The Warriors were down an All-Star, but they still had the league’s reigning two-time MVP, Stephen Curry.
But it was a four-time MVP and another All-Star talent who ruled Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Cleveland’s LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were spectacular, putting on an offensive show and repeatedly exploiting Golden State’s defense in a 112-97 victory Monday night at Oracle Arena.
Warriors still lead
The Warriors still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Thursday. And they will have All-Star forward Draymond Green back from a one-game suspension afterhe was assessed his fourth flagrant foul point of the postseason after Game 4.
But they’ll need much better defense and more from Curry, who scored 25 points, but he shot 8 of 21 with four assists and had a team-high four turnovers.
Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 37 points.
That wasn’t enough to hold off James and Irving, who both produced monster stat lines.
Irving had 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting and six assists. James had 41 points on 16-of-30 shooting, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.
“We just want them to be aggressive, continue to attack like we’ve been talking about all series,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue. “And they had two great games, two breakout games. We need those two guys to give us confidence early, and they both did that.”
Where’s the defense?
The Warriors looked lost at times defensively without Green, an All-NBA defender who is perhaps the most irreplaceable Warrior. No other forward on the team has his defensive and offensive versatility against bigger players.
“We weren’t very good defensively,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “We obviously knew we were without Draymond, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn’t. Both those guys played terrific games, shot the ball well. I thought our defensive communication was lacking.”
With Irving going off along with James, the Warriors could have used a big night from Curry. But it’s been an up-and-down playoffs for Curry with injuries and inconsistent play.
Monday was Curry’s worst shooting performance in these Finals since his 4-of-15 Game 1 showing. It was the second-most points he’s scored in the Finals, coming off a 38-point performance in Game 4.
But while Curry never seemed to get going and Thompson was held in check after 26 first-half points, James and Irving were just too much Monday.
The Warriors’ interior defense suffered without Green as expected. Golden State also did not have center Andrew Bogut for most of the second half after he went down with what was initially diagnosed as a sprained left knee.
Cleveland guard J.R. Smith fell into Bogut’s knee as he landed after jumping, forcing it to bend backward.
An MRI was scheduled for Monday night.
“It didn’t affect things too dramatically because we were playing so many people at that position anyway,” Kerr said. “It would have been nice to have him available, but we played, I think, what, four, five different people at center, just trying to find something that would work.
“It’s unfortunate. Hopefully he’s OK. We need him. We’ll see how he’s doing.”
Cleveland shot 53 percent for the game and outscored the Warriors 46-30 in the paint. The Warriors shot just 36.4 percent.
Lue said not having Green definitely affected the game for the Warriors.
“Well, he’s their best defender,” Lue said. “I’ve said it all along that he is the best guy in the NBA as far as reading when to help, triple switches and kicking guys out of mismatches, knowing when to go, when not to go. He’s an underrated shot blocker, and he can guard one through five, so that definitely hurt their defense.”
Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones