While there was no visible hangover from their disheartening Game 1 overtime loss, the Cavaliers failed to keep up with the Warriors on Sunday night in losing 122-103. LeBron James had another all-around excellent effort as he finished one rebound shy of a triple-double with 29 points and 13 assists, but he got little help beyond Kevin Love and George Hill.
Love had 22 points and ten rebounds for his second double-double of the finals and Hill chipped in 15 points, but the 3-point shooters Cleveland have been counting on to make a difference in this series, or at this point at least keep it competitive, failed to deliver. J. R. Smith, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver were a combined one of seven from deep as the Cavaliers finished with as many made 3-pointers (nine) as Stephen Curry did.
Cleveland finished sixth in the regular season in 3-point shooting percentage (37.2), but that outside touch has deserted them of late. The Cavaliers are connecting at just 30.2 percent over their last six contests and have failed to make more than ten in any of those contests. Unsurprisingly, James has excelled in this area too, hitting 15 of 36 (41.7 percent) of his 3-point shots while his teammates have made 39 of 143 (27.3 percent).
Still, being down 2-0 is far from a death knell to James and the Cavaliers, who overturned that deficit in the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics. And the Warriors are all too aware of another such occasion James rallied his team from a 2-0 deficit, doing so in the 2016 NBA Finals as Cleveland also dug themselves out of a 3-1 hole by winning the series in seven games.
The Cavaliers also have won eight straight playoff games at Quicken Loans Arena after being dealt a loss by Indiana in Game 1 of their first-round series. They have averaged 109.0 points on 39.1 percent shooting from 3-point range while holding opponents to 97.0 points per game and 33.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc in that winning streak.
While the 33 points were two off Curry’s high this postseason, the nine 3-pointers set an NBA Finals record. Golden State’s offense, even without facilitator Andre Iguodala, fired on all cylinders as they shot a postseason-high 57.3 percent overall. Kevin Durant chipped in 26 points while making ten of 14 shots, and the Warriors got stellar production from their role players as JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston combined for 22 points while hitting all 11 of their shots.
Steve Kerr’s team has shot 54.1 percent in the first two games of this series and have racked up 59 assists to only 20 turnovers, with Curry, Durant and Draymond Green accounting for 46 of those assists. The Warriors are 7-0 when shooting 50 percent or better this postseason and 12-0 when recording 25 or more assists.
While Iguodala is closer to returning after missing the last six games with a lateral leg contusion suffered in a collision with James Harden in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, there has been no definitive status on his availability offered. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP was able to work out pain-free on his own Saturday and reportedly sprinted for the first time since suffering the injury.
The series will remain in Cleveland for Game 4 on Friday, with those games the only contests with one day of rest between them.
Five keys to the game
Role players playing their roles for Warriors - While it was a matter of time before Curry had one of "those" games in which he hit virtually every type of shot he attempted from 3-point range, both Livingston and McGee have left large imprints on this series in their limited minutes.
McGee, who started Sunday for the first time since Game 3 of the conference semifinal series versus New Orleans, had 12 points in 18 minutes. It was his most playing time since logging 19 minutes in Game 2 of the first round against San Antonio, and it also showed Kerr will reward players who deliver like McGee did in Game 1 of this series with his play on both ends of the court in the third quarter to spark Golden State.
Livingston has quietly done an excellent job as a rover off the bench, spelling Thompson and Curry while also giving Kerr the flexibility to go smaller when he replaces Kevon Looney. Livingston has made all nine of his shots from the field in the first two games while totaling 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists with just one turnover in 33 minutes.
"This is his fourth Finals, and he just looks comfortable out there," Kerr said after Sunday's win. "He's been great. He's been rock solid at both ends, and he's just, you know, taking what's there for him. I thought just the scoring that he gave us off the bench and the defensive toughness and rebounding and everything, he's a guy who gets it. He understands how to play."
