Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

For me, Game 6 of the NBA Finals was the tipping point.

This appears in the Thursday, June 23, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Game 6 was the tipping point.
by rick olivares

A lot of people say that what changed the series between Cleveland and Golden State was Game 5 where Andrew Bogut got injured and where Draymond Green was suspended.

I’ll agree to that up to some point but if you noticed during the Warriors’ 2015 title run, Bogut was seldom used during the finals. In fact, he did not play in Games 5 and 6 racking up a DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision). So for me, Game Six this past Finals is where it all changed. 

How so? 

How many teams led, 3-1, the lost Game 5 at home only to close out the series in Game 6 on the road? To name two, Michael Jordan’s Bulls did that in Phoenix in 1993 and Utah in 1998. That’s apt because it was those Bulls that these Warriors were piping for the title of the all-time greatest team after they broke Chicago’s 72-10 record set in 1996.

Here’s what hurt the Warriors in Game 6:
  • The Cavs’ strong start and the Warriors’ own slow start.
  • Harrison Barnes going 0-8.
  • Green for all his bluster coming into Game 6 only scored eight points (he did have 10 boards and six assists).
  • The lack of bench production hurt.
45 in Game 1 W
40 in Game 2 W
33 in Game 3 L
22 in Game 4 W
15 in Game 5 L
33 in Game 6 L
16 in Game 7 L
  • Green and Klay Thompson played their 103rd game of the season, at that point, the most in the league for that year. You sort of wonder if going for 73 wins hurt them long term because they looked fatigued the rest of the way. Now you understand why Greg Popovich periodically rests his star players.

This was the momentum changer. Cleveland gained a lot of confidence with this win.

Let’s tackle the other points.

Bogut’s injury.
Maybe it helped Cleveland. Maybe it didn’t as I previously pointed out from the 2015 finals, Bogut wasn’t much of a factor late in the series. And in this FInals, Bogut averaged 4.6 points and 5.7 rebounds. In one match, he had no blocks. In another he had five, the next one only. So there isn’t consistency. One can argue the intangibles like setting picks. Yeah yeah yeah. Mayeb, maybe not.

Nevertheless, injuries to key players during the NBA playoffs has always hurt a team’s chances of winning.

Here are some players whose injuries in the NBA’s second season did not help their team:

Joe Johnson 2004-05 Phoenix Suns, 62-20, best record in the league. Lost Johnson in the second round but was eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Finals.

Dirk Nowitski 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks, 60-22, franchise best. Lost Nowitzki during Game 3 of the Western Finals; eliminated by the Spurs.

Derrick Rose, 2011-12 Chicago Bulls, 50-16, best in the East in a lockout shortened season. Got injured in Game 1 of the opening playoff round versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Bulls won that match but not the series.

Byron Scott and Magic Johnson, 1988-89 Los Angeles Lakers, 57-25, best in the West. Lost Scott and Johnson in Games 1 and 2 respectively due to hamstring injuries. Lost in a four-game series sweep against the Detroit Pistons. 

And if you recall from last year’s finals, Kyrie Irving was injured during Game 1 and was lost for the series. The Cavs won Game Two in Oakland without Love and Irving, to even the series. But they only won one more match. 

Green’s suspension.

NBA playoff history has shown that player suspension do not always hurt a team’s chances.

J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2015 – Suspended for two matches for an elbow to the Boston Celtics’ Jason Terry. The Cavs still closed out Boston in that match for a four-game sweep but lost to the Bulls in Game 1 of the second round. The Cavs still went to go to the NBA Finals. But that was different because now they were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving who were out for the series with injuries.

Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks, 2006 – Terry, in a loose ball scramble during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals punched Spurs guard-forward Michael Finley. The refs missed it during the game but Terry was later suspended after a review of the tape. The Mavs lost Games 5 and 6 but won Game 7. They defeated Phoenix in the West Finals but lost to the Miami Heat in the finals.

Derek Harper, New York Knicks, 1994 – During Game 3 of the second round, Harper and the Bulls’ Jo Jo English push, shove and throw punches that sets off a bench clearing brawl right in front of then-NBA Commissioner David Stern. Both are suspended for the next game. The Bulls win Games 3 and 4 but lose in seven to the Knicks.

If Golden State won Game 7 there’s be no talk about Game 5 being the turning point. Obviously, Cleveland gained confidence from beating the Warriors.

I think the long and short of it is, Golden State ran into a better defensive team. Cleveland was the fourth-best team ranked in the NBA after San Antonio, Utah, and Miami. Of those four, the Cavs were the last team standing. 
The Warriors were ranked #19th in the league.

Against Houston, the Warriors shot 40%. Against Portland, 42%. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 38%, and lastly against the Cavs, 35%.

People fell in love with the Warriors for their offensive weaponry. But I think that people forget that defense wins championships.

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