OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Like everyone else, Draymond Green could only watch as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sent the NBA Finals back to Cleveland.
James had 41 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists to go with Irving's 41 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 112-97 victory over the Warriors on Monday night, ensuring the NBA Finals will go back to Cleveland.
Klay Thompson scored 37 points and Stephen Curry had 25 for the Warriors, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. But the Warriors sorely missed Green, who was suspended after striking James in the groin in Game 4.
With the defensive dynamo next door in Oakland Coliseum, the Cavaliers shot 53 percent, hit 10 of 24 3-pointers and handed the Warriors their fourth home loss this season.
"It's too simple to say that" the Warriors lost because of Green's absence, Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "We weren't very good defensively. We knew we were without Draymond, so there's no point in harping on that. We had to play better and we didn't."
Green was suspended after the NBA retroactively charged him with a flagrant-1 foul for incident with James during Game 4. The foul triggered an automatic suspension and left the Warriors and their fans fuming at the decision.
Green watched the game sitting in a suite with general manager Bob Myers while his teammates tried to pick up their exiled comrade. But it was clear from the start that they missed him badly, especially on the defensive end.
Even though he stands only 6-foot-8, Green is a ferocious interior presence for the Warriors and allows the rest of their versatile group to switch liberally and make it hard on the Cavaliers to get open looks from the perimeter. But Cleveland had little trouble getting to the basket on Monday night, with James and Irving plowing into the paint without fear against Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao and James Michael McAdoo.
Kerr went with Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup in place of Green to matchup with James, but struggled to find suitable help at center.
Golden State's most effective lineup all season long — the "Death Lineup" with Green at center, Harrison Barnes at power forward, Iguodala at small forward and the Splash Brothers in the backcourt — made life miserable for its opponents with its ability to switch on defense and get out in transition on offense. Green often would lead those fast breaks, playing a point forward while Curry and Thompson spread out on the wings for 3s.
The 3s were still there in Game 5 — the Warriors made 14 of 42 from long range. But the defense that helped them surge to a 3-1 lead in the series was nowhere to be found, and Bogut had to be helped off the court two minutes into the third quarter with an injured left knee.
James followed Bogut's exit with a dunk and Irving hit his third 3 of the game to give the Cavaliers a 74-68 lead and never looked back.
Leading up to this game the Warriors blamed James for Green's suspension. They viewed James stepping over Green as a blatant show of disrespect and openly chided him for complaining about Green crossing the line with some of the trash talk that he hurled the four-time MVP's way during the exchange. Thompson said James "got his feelings hurt," Marreese Speights tweeted a baby bottle emoji and even Curry's wife, Ayesha, got in on the act.
If they were trying to humiliate James, it didn't work. Instead, it appears to have just made him angry.
Then the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James imposed his will on the weakened Warriors front court.
While absorbing merciless boos from the amped-up Oracle crowd every time he touched the ball, James steamrolled to the basket with no regard for the smaller Warriors. Powerless to stop him, Golden State resorted to hacking Tristan Thompson intentionally at the end of the third quarter to try to throw the Cavaliers off.
But James and Irving continued to answer every push from the champs with a bucket on the other end, and those Warriors fans that walked into Oracle smelling blood headed for the exits early with their heads in their hands.
"Our defense wasn't nearly as good as it's been," Kerr said. "When you don't play great defense for the first three quarters, your opponent isn't going to be worn down in the fourth."
The Warriors are still in the driver's seat heading back to Cleveland. No team has ever lost in the NBA Finals after leading the series 3-1. They will get Green back for Game 6, but it is unclear if Bogut will be there as well.
"I like our position a lot more than I like theirs," Kerr said.
But now they face a Cavs squad that heads back to Cleveland with the one thing the Warriors wanted to take away - hope.