NBA Finals – Game 2
No. 2 Cleveland at No. 1 Golden State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
Complaints over the NBA playoffs not being competitive got no reprieve on Thursday. The opening quarter of Finals Game 1 was riveting, but Golden State covered as a first-half favorite and then put a 1-0 series lead in its pocket with a 33-20 third-quarter edge fueled by a 13-0 start after action tipped for the break.
Both teams threw down spectacular dunks and dished out deft passes. Only one turned the ball over and failed to consistently play lockdown defense, forfeiting any chance of keeping things interesting.
The Warriors beat the Cavs 113-91 and were never seriously challenged after Kevin Durant ended a run that had cut their lead to 80-68 with under three minutes left in the third by draining a jumper that restored order.
Trust that the stretch of basketball the Cavs focus most on in preparation for Game 2 will be those three minutes where they went on an 8-2 run to threaten to make it a game again. Richard Jefferson was in there and created opportunities. Kevin Love mixed it up and battled on the offensive boards to generate second chances. Things slowed down some and Stephen Curry threw the ball away twice, making half of the four miscues the Warriors committed in tying an NBA Finals record for fewest turnovers.
Love was essentially the center looking to defend Zaza Pachulia in a group that had LeBron James and Jefferson at the forwards and Irving and J.R. Smith at the guards. While you’ll likely see that group take the floor at some point, keep in mind Draymond Green wasn’t in the game for that stretch.
One of the most impressive things about Game 1 for Golden State was that it was able to survive the periods where the Defensive Player of the Year candidate who doubles as its emotional leader was off the floor due to foul trouble. Green ended up a plus-12, while the player who best helped atone for his absences, Andre Iguodala, ended up a plus-14. Both make James work for every inch whenever they’re out there, often bottling Cleveland up.
James’ pick-and-rolls and perhaps more of those involving Kyrie Irving will likely be the Cavs’ weapon of choice in Game 2, but Golden State simply doesn’t allow for a halfcourt game due to the pace of its offense. The Warriors are going to scoot, which means the Cavs will have to either get stops to disrupt their rhythm or get into their own sets faster in an effort to hang with the pace.
Jefferson can serve as the primary defender on Durant, taking some of the burden off James, but that seems like a temporary fix. At this point, those who went in on Durant as Finals MVP (2/1) are sitting pretty as the clubhouse leaders since it doesn’t appear like the Cavs have a decent answer for him.
Constant double-teams will create wide-open opportunities, but Cleveland may indeed have to sell out defensively and force Klay Thompson, Green and Iguodala to beat them from the perimeter with those clean looks. That group went 2-for-11 in Game 1, highlighted by Iggy’s make on his lone attempt to close out the first quarter.
Durant set the tone by not settling for jumpers and attacking every time there was even the hint of a window. He used the respect for his shot to buy attention and used his pump fake to immediately dash towards the bucket with his wide strides. He scored 38 and shot 3-for-6 from 3-point range, while Stephen Curry added 28 points and 10 assists while making 6-for-11 from beyond the arc.
It should definitely be disconcerting that Thompson and Green combined to shoot 1-for-10 and the Warriors still won by 22. Ian Clark came off the bench and missed all three great opportunities. Golden State shot 12-for-33 (36.4 percent), which is a clip that the Cavs would live with in every game of the series, yet the aggressiveness with which Durant and others attacked the rim, selflessly passing it when drawing defenders carved up their interior defense.
Although they only had him for one possession this season, the Cavs missed ex-Warrior Andrew Bogut, who they signed once he accepted a buyout. Bogut was injured immediately and no Plan B featuring the likes of Larry Sanders and Edy Tavares. Channing Frye didn’t even get off the bench.
The Warriors dished out 31 assists and forced 20 turnovers while holding Cleveland to 35 percent. Defensively, it’s not likely they’ll have a better game. Durant’s six dunks were a career-high.
It will be interesting to see what side bettors line up on since the Cavs are likely to get a better effort from the likes of Tristan Thompson, whose excellent postseason show met with turmoil in a scoreless performance over 22-plus minutes where he managed just three rebounds and was neutralized. There’s also the angle that James is well-versed in rebounding from early deficits.
“LeBron has struggled to win NBA Finals openers in his career, falling to 1-7 following the blowout loss in Game 1,” said VegasInsider.com NBA expert Kevin Rogers. “However, his teams have found a way to rebound in Game 2’s of the NBA Finals by winning four of the past five. Granted, the only loss came in last year’s Finals to Golden State, but that was an anomaly as James’ teams are 3-1 on the road in his last four Game 2’s in the NBA Finals, including an overtime win at Golden State in 2015.”
The Warriors won Game 2 last year 110-77 despite Cleveland succeeding in slowing down tempo, winning the first 12 minutes 21-19. The Cavs were held to 33 points after halftime that night and come off an opener where they managed to score just 39 after the break. The total, as a result, was never threatened.
Despite a high-scoring first quarter that saw a combined 65 points posted, the game turned very sloppy and wound up easily going ‘under’ the closing number of 225.
For Game 2, oddsmakers sent out an opener of 222 ½ and that number is now listed as low as 220 ½ at a few betting shops.
Including the result from Game 1, the ‘under’ has gone 7-5-1 in the last 13 postseason meetings between these teams.