We tend to put more weight on blowouts than nail-biters, even though both look the same in the win column. In best-of-seven series, the only thing that matters is the first team with four Ws, not the margin of victory in given contests.
Consider how wrong everyone was after Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, when San Antonio routed Oklahoma City, 124-92. The Spurs were presumably too much for OKC, but the Thunder won four of the next five games to advance.
The hazards of over-emphasizing lopsided results were even clearer in the Western Conference finals. Golden State whipped the Thunder by 27 points in Game 2 but was stomped in the next two games, by 28 and 24 points respectively. OKC was deemed the superior team based on those thrashings, but was sent home after three consecutive close losses.
Golden State has easily outclassed Cleveland through two games of the NBA Finals, winning by 15 points in the opener and 33 points on Sunday. The Warriors have done so without big splashes from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, leaning instead on reserves such as Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa.
Those results have led some to conclude that the series is over as it heads to Cleveland for the next couple of games. The only question appears to be whether Game 5 will be necessary, but the Warriors know better than to ask.
“It’s a trap to think that we’ve figured things out and that we have the perfect formula to beat Cleveland and they have no chance in the series,” Curry said after the 110-77 beatdown on Sunday. “That’s probably going to be the chatter the next 48 hours, but we have to stay in our own little bubble and worry about what we’re doing and how we’re going to go out and win Game 3.
“We’ve been on the other side where people may have thought we didn’t have a chance to come back in the series, and now we have a good handle on it. So we know how quickly it can go away if you don’t come out and play the way you’re supposed to and keep the focus and the edge that we’ve played with these first two games. So Game 3 will be fun.”
Not so much if Cleveland holds serve to defend its home court. The Cavaliers have to win at least once in Oracle Arena, but a victory in the first two attempts wasn’t mandatory. LeBron James has been in this position before with the Cavaliers.
Granted, he wasn’t facing a legendary, 73-win team trying to win its second consecutive title.
The Detroit Pistons won their first two games at home in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. They exited the court as losers in the next four games as Cleveland advanced to the championship round for the first time in franchise history.
Detroit eked out victories with identical scores – 79-76 – in the first two games, nothing as emphatic as Golden State’s blowouts. But the fact remains that losing the first two on the road can be overcome.
“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James said. “We’re still here and we have a chance to turn this series around if we come in and do what we need to do both offensively and defensively. So I’m not worried about what the conversations may be about. Internally we have to figure out how we can be better.”
With seven consecutive losses against the Warriors dating to last year’s Finals, the Cavs simply might be a bad match-up. But at least there’s a precedent for what they’re trying to accomplish.
Before James took his talents to South Beach, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat won the 2006 title despite losing the first two games on the road against Dallas. This was back in the 2-3-2 format. By the time the series returned to Texas, the Mavericks trailed 3-2 and they failed to force a Game 7.
The 1977 Trailblazers and the 1969 Celtics also pulled off the feat. Portland didn’t lose again after dropping the opening games in Philadelphia, while Boston pushed the Los Angeles Lakers and became the first team in NBA Finals history to win a Game 7 on the road.
So despite the uneven scores, Golden State has accomplished just the bare minimum thus far. At least that’s what Cleveland must tell itself.
“They did what they were supposed to,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “They came out and they played well their first two games at home and we expected them to play well. So now we’ve got to go home and play well as well.”
Miami, Portland and Boston overcame. Then again, 28 other teams in Cleveland’s position went on to lose the Finals.
Forget about perhaps tying the series or even eventually winning it. At this point, a competitive game would suffice – if not a win merely to avoid the sweep.
That might be the only drama left.