CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Richard Jefferson loves to have fun, and does not hold back on his sense of humor, even when the pressure of the 2017 NBA Finals continues to ratchet up with every game.
Interviewed Sunday prior to tonight’s Game 5 matchup at Oracle Arena in Oakland between the Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, who are just one win away from a second championship in three years, Jefferson described his team in a light-hearted way.
“We’re in a great mood,” Jefferson said. “We’re always in great moods. We’re the grumpiest, happiest band of idiots that you could ever be around, to tell you the truth. That’s just us.”
Although Jefferson and the Cavaliers are a group of players that likes to have fun, when they take the floor against the Warriors, there will be a focused mindset of a team playing an elimination game in an opponent’s arena.
“I think they’re going to view this as a Game 7 situation,” Jefferson said of the Warriors. “I really and truly believe so. For us, every game’s a Game 7, but for them, this particularly is a Game 7 from the standpoint of they don’t want to go back to Cleveland, and they understand that anything can happen in Game 7. I think both teams know that and understand that.”
With a Game 7 mentality from the Cavaliers, Jefferson believes small forward LeBron James will lead by example, just as he always does.
“He doesn’t need a break, I just think that it’s smarter for us,” Jefferson said. “You can’t just always try to be the strongest. You have to be the smartest, and I’ve just viewed this as an opportunity for him to roam around, to go and grab loose balls, to play passing lanes.
“He’s not just taking a break on defense; he’s actually doing so much more. Now, if you can grab the rebound and push it, he’s not at the point of contact in a few of these situations. It’s not like we’re resting him on defense. We’re not putting him in a corner and telling him to guard anybody. He was guarding Draymond, their other All-Star, so he still has a lot of responsibilities also.”
In addition to James, the Cavaliers plan to lean on point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been a spark plug for the team, averaging 32.5 points in elimination games against the Warriors over the last two NBA Finals.
Irving definitely left everything out on the floor in Game 4, which the Cavaliers won, 137-116, and forced a Game 5 at Oracle Arena tonight.
Irving scored a game-high 40 points on 15-of-27 shooting, including a seven-of-12 performance from three-point range, which came on the heels of an 0-for-7 showing from long distance in the Game 3 loss last Wednesday night.
Irving added seven rebounds, four assists and one steal in 40 minutes of action.
“For the most part, I just truly believe that he enjoys the moment,” Jefferson said. “He embraces the moment, I wouldn’t say too much, but at times, where he wants that moment so bad that he puts pressure on himself because he expects that much of himself.
“I just think, as a competitor, he wants to win. He’s not afraid of those moments. He looks forward to those moments. I think that’s when he’s the most locked in is when the intensity is at its highest. I think that’s why he’s performed so well in those situations.”