Humbly Submitted By: Scout Troy
Stagnant offense, matador D and halfhearted work on the boards were the hallmarks of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ nineteen point game two loss. The score doesn’t reflect the apparent disparity between the most recent iteration of these two teams The gap between the Cavs and Warriors is a growing chasm as two teams head in opposite directions. In every way, the Golden State Warriors are the shimmering foil of laboring LeBron and Company. While the Warriors are smooth, selfless, scrappy and successfully adjusting to life without Andre Iguodala, their counterpart coughs and sputters as a lone juggernaut attempts to drag an increasingly-heavy band of misfits on his shoulders. The Cavs have been admirable and perhaps a bit fortuitous to make it this far, but game two sent an obvious message: this is the end of the line.
Game one certainly offered hope that this series could become competitive after the Cavs nearly stole a win in regulation. We all know how the last seconds of regulation and the ensuing overtime broke down (JR gonna be JR), but stealing a win is often the boost a team needs to renew their edge. The Warriors poured in 17 points in five minutes of overtime and swung in on the same gust of momentum that lasted, at least, for 48 minutes Sunday night. Sunday sent a message that the Dubs are now fully awake and operating with the lion’s share of their arsenal. Iggy aside, this roster is still not hurting for talent or experience. Their counterpart sputtered mightily, playing from behind from the first tip and never truly challenged the outcome. This scout wonders if George Hill heading to the free throw line in game one may very well linger as the height of hope for Cavs fans.
Game two was close on the scoreboard but never really competitive based on the eye test (a test I’ve proctored many times). The Warriors, whose only real knock may be that they were a bit trigger shy in the first half, always seemed on the verge of burying the Cavs. Steph Curry tipped back a Mack truck full of dirt in the fourth quarter and set an NBA Finals record with nine made threes on the night.
Watching Steph pop trey after trey was pure poetry, and I’m not even a Chef Curry guy. His arcs were so impossibly spectacular, it felt like any ball out of his hands was only meant to feel the net. Every time he bombs a triple, I let go of a little tension in my shoulders. He makes basketball seem so silky, so easy. A pickup game at the gym always reminds me that this is not the case- everyone other than me usually sucks.
And it wasn’t even like Steph carried the team on his back. He lead all scorers with 33 points, but Kevin Durant was close behind with 26, and a supposedly-hobbled Klay Thompson dropped 20 and played 34 minutes. If injured Klay can still create his own shot like that, he’s downright clinical for considering a massive pay cut this off-season. Go and get yours, even if you have to leave the best franchise in the league and your face looks like it was used as a model for Easter Island. Draymond mostly operated in the background per usual and slithered his way to boards that the Cavs bigs should have already stamped as their property at higher altitude. JaVale McGee was his usual visage of perfection with an impeccable 6-6 shooting from the field.
The Cavs played like they were mailing this one in from the start. The lane to their basket was a runway for 48 minutes. They got mashed got mashed on lob slams, easy put backs and open finishes in the first two quarters before the Warriors decided to take the party outside and rain down a barrage of money balls from deep. The Cavs were almost willingly creating mismatches and often rotated guards into the post and bigs out to the perimeter, errors the Dubs sniffed out almost every time. LeBron dropped a 29/9/13 line that would have been even prettier if the game had been relevant in the fourth quarter. He still rocked the damn place, though I’d say it was a shade less than elite by lofty Playoff LeBron standards. On a regular finals contender, those numbers would have been good enough to minimally stay competitive from start to finish. The ’17-18 Cavs, who still often stand around like they don’t want the ball back once it enters the safety James’ hands, will need every bit of excellence they can get from number 23. LeBron, I know you’re not on social media right now, so I’ll print out this article and send you a letter. Or maybe an Instagram DM.
Kevin Love ended with a 22/10 double-double and helped space the floor, but was unable to truly affect the game on either end and was always a half step late when trying to contain the Splash Brothers, a task that he faced often. Everyone else on the roster was a detractor, minus maybe George Hill. JR Smith limped to five points on 2-9 shooting in his much-hyped “redemption game”. Jordan Clarkson is a shot jacker without a shot. Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance are one trick ponies that can’t function outside of ten feet from the rim. Kyle Korver is a complete liability on defense and hasn’t been hitting his shots lately, either. We all knew Jeff Green wasn’t going to break out after nine years. These are dire times for the Cavs. Should LeBron decide to leave for a second time, an option that is morphing into a necessity if he wants to truly compete for titles in his twilight years, this roster’s talent would rank firmly in the bottom third of the association.
I’m shooting my shot and shooting it early on this one, but at least my take has a chance at landing. The Cavs have no chance at splashing the 50 foot prayer that is winning four of their next five games. It’s rare that a series can truly be declared done by the end of the second game, particularly when the trailing team is heading home. Still, there comes a time when you look reality square in the eye and realize LeBron and an Island of Misfit Toys can’t even begin to counter the best 1-4 talent in NBA history.
Here’s my obligatory Zach Lowe devil’s advocate section. Sure, LeBron is still the best player on the floor. Homecourt advantage matters, there are players in Cleveland like JR and Jordan Clarkson whose talents sometimes produce a fluky star-caliber night every now and again. Maybe the artist formerly known as Rodney Hood can be revived and provide a spark. But, realistically, there are precious few shifting pieces in this series, no magical adjustments that will stop the bleeding. If anything, the Warriors are more likely to strengthen as the series progresses if Iguodala can return and Thompson fully heals. After a glimmer of hope in game one, the second contest was reassurance that these two squads operate in different stratospheres.