■ Golden State had been trying to be the first N.B.A. team to complete a perfect postseason and, while that dream is officially over, they have a chance on Monday to be the first Bay Area sports team to clinch a championship at home since the Oakland Athletics did it in 1974.
1st Quarter: Cavs Start Hot, but Need to Stay Hot
Game 4 was underway at 9:10 p.m. Eastern, with Cleveland winning the opening tip and starting things off with a 3-pointer by J.R. Smith that woke up a crowd that had been fairly quiet up to that point.
With 9:22 remaining the Cavaliers are off to a red-hot start, with a 14-5 lead that is the largest lead in their favor all finals. Smith has two 3-pointers, LeBron James completed a difficult 3-point play after being fouled by Zaza Pachulia, and the Warriors seem a little stunned by the crispness of the Cleveland attack.
A big change from the previous two games is Tristan Thompson appearing to be far more aggressive, with two rebounds including one on the offensive end which is his typical bread and butter.
Cavs Build a Big Early Lead
The Cavaliers have pushed the lead all the way to 27-11 with just under 7 minutes remaining in the quarter, looking like a team reborn on both ends of the court. They have been aggressively disrupting the Golden State offense and knocking down shots from all over the court when they have the ball.
There were plenty of people predicting the Cavaliers would simply fade away after the gut-punch of a loss that they received in Game 3, but they are completely controlling the game so far.
Kevin Love is already up to 10 points and LeBron James already has 4 assists.
Warriors Begin to Show Some Frustration
The frustration was mounting for the Warriors, with the players and coaches arguing numerous calls from the officials and repeatedly ending plays shaking their heads as the fired-up Cavaliers were able to do anything they wanted on offense.
But thanks to Kevin Durant, who scored 10 consecutive points for Golden State, and a dunk by Andre Iguodala, the lead had narrowed all the way to seven points 2:30 remaining in the quarter
The Cavaliers have been a team possessed, but the question is if they can maintain a maximum level of effort for 48 minutes. They clearly ran out of gas in Game 3, leading to a painful loss, and are currently playing with an intensity far above where they were in that game.
Cavs’ Supporting Cast Gets Job Done
The Cavaliers appear to have no interest in being the ninth team to be swept out of the N.B.A. finals. In a 1st quarter in which everything went their way, the Cavs built an impressive 49-33 lead, with contributions coming from the entire team rather than just LeBron James. Their 49 points were the most in a quarter in N.B.A. finals history.
Kevin Love leads Cleveland with 14 points and Kyrie Irving has 11, while James has been limited to 8 but has 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Even Richard Jefferson has been all over the place, drawing contact and finishing fast breaks.
Defensively Cleveland was not perfect, letting Kevin Durant get to 10 points, but they have limited Golden State to just 6 assists and Stephen Curry has just 2 points.
Cleveland continues to get under Draymond Green’s skin, and they got a gift from him in the quarter when he hit Iman Shumpert in the neck while fighting for possession of a ball following a jump ball. It was his second personal foul, but he drew a technical foul for arguing.
In a sideline interview, Coach Steve Kerr summed things up succinctly, saying “They brought a lot of force and we weren’t ready for it.”
If there was one thing that did not go right for the Cavaliers in the quarter it was in free-throw shooting, where they went just 14 for 22 (61.9 percent) from the line after having shot 81 percent in the first three games of the series. If the game ends up close later, the eight missed free-throws in the quarter will have seemed crucial.
2nd Quarter: Warriors Chip Away at Big Lead
The opening of the second quarter has looked a lot like the first, with the Warriors not getting into any sort of rhythm offensively while the Cavaliers have continued to press. Ian Clark came up well short of the rim on a wide-open 3-pointer and Andre Iguodala simply threw the ball out of bounds on a pass that dramatically missed its mark.
But in an excellent display of why Golden State is so frustrating to play, they have actually outscored Cleveland 9-5 in the first 3 minutes and 30 seconds of the quarter thanks to a series of difficult shots that managed to find a way through the hoop.
The luxury of having had the highest scoring quarter in N.B.A. finals history is that despite Golden State making up a little ground, Cleveland still has a 12-point lead.
Cavs’ Lead Stretches to 20
From a hard-to-comprehend 35-footer as the shot clock expired by J.R. Smith to an absolutely monstrous dunk from LeBron James, the second quarter has provided plenty of highlights for the Cleveland offense. With 5:38 remaining, they have built their lead to 20 points, with Kyrie Irving leading all scorers with 21 points.
Perhaps the most unusual moment of the game, however, was a technical foul call on Dahntay Jones shortly after Smith’s long 3-pointer. The Cleveland benchwarmer was engaging in some words with Kevin Durant, but the call still seemed unusual since it involved someone unlikely to play in the game. As noted by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Jones will now have $9,000 in fines during the playoffs in a season where his salary was just $9,127.
Halftime: Warriors Don’t Have an Answer for Cavs’ Offense
Golden State was expected by many to have a victory parade on Cleveland’s home court, but the Cavaliers hit them hard early in the game and the Warriors have yet to recover. At halftime, the Warriors were trailing, 86-68, and seemed helpless to put together any of their signature runs.
