OAKLAND — The NBA Finals returned to Oakland with the Golden State Warriors up on the Cavaliers 3-1, and same as it ever was.
All it took was one Cleveland victory to evoke memories of last season’s Finals and generate a flicker of an idea that maybe — just maybe — the Cavaliers can turn this into a series.
And all it would take is one more Cleveland victory Monday in Game 5 at Oracle Arena (9 p.m. ET, ABC) to make one think that maybe — just maybe — it’s possible that Cleveland pulls off another unprecedented championship.
The series looked over last season after four games, and it looked over after three games this season.
And maybe it is.
But maybe it isn’t.
“Being down 3-1, we understand that it's a predicament that we put ourselves in,” said Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, who has scored 78 points in the past two games. “But coming out in Game 5, we feel like if we come to play and we make sure that we focus on our game plan and we bring the physicality and we bring it to them, then we'll put ourselves in a great position.”
The Cavs have the confidence they can do it given that they came back from a 3-1 deficit last season. If Cleveland wins again, another level of doubt creeps into Golden State’s collective mind, and the Cavs know that.
Cleveland’s Richard Jefferson, who delivered an underappreciated effort in Game 4, told Fox Sports Ohio that if the Cavs win Game 5, it’s going back to Oakland for Game 7.
“Where is the pressure on us?” Jefferson said. “They have a 73-win team, and they added a former MVP. We added Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. They added an MVP to a 73-win team after being up 3-1 and then KD (Kevin Durant) was up 3-1. The pressure is all on them.
"We believe that we’re the defending champs. We believe that we have enough here to win a championship and we haven’t played great thus far. But there’s no pressure on us. There’s never been that. It’s been about them proving last year was a fluke, KD validating the move here.”
While the circumstances of how the series got to 3-1 are not the same as last season – Golden State won the first three and no team has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series – there are similarities beyond the series margin.
Golden State’s Draymond Green isn’t suspended for Game 5, but his ostentatious histrionics to officiating calls that went against him in Game 4 was a distraction for the Warriors. Can he keep his cool without a technical foul in Game 5?
Once again, a Warriors family member bought into conspiracy theories. A year ago, Steph Curry’s wife, Ayesha, accused the NBA of rigging games, and during Cleveland’s Game 4 victory, Green’s mom tweeted, “These OFFICIALS HAVE BEEN OFFICIALLY PAID!” adding multiple poop-face and money-bag emojis to her tweet.
Last year, James took exception to something Green said to him, and James was motivated when Klay Thompson said, “I guess his feelings just got hurt.”
In Game 4, Durant and LeBron James had a verbal confrontation, and while neither revealed what was said, James is not a fan of trash talk, saying he’s there to play ball.
The Cavaliers also planned to have a team dinner Sunday at the same San Francisco restaurant they ate before Game 5 last year.
Now, the parallels will be rendered meaningless if Golden State wins Game 5. Warriors star Steph Curry isn’t thinking about last season.
“This year's a totally different year. I actually wasn't thinking about that until you asked me,” Curry said replied when asked about another 3-1 Finals lead. "I'm confident, I'm energetic and positive about the opportunity we have in front of us tomorrow. The past is the past.
“It's definitely fueled us all year, just trying to keep that hunger to get back to the stage. But we understand we're one win away from getting the job done, and we have a chance to write our own story this year. So, this is going to be a fun night and want to just keep a clear focus to what's going on in the present, for sure.”
On the surface, the Cavs have a basic game plan: limit turnovers, defend the three-point line and play with the physicality they did in Game 4.
“We have to be 20 times better in this building, and we understand that,” said James acknowledging the 41-point margin of defeat in Games 1 and 2 Oracle Arena.
And James isn’t buying into the idea that Golden State is the team under pressure. Not yet anyway.
“I feel like this is the game we got to get,” James said, “or it's over with."