After a 33-point defeat (yes I swear that’s the right number) in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers are returning home with their tail between their legs.
The dominance in the first three rounds, the success of their new lineups, the three-point shooting barrages, they all seem years ago. They’ve been thoroughly and resoundingly beaten in two straight games in Golden State. But it’s time to buck up. Because all indications are that this series will be done without a return trip to Oakland necessary. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Cleveland’s Big Three need to play like one. Kevin Love has been posting up somewhat efficiently and rebounding, averaging nearly 14 and 10 per 36 minutes. (He also has the best plus-minus of the big three at…-10. Yikes.) But you won’t win a series against the Warriors with Kevin Love postups, and a probable concussion makes his return to this series doubtful, anyway.
This could be used as another excuse, that the Cavaliers still didn’t have their full team to compete against Golden State. Nonsense. They had a game and a half to prove this year is different. They didn’t.
Kyrie Irving. Where is he? You either forget he’s on the court or he’s missing a shot off an ill-advised isolation play. He’s shooting 33 percent overall and 14 percent on threes.
Then there’s his turnstile impression on the defensive end. That’s not production befitting one-third of a big three.
This leaves LeBron James to do pretty much everything else. I know it’s unreasonable to ask, but he needs to do that better. It may have been even easier in last year’s Finals, when he could do everything unimpeded instead of getting interrupted by his most important teammates playing poorly. If you can’t have the ball at all times, it’s impossible to do everything yourself.
So what happens if they’re swept out? What if it’s Warriors in 5? Hell, even 6?
LeBron needs teammates he can count on. He also needs to win the next two games in Cleveland, desperately. Two wins can change the perception of a series entirely, the Cavs saw it themselves against Toronto.
But he can’t do the latter without the former. He also can’t stand to be teammates with anyone who won’t help him win. It’s what drove him out of Cleveland the first time. Having the prospect of a newer, younger Big Three made the gamble of a return to the Cavaliers a reality. That prospect has turned out to be fool’s gold.
I can’t say the team should be broken up if the series continues down this path. They’ve easily made the Finals two straight years, for goodness sakes. I can say that history indicates that LeBron James will want a change. And seeing how he is the team’s MVP, coach and general manager, he can make it happen. (There’s also the other thing that can happen, which is LeBron getting the hell out of town again. I won’t get into that, though.)
More than likely, this home stand is the iteration’s last stand, to prove they’re real championship contenders. Will it be more like Custer’s Last Stand, a slaughter in a battle where they never had a chance? Or the Battle of Britain, holding out and doing just enough to stem the siege and turn the tide?
They probably need a healthy Kevin Love, and definitely need a somewhat productive and efficient Kyrie Irving. Without that, the role players can’t thrive and LeBron is left with an impossible task. At this point, all that coming together for two straight wins seems ludicrous. But so was holding off Nazi Germany alone on an island.
The Cavaliers as we know them are at stake. They’re not going to stop fighting.