The Angles: LeBron’s Last Game in Cleveland?

Jun 08, 2018 2:08 PM EDT

The Highlights

  • LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are 4.5-point dogs to the Golden State Warriors in a potential closeout Game 4.
  • The Warriors have never swept the Cavs, and guard Shaun Livingston has stated they’re going for it tonight.
  • This is potentially, and perhaps even likely, LeBron’s last home game in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The fans here in this hard-luck, blue-collar town don’t hold it against him this time. Three times I’ve gotten into a rideshare and the conversation has inevitably turned here: “I don’t blame LeBron if he leaves. The man needs help.” There’s a sadness and resignation this year that wasn’t here last year, when sidewalk chalk signs outside of bars said “We did it once, we can do it again” after the Cavs fell down 3-0.

Maybe it’s Kyrie Irving’s absence; maybe it’s watching JR Smith throw up more dreck all over the court. Maybe it’s just the way it feels to face Golden State and come up short time and time again. But everyone in Cleveland — from the fans to LeBron James, who sat at a podium and just kind of shrugged Thursday — knows this is likely it.

 

Which means Game 4 could be the last chance to invest in a game until October. Let’s make the most of it.

Here are the angles for Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals.

Warriors (-5): The Warriors are 5-2 against-the-spread in the Steve Kerr era when they’ve won three games in a row vs. a team. So we’re not talking about a huge sample here, and the last team to break their dominance when up 3-0 was, of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Warriors have done well enough when up 3-0 to have some faith in them.

The big key here is this: Go back a year ago, to when Kevin Durant had dropped the dagger game-winner from a few feet closer than his Game 3 bomb this year. The Cavs staved off elimination, opening up the Gentleman’s Sweep for the Warriors in the comfy confines of Oracle. Do you know who led the Cavs in scoring in that “keep it respectable” Game 4?

Kyrie Irving, with 40 points on 27 shots along with seven rebounds and four assists — a player you will not find suiting up for Cleveland in Game 4 on Friday night at the Q.

And so it is that we come to this obvious dilemma. This Warriors team is not as good as last year’s team; heck, it’s not as good as the 2016 team that lost after building the 3-1 lead in some ways. But it’s still so much better than this Cavs team, which is quite frankly light years behind its 2015 and 2016 versions.

The Cavs’ defensive rating is abysmal at 121 compared to 117 last season, and it’s way worse than 2015 (105) and 2016 (104). And their offense (108) just isn’t close to last year (111). They are a worse team by every standard.

A question was asked Thursday of Shaun Livingston, the grizzled vet on this club, about what the motivation is for sweeping Cleveland, and he was honest. It’s hard for Golden State to manufacture reasons to really drive themselves. Livingston cited the fact that the Warriors have never swept the Cavs.

That’s where we’re at — a question of novelty.

And still, this does feel different from last year. Last year, it felt like the Warriors could let their foot off the throttle and the Cavaliers could blister them the way they did in Game 4. This year, it feels like the Warriors could let their foot off the throttle and still cover a two-possession spread, or that Cleveland could simply surrender in the second half, knowing all hope was lost, while Golden State created separation.

The reality is that it would take an absolutely dominant first half by the Cavs, plus a controlled third quarter to survive the inevitable third-quarter rush from Golden State, to feel good about Cleveland’s chances on the moneyline. And if you believe they’re losing, they’re likely losing by more than six. That’s just simple math with how Golden State executes. After all, Golden State was down big time in Game 4, but only six at the half, and wound up covering.

It feels so reductive to say “the Warriors are the better team, have been better in every game, and are only two-possession favorites.” But that’s what this Warriors team does to analysis. It renders it into its simplest form. The Warriors are better in every spot, in every position, in every facet of the game. That’s one thing. But the more enticing part from a betting standpoint is that both teams know that at this point.

OVER 216.5: The under hit in Game 3, thanks to an underwhelming start for Golden State; the teams put up ‘only’ 52 points in the first quarter and 58 in the second. This number relies heavily on Golden State hitting its highest gear vs. the woeful Cavs defense, and with Steph Curry tossing up bricks, it didn’t happen.

But the wine should flow more easily in Game 4. The reality is that the Warriors can get whatever they want vs. the Cavs whenever they want it; they just have to push the buttons. When Curry goes 1-for-9 from 3-point range, it presents an issue, although part of that was a concerted effort by Cleveland to trap Curry.

But the Warriors will have more options outside of Kevin Durant in Game 2, and those will mean more lobs and higher scoring opportunities. The odds are greater that the Warriors figure out how to score before the Cavs learn a way to contain all the transition threats, blitz Curry, and cover all the other play-makers.

So once again, at a low number of 216.5, you have to think the over is the soft spot here, against a cosmic entity of Greed that has come for his share more often than not in the last few years. In short, the Warriors can mess around and bump the over.

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

  • It’s potentially, or even likely, LeBron’s last game in Cleveland, depending on your perspective.
  • This would make three titles for Stephen Curry, matching LeBron James. Two titles for Kevin Durant, surpassing Kevin Garnett. Three titles for Draymond Green, surpassing Pau Gasol. I bring these up not as perfect comparisons, but to show relative player strengths in the rings conversation. Curry will never be greater than James (most likely) on the all-time lists, but he’s almost certainly going to finish with more titles. That matters.
  • I keep thinking about what happens to this Cavs team. The Rodney Hoods and George Hills and Jordan Clarksons and Jeff Greens. They were thrust together to try and salvage the last LeBron year after Kyrie’s defection to Boston. They failed miserably… or did they? I mean, they made the Finals and lost to a Warriors team that was superior to every other team besides Houston. Is this a stain on their careers? Or were they doomed from the start?
  • This will be eight rings for Steve Kerr, which isn’t a particularly notable number besides the fact of it just being an obscene number of rings.
  • This is the end of the 2017-18 season and the start of the third Summer of LeBron.

More Coverage of Game 4

Credit:

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Ty Lue and LeBron James

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