The Golden State Warriors rolled over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, cruising to a 132-113 win. Kevin Durant scored 33, Stephen Curry poured in 32, and the Cavaliers once again have found themselves with their backs against the wall in an NBA Finals against the Warriors. Last year, they fought back and stunned the world by winning the series. This year? Well, this year isn’t quite the same.
A bit of the debate after the Game 2 thrashing was whether or not LeBron deserved some of the criticism, or if the losses were entirely on his teammates. I’d put more of it on his teammates, in that I can’t imagine how much better James could possibly be against a defense as good as the Warriors, but it’s sort of missing the point – absolutely everything has to go perfectly for the Cavaliers for them to even hope to win a few games here and make this a series.
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There’s no margin for error. LeBron James has to be perfect AND the rest of the Cavaliers have to make their shots AND the team has to play its best defense of the season AND role players have to step up AND coach Ty Lue has to coach the series of his life for them to hang. These are the simple facts of the matter: On paper, the Warriors are better than the Cavaliers. They’re better on defense, they’re deeper, they’re more efficient offensively.
This was true last year, of course, and the Cavaliers stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit and overcame that to win the series.
Then the Warriors added Kevin Durant. Whatever margin of error was there before for the Cavaliers is now gone.
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The Warriors, on the other hand, have plenty of room for error. Talent allows that. It covers up the mistakes. Klay Thompson couldn’t shoot the ball in Game 1 – it didn’t matter. He played tough defense and Durant and Curry went off and the Warriors won easily. When you have four of the best 25 players in the league on your team, one of them can have an off night. It’s fine. Especially when you boast the best bench in the league, which the Warriors also have.
The Cavaliers don’t have that luxury. They can’t handle a night like that. There just isn’t enough. If Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love disappear in a Finals game, that’s it. Last night, Irving was oddly passive and shot just 34%, J.R. Smith scored zero points, and the Cavaliers got rolled. They don’t have enough to cover that up, not against the Warriors.
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So to blame James seems ridiculous. It’s not his fault that the Warriors are so deep and loaded that Klay Thompson can take most of Game 1 to find his shot, and the Warriors will not only tolerate him missing a bunch of shots, but still keep him in the game and win easily because they know they’ll be fine. He came out in Game 2 firing, made 4 of 7 from deep, and the Warriors were back humming at 100%.
It’s intimidating when you think of it that way: The Warriors were fine with their fourth-best player chucking up a ton of misses in Game 1 to find his stroke, because they knew they’d be fine anyway and they’re a better team when he’s shooting well. They did this in the NBA Finals against a team with LeBron James on it. That’s preposterous.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, can’t mess around with such things. They just have to be perfect. All of them. LeBron needs to have the series of his life, as does Irving, as does Love, right on down the line. If Iman Shumpert comes into the starting 5, as he’s expected to, he won’t just be fine playing perfect defense (which he does need to do), but he’ll also need to make his open shots. Tristan Thompson can’t lose focus. Irving needs to make everything. As does Love. If you’re trying to beat a team as stacked as the Warriors, you can’t muck around. You can’t take a quarter to find your rhythm – it’s already too late.
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The Cavaliers have that greatness in them. They showed us last season they can raise their games. James is a singular player, and they’ll be better at home. I think they’ll raise their game when this series resumes in Cleveland, and steal a game or two from the Warriors.
But this Warriors team is different. The Cavaliers know it, and they know if they’ll have any shot, it’ll be from playing perfectly, all of them, for four games. That’s a lot to ask.