Through 55 days, 14 series and nearly a 15th, the NBA playoffs were boring. That conclusion was inescapable. A Warriors title was inevitable. An offseason of moaning about competitive balance was in order, and it, too, seemed unavoidable.
And then Game 4 of the NBA Finals happened, and all is forgotten. All the boredom. All the moaning. It’s gone — at least temporarily.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors packed nearly two months of previously misplaced excitement into a preposterous 48 minutes, 253 points, seven technical fouls, an ejection that wasn’t, a fan ejection that was, a whole lot of smack talk, and some simply wonderful postgame quotations.
“You can’t take the emotion out of the game,” said Kevin Durant, who picked up one of the seven techs. “We weren’t coming to blows, we were just talking. That’s a part of basketball. … It’s like the aura of the game created trash talk.”
The Cavs’ offensive explosion is what gave us a Game 5, but it was all of the fighting words, scuffles and chaos that gave the playoffs the intrigue that they had been starved of for so long.
The feistiness really began in between Games 3 and 4, with the Warriors potentially honing in on a historic sweep. Green spoke about the satisfaction he’d glean from celebrating a title in Cleveland. The Cavs took note — but more on that later.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs didn’t just come into Game 4 on fire; they came in fiery, perhaps even angry. And the anger on both benches was amplified late in the first quarter. Things simmered with a couple questionable calls, then kicked off when an untamed Green elbow smacked Iman Shumpert in the face. Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr raised a fuss when they realized a foul had been called on Green, and the referees whistled them for a technical.
Then it was the Cavs’ trash talk that had to be policed. Dahntay Jones — Dahntay Jones, of all people! — was hit with a T for chirping at Kevin Durant from his customary place on the bench.
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Jones and J.R. Smith seemed to protest the technical by claiming that Durant initiated the exchange. Nonetheless, it was Golden State on the line shooting free throws — while James, Green and others traded words behind the play.
But in comparison to the second half, these conversations were cordial.
Things kicked off midway through the third quarter. Kevin Love fouled Durant somewhat hard on a drive to the goal. He was controversially called for a flagrant. During the review, James and Durant engaged in an animated conversation, and both were whistled for technicals.
“We weren’t coming to blows, we were just talking,” Durant said postgame.
Green, who was listening in on LeBron and Durant, had his take: “Just good basketball conversation. Nothing too crazy.”
About a minute later, heated turned to weird. Green was called for a foul, and flipped his hand in the direction of the ref in disgust. That earned him an extremely soft second technical … or so we thought.
Green played to the crowd with an exasperated smile on his face. Everybody, including Kerr, thought he was gone. Except he wasn’t. The referees conspicuously explained that the first-half technical had been assessed to Kerr. So Green was allowed to stay on the floor. The atmosphere inside the arena, meanwhile, was hysterical.
From there, players got chippy. They regularly went chest-to-chest after made baskets or fouls. Green was asked after the game if, given all the altercations, the game got out of hand. “Maybe a little bit,” he said. “Maybe it did a little bit.”
Late in the third, though, is when it really went off the rails.
A Zaza Pachulia offensive rebound led to a loose ball scrum, which led to five bodies on the floor, which led to a jump ball, which led to a Pachulia crotch shot at Shumpert.
A lengthy review of the play somehow led to nothing more than double technicals, but allowed for more shenanigans. Warriors benchwarmer Matt Barnes got into a verbal spat with a fan. The fan — a close friend of LeBron’s agent — had to be escorted away from the court by security.
While the review droned on, Durant then made his way over the courtside area where LeBron’s associates were seated and had a discussion with Maverick Carter, LeBron’s longtime friend.
The fourth quarter featured more hard fouls — from Green, from Tristan Thompson, from others — and more bickering. It ended in a Cavs victory via a record-breaking offensive performance. But half of the entertainment was the words and the emotions behind them.
After the game, we got some explanations for it all. From Kyrie Irving: “You know, you hear some chatter going on throughout the Warriors’ locker room in terms of them trying to end it here. … That adds some extra motivation.”
Irving wouldn’t elaborate. James did, but only slightly: “I didn’t hear it, but some of the other guys heard it and told me that that they wanted to celebrate on our floor once again and they wanted to spray champagne in our locker rooms, and I think it came from Draymond.” It did indeed.
For what it’s worth, J.R. Smith said there was no locker room talk of Green’s comments or the Warriors’ “chatter.” But it’s clear the Cavs came to Quicken Loans Arena on Friday with something to prove, and that something manifested itself in both their play and their talk.
“It’s The Finals. Guys gon’ talk,” Thompson said at his locker. “We gon’ respond. But you ain’t about to punk us. Not me. S—. You ain’t about to punk Tristan Thompson. … You can talk all you want but I’ma definitely bark back. That’s just how I’m built.”