CLEVELAND – For the first time in the NBA Finals, LeBron James wasn’t the best player on the planet Thursday night, and the result was a 103-82 Warriors victory that evened the series at 2-2.
Fatigue may have slowed James. He also suffered a bloody gash on the top of his head after a second-quarter collision with a television camera.
But the Warriors had the biggest hand in things, ramping up their defensive energy to prevent James from running roughshod over them for a fourth straight game. There was no 40-point onslaught from James in Game 4.
“Honestly, we didn’t do much different against LeBron,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It wasn’t a strategic change. We were just more active, more competitive.”
Spearheaded by the efforts of defensive specialist Andre Iguodala, making his first start of the season, Golden State limited James to 20 points – less than half his average through three games.
“He was one of the X factors,” James said of Iguodala. “He came to play.”
James had 12 rebounds and eight assists, but shot 7 for 22 from the field, missed five free throws and committed five fouls. And, by the end of the third quarter, he said, “I was pretty much gassed.”
Iguodala played more than 39 minutes – and spent virtually all of them chasing James, who averaged 41 points through the first three games. Golden State also shaded a second defender toward James, especially as he moved into the paint, and that limited his ability to get to the basket.
“They doubled me a little bit more tonight. They tried to get me to give up the ball, see if my teammates could beat them,” said James, noting that the Cavs were 4 for 27 from the 3-point line. “I’ll take those shots again.”
But Cavs coach David Blatt agreed with Kerr that James’ diminished productivity wasn’t the result of wholesale defensive changes by the Warriors.
“We didn’t always get the ball in great spots and that made it a little bit more arduous for LeBron to get in position to score the ball,” Blatt said.
Iguodala said James is tougher to defend than most because of his versatility.
“You make him work as hard as possible, make him take tough shots. Look at his strengths and weaknesses and try to take him out of his comfort zone,” Iguodala said. “It’s easier said than done.”
Kerr said Iguodala, who has guarded James throughout his career, approached him as he usually does. “It’s a different game. LeBron’s shots didn’t go in,” Kerr said. “The same shots may go in the next game.”
Even so, Stephen Curry had no doubt Iguodala was ready for the assignment.
“I think he likes the challenge of this matchup, especially in this series,” Curry said. “We know his knack for being impactful on the defensive end.”
James was knocked to the floor with 4:43 left in the second quarter after being fouled under the basket by Andrew Bogut, then tumbled into a TV cameraman on the baseline. He suffered two cuts to the top of his head that required stitches afterward, but he remained in the game.
James said he had a headache but wasn’t concerned. “I’m sure he’s fine,” Blatt said.
Bogut suggested LeBron “jumped into the cameraman.”
Asked if that was the way he saw it, Bogut said, “No. That’s how it was. If you look at the replay, you can see he took two steps and then fell into the cameraman.”
Blatt acknowledged his team was tired, playing its third game in five days with a short bench. That’s what the Warriors hoped would happen, Draymond Green said.
“They’re playing seven guys, and LeBron’s having to shoulder a lot of the load,” he said. “They just ran out of gas.”