OAKLAND, Calif. — The Cavaliers saw firsthand in last year’s NBA Finals that the Warriors’ success — for all of its intricacies and complications — is at its root a simple math truth: Three is greater than two.
The Cavs then saw the simple truth play out twice more in the regular season.
Then again in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
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And again in Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday.
The Cavaliers have been taught the simple truth seven times now — all Warriors wins — and yet they have not come to the understanding that they cannot take 2s and expect to beat 3s.
And because the lesson has not been learned, another simple truth has come forward: The Cavaliers cannot win these NBA Finals.
Frankly, they’d be lucky to win a game.
The Warriors have now won seven consecutive games against the Cavs — three straight to claim last season’s title, twice in the 2015-16 regular season, and now twice in these NBA Finals — and in each effort, the Cavs have found themselves further and further from victory.
Nothing about these Warriors’ wins has been flukey. This is what they do. They are prolific and ruthless — a juggernaut of the highest order.
If anything, the Warriors have given the Cavs opportunities in the first two games of the series: In Game 1, the Splash Brothers combined to shoot 30 percent from the floor and the Warriors only made nine 3-pointers total. In Game 2, Golden State turned the ball over 20 times.
Those were windows — the cracks might have been small, but there was a gap there, and the Cavs couldn’t take advantage of it. The simple truth loomed too large.
The Warriors made 15 3-pointers while the Cavs made 5 on Sunday, a difference of 30 points in a 33-point Warriors win — the seventh-largest margin of victory in NBA Finals history.
The Cavs came into Sunday’s game saying they were going to shoot more 3-pointers, that they were going to go back to playing the style that pushed them through the Eastern Conference Playoffs with ease.
It was going to be hard — coach Tyronn Lue was clearly fond of telling reporters over the two-day gap between Games 1 and 2 that it’s nearly impossible to create ball movement against the Warriors’ defense, which switches assignments at all five positions — but the Cavs had to try, it was the only path to victory.
Instead, the Cavs shot two more 3-pointers in Game 2 compared to Game 1. They made two fewer. Overall, Cleveland is 12-of-44 from beyond the arc in this series, while J.R. Smith, the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter, has made only two shots from distance in the Finals and is shooting a 3-pointer once every 10 minutes he’s on the court. The Warriors are smothering him, and he’s not a dynamic enough player to create his own shot — at least not an effective one.
How do the Cavs win a game in this series? It certainly appears that it’s going to take some impressive changes and adjustments to do so — the kind of changes that look beyond Lue, who inexplicably blamed not getting to 50-50 balls and not making the "tougher plays" as the reasons behind his team’s blowout loss Sunday.
Not being beaten in every single aspect of the game, as LeBron James said in his postgame press conference — 50-50 balls.
The Cavaliers are in the deepest 2-0 hole in NBA Finals history — the Warriors’ 48-point differential is the largest ever through two games — and it has almost nothing to do with 50-50 balls.
It has to do with the Warriors’ elite defense. It has to do with the Warriors’ bench being worthy of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It has to do with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love being underachieving one-way players in a series that demands two-way play against a team that has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’ll exploit weak defenders with cruel efficiency. It has to do with the Cavs needing J.R. Smith to be a consistent offensive producer on a nightly basis if they plan on winning. It has to do with the Cavs daring Draymond Green to beat them and then him doing just that. It has to do with Cleveland changing its offensive system and defensive ideology on the fly against perhaps the greatest team of all-time.
It has to do with the simple truth that 3 is greater than 2.
The Cavs clearly haven’t learned that lesson yet, and unless a truly unpredictable turnaround is looming, it’s too late for them to do anything about it.