NBA Finals: Tensions high as series goes back to Oakland

CLEVELAND – Draymond Green had steered clear of trouble this time.

But this was Cleveland – again. This was Game 4 of the NBA Finals – again. And so, with the Golden State Warriors hoping their night would end with champagne showers like it had here two years ago, it was Draymond-vu all over again.

But the Cavs’ 137-116 win that forced a Game 5 at Oracle Arena on Monday will be remembered for much more than the ejection-non ejection fiasco that was one of many officiating black eyes on the night. And Green, whose Game 5 suspension in 2016 was the turning point of the Warriors’ unprecedented collapse from a 3-1 lead after he swiped at LeBron James' crotch in Game 4, was hardly alone when it came to hijinks.

War(s) of words

Kevin Durant v. Dahntay Jones was one thing.

Midway through the second quarter, with the Cavs up 60-46 and well on their way to an unreal 86-68 lead at halftime, the Warriors star had a verbal back and forth with the Cavs reserve guard who has played 34 combined minutes in 17 playoff games. Jones, per his norm, was on the bench at the time and was given a technical foul.

It was a costly move for the 36-year-old who was signed to a minimum salary contract just before the playoffs and who has made a habit of this of late. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the out-of-pocket price for Jones’ playoff fines ($9,000) is now nearly as much as the lump sum of his pro-rated earnings ($9,127).

But when it comes to a war of words on the game’s biggest stage, Durant v. LeBron James was on a whole different level. Midway through the third quarter, after Durant was hit on the head by the Cavs’ Kevin Love in what was deemed a flagrant foul, Durant went out of his way to be heard on the matter amid several Cavs players. Eventually, Durant and James squared off to discuss the matter.

“We weren't coming to blows; we were just talking,” Durant said. “That's a part of basketball. The game of basketball created that. The refs didn't. We didn't as players. It's like the aura of the game created trash talk and just communication out there. So I know you could take away the physical part of the game as far as controlling stuff, but emotionally that should be us, that should be what the players have as their own out there.”

Durant tried to downplay it, but the fact that two Warriors security guards made their way to midcourt to intervene was evidence enough that the situation escalated.

“I'm sure it's going to continue,” Durant said of the intense emotion. “There's nothing malicious or we didn't say anything malicious, it was just a part of the game. Emotions are what keeps this game alive, it keeps it going. It's for the players.”

In terms of one-liners, nobody threw more fuel on this fire than Green.

When asked about what he heard from the P.A. announcer in the first quarter when everyone believed the technical foul was on him, as opposed to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Green said, “I don’t pay much attention. I don’t pay much attention to anybody in Cleveland, honestly. Don’t seem to be the sharpest people around. So whatever.”

Cue the Cavs fans who now want nothing more than to see Green again in Game 6 to share their views on his sound byte. The "Draymond sucks" chants that were there in Game 3 and 4, it's safe to assume, would be child's play by comparison.

Nothing easy!

Late third quarter, Warriors big man Zaza Pachulia hits the floor going for a rebound and the six arms of James, Kyle Korver, and Iman Shumpert come at him scrapping for the ball. Pachulia appeared to have swung up at Shumpert’s crotch amid the chaos, and it remains to be seen if the league’s disciplinarians might deem it worthy of further discipline. Shumpert and Pachulia, like so many others, exchanged words.

“A little trash talk,” Pachulia said. “Nothing else, and we moved on. They’re going to review everything…I don’t expect anything (from the NBA). There was a lot of hard fouls throughout the game because, again, it’s the Finals.

“(It was a) loose ball. I was waiting for the ref to call (a jump ball). I just didn’t want to give up the ball easy that way. Just waited until the ref made a call.”

What came next was even more heated.

Todd Leebow, a CEO of a steel company and close friend of James associates Rich Paul and Maverick Carter, was sitting near Paul and Carter when he started jawing at Pachulia and several other Warriors players. The Quicken Loans Arena security crew relocated him not long after - with plenty of prodding from the Warriors themselves.

“Somebody’s pointing a finger, almost on the sideline, almost on the court, and pointing a finger talking trash,” Pachulia said of Leebow, who was sitting near Paul and Carter. “I understand the business of this game. I totally get it. I’ve been in this league long enough and I’m smart enough to understand what those fans mean to us, and for this game.

“But at the same time, you’ve got to have some respect and don’t talk – you have to respect all the players and don’t talk that kind of (expletive) and pointing fingers, almost be on the court. It was totally disrespectful. I just responded, and then security got him.”

So what was Leebow saying?

“Obviously, you guys can tell his body language,” Pachulia said. “He’s pointing at me, talking to me, looking at me. He wasn’t telling me that I was having a nice game, or that I was a nice guy, or that I was his favorite player, right? After me, he started talking to a lot of guys, the whole team. So they got his ass out.”

It’s 3-1 Warriors - again

The goal for the Warriors now, of course, is to throw the Cavs out of their Oracle Arena building on Monday while they celebrate a second championship in three seasons. Game 4 was their chance to end it early, to become the first team in league history to finish 16-0 and avoid all the familiar 3-1 noise that will ramp up over these next few days.

As Pachulia’s personal motto goes, nothing easy.

“It (would have been) amazing for us to win four games in a row; you expect ‘Nothing easy,’” Pachulia said. “They’re going to fight. It’s always hard to win a championship. They showed toughness from the beginning of the game. They set the tone with it, and that’s how the game went too.”

You knew the Cavs’ pride would kick in at some point, that they would fight to avoid a humiliating sweep and do anything to avoid seeing the Warriors pop champagne bottles on their floor like they did back in 2015. James admitted as much afterward, telling reporters that the Cavs had heard Green, specifically, was looking forward to partying in their hoops house.

“We are in the NBA Finals,” said Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who missed 10 of 14 shots and finished with just 14 points, 10 assists and a team-worst minus-25 plus-minus rating. “No matter what you need to inspire you, whatever you need to grab ahold of, chalkboard material, whatever it happens, like it's so hard to win a championship, and kudos to them for finding whatever it took to play an amazing game, which they did. We got to find our edge next game. There's no secret.

“Just this is how big the stage is right now. We would love to have celebrated tonight and finished off the job, didn't happen, got another opportunity on Monday. Like I said, we got to find our edge and respond. So all that chatter and stuff is neither here nor there, it's whatever you need to get yourself ready to play.”

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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