James' milestones on hold - Being "held" to 29 points in Sunday's loss meant James missed becoming the all-time leader in 30-point playoff games as he remains tied with Michael Jordan at 109. He also remains level with Jerry West for most 40-point games in a single postseason with eight, with West establishing the mark in 1965. James, though, did record his 111th double-double in the postseason and is third on the all-time list behind Tim Duncan (164) and Shaquille O'Neal (142).
Which way will history repeat itself? - This is the third straight year the Warriors have grabbed a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals. Cleveland came back and won in seven games in 2016, Golden State finished them off in five last year. While James and the Cavaliers became just the 20th team in history to dig out of an 0-2 hole in the previous round, he also offered a terse "no" when asked if there is anything he can take from the previous two years and apply to Game 3 on Wednesday night.
Curry's historic barrage - In addition to setting a single-game NBA Finals record, the nine 3-pointers Curry made also moved him one ahead of James into second place on the all-time postseason list with 370. Curry is now 15 behind Ray Allen for the all-time mark, but perhaps more amazingly, he has gotten within striking distance of the record while playing just 88 postseason games compared to Allen's 171.
Your statistical reminder that LeBron James is REALLY good at playoff basketball - James has recorded five of his seven 40-point games this postseason during Cleveland's eight-game home winning streak. He has averaged preposterous 39.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists in those victories while shooting an equally absurd 60.2 percent from the field.
James has recorded five of his seven 40-point games this postseason at Quicken Loans Arena, averaging a preposterous 39.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists during the winning streak while shooting an equally absurd 60.2 percent and has made 51.5 percent or better of his shots in all eight wins.
In terms of overall playoff numbers, James is 35 shots shy of becoming the first player to attempt 5,000 and is four blocks shy of tying Pau Gasol (233) for 14th on the all-time list.
Matchup to watch
Draymond Green vs LeBron James - This is how you know the Warriors want to put a death grip on this series; they're sending out their best defender to slow down James. After watching Durant get pick-and-rolled to death and him switching that left Curry in isolation defending James, Kerr rotated his matchups to make Green the primary defender.
The switch worked, not just because James had "only" 29 points, but also because he took only 20 shots compared to the 32 in Game 1. Golden State did a slightly better job keeping James out of the paint as he went eight of 14 on such attempts after going 12 of 18 on Thursday night.
"He's everywhere," Curry said about Green after Game 2. "He's a Defensive Player of the Year for a reason. He loves those challenges. Loves being in the fight every possession. He just finds ways not only if it's a one-on-one match-up to get a stop and plug holes on the defense all over the court.
"He just continually does it over and over again at a high level, making strong defensive plays to help us get stops and be the defensive team that we've been these last three, four years and in this playoff run. That's why the numbers look so good and why we do what we do."
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - JaVale McGee | SF - Kevin Durant | PF - Draymond Green
Cleveland Cavaliers projected starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - J. R. Smith | C - Tristan Thompson | SF - LeBron James | PF - Kevin Love
Curry has not hit five or more 3-pointers in six of the last seven games, connecting at a 43.3 percent clip (39 for 90) in that stretch while averaging 29.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists. In the eight previous NBA Finals games he has played at Cleveland, Curry has averaged 25.1 points and 5.9 assists while shooting better from 3-point range (44.0 percent) than overall (43.2).
Durant has scored at least 22 points in all 19 postseason games for the Warriors and netted 26 or more in all seven NBA Finals games versus Cleveland. He is averaging 32.6 points on 54.2 percent shooting in those contests to go with 8.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists per contest.
James has shot 50 percent or better in eight straight playoff games, scoring 37.5 points per contest while also averaging 9.1 rebounds and 8.9 assists. He is also shooting 46.0 percent from beyond the arc (23 for 50) in that run and 55 percent overall.
Love has had five games of at least 20 points and ten rebounds this postseason while totaling seven double-doubles. His 3-point shooting, though, has not come around in the finals as he's hit just four of 16 in the opening two games. Love has averaged 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds against the Warriors over the last three NBA Finals but is shooting only 31.8 percent from deep in those 13 games.
