An NBA series isn’t a series until one team loses on its home court.
So welcome to the NBA Finals.
This series was supposed to be over the instant Kyrie Irving went down with a fractured kneecap in Game 1. There was no way Cleveland could compete against Golden State minus the All-NBA point guard, the Cavaliers’ second-best player who had an incredible performance in the opener. Already underdogs with Irving, the Cavs faced the distinct possibility of being swept without him.
Even the great LeBron James wouldn’t be enough to carry an undermanned squad past the Warriors, who including the postseason were 47-3 at Oracle Arena entering Game 2. You almost pitied the Cavs; they didn’t have a fighting chance with Irving and Kevin Love – the team’s third-best player – unavailable for action.
But, sometimes, having the game’s best player is enough. He infuses teammates with confidence. They use splashes from his preternatural powers to water their limited skill sets and watch them grow.
James played 50 minutes in the 53-minute contest and failed to hit the game-winner at the end of regulation – again – but he put his team in position to win and they gutted it out, taking the lead for good on a pair of free throws from backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova who grabbed an offensive rebound with 10.1 seconds left in overtime.
“It’s the grit squad that we have,” James said in a postgame news conference after posting a 39-16-11 triple double. “It’s not cute at all. If you’re looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, then that’s not us right now. Everything is tough. We’re going to come in with an aggressive mindset defensively and offensively.”
Cleveland has stolen homecourt advantage but not Stephen Curry’s confidence. The NBA MVP had a dreadful game, missing 13 of 15 attempts from 3-point territory and 18 of 23 shots overall. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson was cooking Dellavedova early and finished with 34 points, but Curry never ignited after the pesky Aussie was switched to him.
Curry offered faint praise to Delly for “playing defense like every pro is supposed to” but otherwise wrote off the game as an aberration. “I doubt this will happen again, with the adjustments I’ll make once I look at the film,” Curry told reporters afterward. “One game is not going to make me stop shooting or alter my confidence at all.”
One thing that has changed after Game 2 is the perception that James gets all the foul calls.
Golden State’s Andre Iguodala whacked James hard on the arm, nowhere near the ball’s vicinity, with about about 96 seconds left in overtime. No call – other than a shot clock violation. James also was fouled at the end of regulation – though it’s much harder to draw a whistle at that point – and a little earlier, when his shoulder was grabbed by Draymond Green on a jump ball.
Yes, James traveled on the Igudala hack and, yes, he often gets an extra step or phantom calls from the officials. But he’s also one of the NBA ‘s most-difficult players to officiate because of his size and strength and the Warriors used their homecourt to dish out as much as they took.
It didn’t matter in the end because Cleveland got the win. However, it’s never a good thing when egregious, potentially game- and series-changing calls are missed. The Warriors benefitted on Sunday night but it will be the Cavaliers’ turn Tuesday night.
Adding the refs to Cleveland’s side might help even the series going forward, because it’s hard to imagine the short-handed Cavs keeping this up against their deeper opponent. Winning Game 2 without Irving was a surprise to most observers, but the same won’t be true if Golden State wins the series in five games.
“All we can do is go out and play hard,” James said. “I mean, we’re without two All‑Stars and I don’t know any other team in this league that would be able to do that, to be able to be without two All‑Stars on their team and compete the way we compete and be a force. …
“The one thing we can’t allow is what everyone is saying about us affect what we need to do out on the floor,” he said. “Because that’s just smoke and mirrors of what everybody else says about us or what they think is going to happen with the series. What truly matters is what we have as a game plan and how we go out and execute it. That’s all that matters.”
Nothing matters until a team loses at home.
Now this series is on.