from him on a nightly basis.
JaVale McGee shot 16-for-20 in this series, which is both a credit to him and an indictment of Cleveland’s defense. Almost all of his looks were open dunks, but he made a play late in the first half that does not fit into that category: a finger roll around James.
Look at how smooth this is:
McGee finished this game plus-21 in 16 minutes.
One last word on the 2017-18 Cavs
The sweep doesn’t tell the whole story here. Less than six weeks ago, Cleveland was in genuine danger of losing its first-round series to the Indiana Pacers. In the conference finals, it came back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to beat the younger, deeper and more athletic Boston Celtics. In order to get here (and, yes, be overmatched against a superteam), James had to put together an outrageously good postseason run, maybe the best in NBA history.
Maybe these Cavs will mostly be remembered for their subpar defense, their soap-opera regular season and their inability to take a game from the Warriors. They came awfully close in Games 1 and 3, though, and it is a minor miracle that they even got that far. I didn’t love this Cleveland team, but I definitely respected its resilience.