The Warriors are 4.5-point favorites, with the line moving one-half point in Cleveland's favor since it opened. Sunday's Game 2 victory marked the seventh time in the last ten games between the teams Golden State have covered. It was also, however, the first time in five games they covered against an Eastern Conference opponent and the first time in six games they covered versus a Central Division team.
Golden State are also 7-18 versus the number in their last 25 games coming off a straight up victory and 8-22-1 in their last 31 after beating the spread in their previous contest.
Cleveland have covered in their last four home games, their last four home games against teams with an above-.500 road record and in their last five at Quicken Loans Arena when facing opponents with a road winning percentage above .600.
The Cavaliers, though, are just 5-15 against the number in their last 20 games versus Pacific Division teams and 13-39-2 in their last 54 games following a straight up loss by a double-digit margin. Cleveland are also 2-10 against the spread in their last 12 games coming off two days of rest.
The over/under is 217 points, one-half point down from its open. Sunday's game marked the sixth straight time the over has hit between these teams in the NBA Finals, and the over is 6-2 in the last eight overall meetings between the teams. The over has hit in Golden State's last four against Central Division teams and 6-2 in the last eight against above-.500 teams.
The under, however, is 6-1 in Golden State's last seven road games and in their last seven road games against teams with a winning home record. The under also has an 11-5 record in Cleveland's last 16 games at Quicken Loans Arena against teams with above-.500 road records.
Golden State may be halfway there, but right now it's the Cleveland Cavaliers who appear to be living on a prayer.
Full apologies to Bon Jovi aside, this series may have come and went for the Cavaliers when J. R. Smith dribbled away from the basket in the waning seconds of regulation in Game 1. There were very few points Sunday night where Golden State did not have the look of a team in total control of the action.
Maybe things are different if Curry does not answer James' 3-pointer with one of his own in the first minute of the fourth quarter to restore Golden State's ten-point lead, but the Warriors are not only making astute adjustments on the fly defensively, they are playing the selfless basketball offensively that has been a hallmark of this four-year reign of excellence (or terror depending on your rooting interests).
For all of James' offensive transcendence, the Cavaliers simply cannot win allowing Golden State to shoot north of 50 percent, especially if they cannot force at least 15 turnovers. Cleveland can try to slow the tempo all they want, but considering they have scored fewer points off turnovers in the two games combined (27) than Golden State had fast-break points in Game 1 (28), something has to change on the defensive end for Cleveland.
Part of it is trying to avoid screens where Love ends up guarding Curry because that is a no-win situation above and below the 3-point line. Curry already showed he can light him up from beyond the arc, and there were enough occasions Sunday where McGee had an uncontested roll to the basket for a layup or dunk.
The problem with this is Cleveland are not good enough defensively to not switch, and Golden State's offensive sets do not include screening James in those instances where he is the one switching. The Warriors are finding enough creases all over the court that there is no one set place everyone is running to for a shot. Their movement without the ball borders on watching a symphony.
The other truth for Cleveland is someone after Love in the supporting cast has to help James. George Hill has been hit or miss the entire postseason and has yet to record consecutive games with 15 or more points.
Golden State have thoroughly scouted Korver and his running through screens to the point he is a non-factor and a defensive liability. Jeff Green has not replicated his aggressiveness from Games 6 and 7 against Boston and totaled 13 points in the first two games of the series. And Smith has been Smith, unafraid to shoot, but also not very effective.
All of this leaves the Cavaliers against the wall coming into Game 3. Yes, they are at home, and yes they will play better and yes they will be spurred on by their fans, but what happens after that initial burst of adrenaline fades? That will be the question Cleveland must answer in this contest.
Right now, everything about this series points to a sweep, whether it be four games or a gentleman's sweep in which it goes back to Oracle Arena for a post-game celebration after Game 5. The Warriors will have to work for this one, but they will show the requisite grind and effort to scrape out a 116-112 victory and move within one victory of their third title in four years.
The game will be televised nationally on ABC and nationally in Canada on TSNN. Tip-off time is 9 pm EDT.
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