The Cavaliers, who set finals records for points in a quarter (49) and points in a half (86) are dishing out more assists and pulling down more rebounds than the Warriors, thanks in part to Tristan Thompson finally getting back to what he does best, giving his team 6 rebounds including 3 on the offensive end.
Kyrie Irving has led all scorers with 28 points, but it has been a group effort on offense with LeBron James scoring 22, Kevin Love having 17 and J.R. Smith having 9.
Golden State is still getting a ton of production from Kevin Durant, who scored 22, including a 3-pointer as the second quarter ended, but Stephen Curry has scored just 6. Curry has led all players in the playoffs in terms of plus/minus but is a minus-19 for the game.
In the second half, the Warriors will need to get back to their flowing offensive style and will need Curry to find his scoring from the three previous games. But with the way James and Irving have played, how the Golden State offense plays the rest of the way might not matter. They will need to find a way to disrupt the Cavaliers stars or this series will go to Game 5.
3rd Quarter: Warriors Start Strong, but Cavs Answer
The Warriors opened the second half with four points in 45 seconds and Coach Tyronn Lue of the Cavaliers did not like what he saw and called an immediate timeout. The move proved prophetic as over the next three minutes of play, Cleveland outscored Golden State 10-5, hitting a few comical 3-pointers and regaining their momentum entirely.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant Exchange Words
An extended argument between Kevin Durant and LeBron James at midcourt while a play was being reviewed showed that this series has far more emotion than anyone had given it credit for in the first three games.
Durant was frustrated following a play in which Kevin Love made contact with his head on a layup attempt, and after a long review it was determined to be a flagrant foul.
The referees may have been trying to ease the tension in a game that has gotten very chippy. But regardless of the officiating, the Cavaliers have their big lead thanks to an uncanny ability to erase any run by the Warriors. They’ve done it with well-timed 3-pointers and tenacious defense.
James and Irving have had moments like this all series, but Love is potentially the biggest revelation of the game. He has been emulating the “Minnesota Kevin” that James regularly tries to goad him into becoming, and it has resulted in 23 points including 6 of 8 shooting form 3-point range.
Draymond Green Ejected? Not So Fast
Draymond Green appeared to have been ejected after picking up his second technical foul for arguing with the officials. Green was frustrated by picking up his third personal foul on a rather meaningless play and he threw up his arms and yelled at the referee. He and his teammates, along with the ABC broadcast team, seemed shocked at the decision. But Green remained on the court and the explanation seems to be that the technical foul he received in the first half was on Steve Kerr and not Green, despite the stat sheets after the first half saying the first half technical was on Green.
Doris Burke confirmed with the scorers’ table that the officials told them in the first half that the technical foul was against Green, but after the second technical call against Green, they went over and told the scorers they had intended the call in the first half to go against Kerr. It appears they decided to make up for a quick whistle on the second technical by pretending the first one never happened.
Referees Struggle to Regain Control
Things were testy throughout a tightly-contested third quarter, with several arguments on the court and even one between the Warriors’ bench and some fans near them. The fan who argued was ejected from the game.
In one particularly brutal exchange on the court, Zaza Pachulia fought for the ball with several Cavaliers players, with both he and Iman Shumpert exchanging some physical contact. On a replay, Shumpert seemed to be pushing down hard at Pachulia, who was on his back on the ground, and Pachulia may have kicked and punched at Shumpert’s groin. Both players received a technical after a long review.
In terms of actual basketball, the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers for much of the quarter, but thanks to a 3-pointer by LeBron James in the closing seconds of the quarter, Cleveland increased the team’s lead to 19, having outscored the Warriors 29-28.
Kevin Durant has been the biggest contributor in the Warriors’ effort to get back into the game, scoring 31 points — the fourth time he has topped 30 in this year’s finals — but there has been no slowdown from the Cleveland offense as of yet.
Make no mistake, Cleveland is still clearly in the driver’s seat, with their Big Three combining for 94 points and 14 assists. But considering how well Golden State can play when they start getting some momentum, this game is not over.
4th Quarter: LeBron James Gets a (Short) Rest
LeBron James opened up the fourth quarter on the bench, and Golden State’s rookie guard Patrick McCaw opened up the scoring for Golden State with a wide open 3-pointer. Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, creating a 6-0 run, and Coach Tyronn Lue of the Cavaliers repeated the trick that worked so well for him in the third quarter by calling a timeout after just 1:05 of play.
Coming out of the timeout, Lue left James on the bench, but after Kyle Korver turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds, that was enough for Lueto bring James back out. His total rest was 1 minute and 38 seconds.
Cavaliers Dominate Beyond the 3-Point Arc
Golden State may have the reputation for loving 3-pointers, but Cleveland hit nearly 100 more of them during the regular season. The Cavaliers’ proficiency with that shot has been huge in this game, shooting 21 for 36 as a team while the Warriors have gone just 10 for 32, with Stephen Curry hitting just 2 of 8.
As the midpoint of the fourth quarter nears, the Warriors are down by 17 points and have not had a lead at any point during the game, making their dreams of a perfect postseason almost out of their reach.