Cavaliers predicament is the same and yet totally different

This time a year ago I started writing my Cleveland Cavaliers season obituary. The Cavaliers were down 2-0 in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. They shot under 40% from the field in the first two games, and the most any Cavalier had scored in either of the games was Kyrie Irving with 26 on 7-of-22 shooting in Game 1. The Cavaliers seemed listless, and I didn’t want to give up hope, but I just couldn’t believe that what I had seen in the first two games would change. Here we are again a year later, and the Cavaliers are facing a two-game hole against the same Warriors (well, plus Kevin Durant). Maybe I’m a prisoner of this moment, but this doesn’t feel the same at all.

The Cavaliers played pretty poorly in Game 1 when the Warriors blew it open in the third quarter on their way to a 113-91 win. They outscored the Cavaliers by 13 in that quarter alone, and that’s where the game was lost. The Cavaliers shot about 35% from the field and just over 35% from three. The Cavaliers could play far better. While Game 2 was far from perfect, the Cavaliers did play reasonably well and still found themselves on the wrong end of a lopsided score.

LeBron James went 12-for-18 from the field and scored a 29-11-14 triple double while committing just four turnovers. Kyrie Irving struggled a bit going 8-for-23 from the field, but Kevin Love was really good with 27 points on 12-for-23 shooting. The Cavs put up a respectable 113, and the big issue was that they shot only 27.6% from three. Still, it was a marked improvement over Game 1, but the Cavaliers still turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 14-point deficit to begin the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers can play better, but I’m unsure if the Golden State Warriors are capable of playing worse. That’s not to say they played poorly. Quite the contrary. The Golden State Warriors are playing phenomenal basketball, and if it were any other team, I’d be looking for a regression to the mean. It’s just so hard to imagine happening to these Warriors with the names we grew to detest so roundly over the past two years and the addition of one of the top two basketball players on the planet, Kevin Durant.

Despite playing on a team with a unanimous MVP, Kevin Durant has played the most minutes of any Golden State starter in the first two games of the Finals. He’s scored more than 70 points while playing the kind of defense that both shows up in the box score and is simultaneously understated by mere statistics. He had five blocks in Game 2, but if you told me he had 17 after the game, I might have believed it.

It feels like the Cavaliers did a better job on Durant in Game 2 when they fed him a steady diet of Iman Shumpert, but he still dropped 33 points while putting up an offensive rating of 133 for the game. His defensive rating was an impressive 93. By contrast, LeBron’s offensive rating for Game 2 was a healthy 131, while his defensive rating was 117.

It’s tempting to compare this year to last year and insist that everything’s not lost yet, but this feels different. The Cavaliers have a chance to turn things around if Kyrie Irving catches fire and looks more like the Kyrie Irving who can single-handedly win a playoff game. The Cavaliers have a chance if their bench and role players become more effective at home, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility. A year ago, J.R. Smith’s best games of the Finals came at home in Game 3 and Game 6. In addition to Smith, the Cavaliers could potentially get a crazy shooting game from Kyle Korver.

LeBron James is the best damn basketball player on earth. It’s just the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant might not only be the best damn basketball team on earth, and the first two games of the NBA Finals offered no glimpse of anything different. I’ll stop short of beginning to write any obituary for the Cavaliers because I’ve experienced the Cavaliers defying the odds. Even with that acknowledgment, this year does not compare to last year as an inspiration of hope. The Cavaliers are in the same position they were a year ago when they won the title. However, this is a totally different animal. It’s still possible that the Cavaliers will defy the odds and find a way to beat the Warriors four times over the next five games and keep the crown in Cleveland. If they do, it will be even more impressive than erasing a 3-1 lead like they did a year ago.

  • MartyDaVille

    Man, they are freakin’ freakishly good. And they looked so much quicker than us last night.

    But they’ve still got to win two more, and a lot of big, big upsets have occurred in sports (and non-sports) in the past couple years, so there’s a chance.

  • chrisdottcomm

    Someone dropped this tweet last night and it’s the most perfect way to describe the first two games and what we’re facing the rest of the way:

    “The Warriors have 16 TO’s, Kevin Love has 24 points, LeBron has a triple-double before the end of the 3rd quarter and it just kinda doesn’t matter”

    The level of imperfect-perfect basketball this Warriors team is capable of playing is simply absurd.

    You look out across the court at plays Durant is making and scream at your TV “Harrison Barnes doesn’t make that shot/pass/block/rebound” and realize while we’ve been here before; we’ve never been here before.

  • RGB

    Unless Harrison Barnes is walking through that door, this predicament is not even remotely similar.

  • Harv

    Won’t repeat my comments on the other thread but just this: the Cavs need a 48 minute, superlative defensive effort AND crisp offense to beat this team. Looks to me like the flip-of-the-defensive-switch takes such a conscious effort that it drains them. Does not feel like last year when Delly subbed in and immediately dragged somebody into a whining vendetta zone. A season of sloppy habits prevents this team from defaulting into a defensive lockdown. Part might be personnel, but part surely is 6 months of thinking it would magically be there when really needed.

    No, it might not have resulted in anything different than 0-2. But when they’re all mimicking Lebron’s palms-up Ref Whine they remove themselves from any shot at some 4th quarter magic. All must lock in on their respective covers like a Delly pit bull. That’s their shot at a respectable series, not hoping the Warriors will get cold or bored.

  • CBiscuit

    Yep, very different this year it seems:
    -Tristan Thompson has been hit with the poison of the Kardashian whores and has lost all ability to basketball.
    -Kyrie Irving is experiencing major shrinkage. He has apparently forgotten that he was big swinging last Finals.
    -The rest of the crew espec the bench (Derron Williams, Korver, Frye, etc) don’t amount to a pile of recyclable cans. I would be thrilled if one of them would hit a layup or something.

  • JNeids

    Re: the bench – it feels like D2 where Kerr is Wolf “the Dentist” Stansson. Anytime Lue sends out his Flying V, or Knuckle Puck, or Figure-Skater-Turned-Hockey-Player, Kerr knows exactly how to counter to render the gimmick ineffective.

  • chrisdottcomm

    June 5th, 2017 approximately 1:01PM EST, Harv goes “Delly comment”.

    Carry on.

  • Garry_Owen

    Down 0-2 against a team that has no flaws . . . we have them right where we want them.

  • Chris
  • JM85

    I would be happy to win one game and not lose at home. Not saying it’s over, but it’s not looking good.

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