Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James expects his team will be ready for Golden State’s quicker lineup in Sunday’s fifth game of the NBA Finals with subtle adjustments or personnel changes.
The visiting Cavaliers, seeking to bring Cleveland its first sports title since 1964, are level at 2-2 in the best-of-seven championship series with the Warriors, seeking their first title in 40 years. Game five winners in such situations have won the NBA Finals on 20 of 28 attempts.
Golden State inserted Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for game four and the smaller squad produced a faster pace and the Warriors’ strongest start on the way to a victory Thursday.
Now the question is what can the Cavaliers do to counter that and force the slower tempo that worked for them earlier in the series.
“I think we’ll be much more prepared for it if they go with the same lineup,” James said. “If we’re not in tune with what’s going on or not ready for the speed, we’ll be able to make the (substitution) and make the proper adjustments.”
But with star guard Kyrie Irving lost in the finals opener to a fractured left kneecap and forward Kevin Love out in round one with a separated left shoulder, the Cavaliers don’t have many options for changing starters.
“We’re going to play our game,” James said. “We’ve gotten to this point by playing the way we play and we’re not going to change.”
That, however, does not mean Cavs coach Dave Blatt will continue to use only two primary reserves, although he said he was not afraid to insert such veterans as Shawn Marion and Mike Miller to buy rest time for James and other starters.
“If that’s necessary, that’s what we’ll do,” Blatt said. “Our results have been pretty good as we’ve been playing but I believe in those (reserve) guys and their ability to step in, if necessary, and do what needs to be done.”
Blatt said an extra rest day will help the Cavaliers start better than they did in losing game four.
“We’ve got to come with greater energy and greater purpose and a higher sense of urgency than we had in the last game,” Blatt said.
– Total faith in Blatt –
Cavaliers reserve James Jones stands ready if needed, saying “players play, coaches coach and we have 100 percent faith in coach Blatt. The way he has coached our team has gotten us to this point. If our numbers are called, we’ll perform.”
That includes J.R. Smith, who made only 2-of-12 in game four, including 0-of-8 from 3-point range.
“I don’t care how many shots he missed. I don’t want his head to be down like it was in game four,” James said. “He has to stay confident. He can miss 100 shots. Once you lose confidence in yourself, there’s really not much coming back from that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr is expected to start Iguodala as it brought energy Golden State previously lacked early in games.
“I think we play hard all the time,” guard Klay Thompson said. “It’s a matter of playing smart all the time.”
NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry said he and his Warrior teammates must press the attack from the tip-off again.
“We have to get off to a great start and get our fans and our crowd into it and put pressure on them,” Curry said. “We’re going to come out really aggressive.”
Iguodala said he expects Cleveland will try to dominate rebounding behind James, Tristan Thompson and Russian big man Timofey Mozgov.
“LeBron gives those two guys that look and he says kill them on the glass, so we know that’s what they’re trying to do,” Iguodala said.
Golden State forward Draymond Green expects to see Cleveland’s reserves play more as the Warriors force a quick tempo.
“It’s very important to keep that pace. They have really played seven guys. You want to wear them out,” Green said. “Whatever you have left in the tank, you’ve just got to leave it out there.”