The bad news is that the Cavaliers appear to be in deep trouble. The good news is that their coach Tyrann Lue must read my blog! Not only did he correct every mistake I detailed in my Game 1 Reactions, but they actually beat the Warriors in turnover ratio, steals, and points in the paint by significant margins. Bravo. Now the attention shifts to figuring out how in the hell they still lost by 19. Luckily, I believe I’ve got more answers. Let’s take a look at what happened in Game 2, and what needs to happen in a must-win Game 3 for Cleveland.
Don’t worry, LeBron James, it’s not your fault that the Cavs are stuck in this hole. After playing perhaps the most complete playoff performance of his career, James’ triple-double was still not good enough to rescue Cleveland. Kevin Love even stepped up for 27 to go along with Kyrie Irving’s 19. I mean, the team’s 113 points would’ve forced overtime on Thursday, but Golden State was just too hot to be stopped on Sunday.
Miraculously, despite surrendering 20 turnovers and only forcing 9, the Warriors still never relinquished the lead after the first 4:30 minutes into the game. That, despite beating the Cavs 12 to 0 in steals in Game 1 and losing 5 to 15 in Game 2. Even despite giving up 20 more points in the paint, the Warriors were able to find their range. Aha! Range. Our first hint into unraveling the mystery of what happened Sunday night…
While both teams’ field goal percentages went up in Game 2, the Cavs’ 45% was no match for the Warriors 51.7%. While one can’t help but let the Warriors take shot after shot, it’s Cleveland’s job to force contested, difficult jumpers rather than to let GSW step into their comfortable 3-point range. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry’s eight 3s matched those of the entire Cavalier roster. Add on 10 from the rest of GSW, and suddenly it makes sense when you see the overall point differential.
I know, I know. I just said before Game 2 that it was sooo important to protect the rim, and now I’m saying they need to guard the perimeter. But, that’s the problem with the Warriors. They just have so many ways to attack, and it’s nearly impossible to shut them down on every aspect of the game. However, the Cavs didn’t do either. Sure, they won points in the paint. But did you notice what happened off the glass? The Cavs +9 rebound differential plummeted to -14 in Game 2. So, on one hand they did a great job of forcing the outside shot, but on the other hand they were barely able to grab the misses off the boards. Besides turnovers, rebounds are the next great equalizer in basketball, and Golden State did an excellent job of fighting for every chance they could to take possession.
Hey, listen…all that said, this game was way more competitive than the final score. The Cavs never fell more than 10 points behind Golden State until about 4:00 left in the 3rd quarter. I said all they had to do was stay close, and they did just that until the Warriors were finally able to slam the door late in the 3rd and hold that lead in the 4th. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers are in a must-win situation for Game 3.
They’ve been here before, though. As I’ve mentioned before, in 2016 they lost the first two games on the road by 48 before winning by 30 at the Q. This year they only lost the first two games by 41, so I guess you could say they’re ahead of schedule. But it’s not 2016. The Cavs have a lot of work to do in front of their raucous fans this time around. So here are the keys to Game 3:
- Control scoring runs and momentum swings. The Cavs had a lot of great runs on Sunday, but it was always met with another from Golden State. It’s crucial, especially on their home floor, to keep momentum throughout the game.
- The Warriors are deep, maybe too deep. I talked about stepping up in my first two articles about the Finals, and Golden State’s bench is doing that. Ian Clark and Shaun Livingston have emerged as double-digit difference makers off the bench, while Cleveland is still getting very little production outside their “Big 3”. If the Cavaliers want to get back in the series, that needs to change.
- Put the past behind you. This goes for both teams, too. For the Warriors, forget letting the title slip away last year. If Cleveland gets a big lead and those thoughts creep in, it will be disastrous. The Cavs obviously just need to put Games 1 and 2 behind them and focus on the task at hand. If they want any hopes of winning back-to-back Finals, they must win Game 3 any way they possibly can.