The Warriors are off to a hot start in the fourth straight edition of the NBA Finals featuring Golden State and Cleveland with a couple of wins at home to put LeBron James in a 2-0 hole.
This is no surprise, considering the fact that the Cavaliers have never had a weaker roster in any of their matchups with the Warriors since 2014, despite the inevitable dominance of James.
What was surprising was how the Cavs had the Warriors on the ropes in game one on Thursday night. In fact, it appeared as if they would have a chance to win it at the buzzer when J.R. Smith came down with an offensive rebound on a missed free throw by George Hill. With the score tied at 107 and five ticks remaining, Smith did not go up strong and he did not give James a chance to be the hero. Instead, he thought his team led by one and casually dribbled the ball beyond the arc as time faded away in regulation.
Smith’s epic blunder will live in infamy among Cleveland sports fans if their Cavaliers go on to lose this series, which they will. That is not to say they would have ultimately prevailed in the series with the game one win, but it would make things a lot more interesting moving forward.
Instead of a statement win to start the series, Cleveland was outscored 17-7 in overtime and wasted LeBron’s monstrous 51-point showcase, his best performance yet in a career full of championship heroics. Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points while Kevin Durant added 26 and Klay Thompson 24 despite a trip to the locker room after a collision with J.R. Smith in the first half.
Many of LeBron’s loyalists will reference game one’s officiating as a major factor in the loss. As with most NBA officiating jobs, I thought it was a spotty performance at best from the zebras. But the one call I can specifically point to and strongly disagree with was a charge on Durant that was overturned and ruled a block against James in the final minute upon further review. It was a bang-bang play without a doubt, but the refs decided to go against the ruling on the court, which is extremely unusual for a play like that.
Still, do not feel bad for the Cavaliers, except LeBron James. Cleveland theoretically had two chances to win the game in the last five seconds. Even if you want to excuse Smith for an inexcusable play, there was still the overshadowed missed free throw from Hill before it. If he hits that free throw, Smith’s alternate universe where his team led by one point would have become a reality. There was, of course, a chance that Curry might drill a half court buzzer beater after to win the game anyway, but he also might have missed.
Curry went on to steal the show in game two with 33 points, including nine three pointers, en route to the team’s 122-103 victory. Kevin Durant added 26 points and was 10-14 from the field. All told, Golden State shot over 57 percent on the night.
Cleveland did all they could to play catchup throughout the majority of the game, but they could never seem to get within seven points in the second half. James dropped a cool 29 points but matched it with 13 assists and nine boards. Kevin Love posted over 20 points for the second straight game, but it was not enough to stop the Golden State onslaught in the second and fourth quarters.
At the start of the series, I said Love would have to carry his weight as the team’s clearcut number two talent if Cleveland wanted any shred of hope. So far, he has more than held up his end of the bargain. The Cavaliers simply need more assistance from a third party, but their limited roster is not exactly a beacon of support. If he has the power to do it, and if it is possible, Cavs Coach Ty Lou needs to get creative and find a more productive rotation outside of James and Love.
Down 2-0, James and the Cavaliers probably need to win both games three and four at home to carry any sort of momentum back to California. I can see them stealing one at home, but I will stick with my originally prediction of Golden State in five games. Game three tips off tonight in Cleveland at 8 p.m. Keep in mind, this is likely the last week we will get to see LeBron James in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform.