There would be no Game 2 redemption for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers this time. James’s streak of winning nine straight Game 2s following a loss was emphatically snapped as the Warriors seized control of the 2016 NBA finals, snatching victory on Sunday night by a healthy 110-77 margin.
James hasn’t been in this situation in the finals since 2007, a series he would likely prefer to forget. That Cavs team went on to get swept by the San Antonio Spurs. That outcome, however unlikely sounding when the finals began, is starting to feel like a distinct possibility. Cleveland had no answer for the Warriors’ electric offense. They went small and they went big. They threw Channing Frye, Timofey Mozgov, and Richard Jefferson at the Dubs’ front court. But the points continued to pour in for the champions.
“They just beat us at every … we didn’t win anything,” said James after the game. “No points of the game did we beat them in anything. Even when we had an early lead, they beat us to 50-50 balls, they got extra possessions, they got extra tip-ins. They beat us pretty good tonight.”
After Kevin Love exited the game due to dizziness stemming from a sharp elbow to the head from Harrison Barnes, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue put the undersized Jefferson at center, presumably in the hope that a smaller lineup could stifle the Warriors’ flow. Though Jefferson added 12 points in 26 minutes, his defense and rebounding was not up to the challenge of stopping the Golden State bigs.
Draymond Green led all scorers with 28 points, picking up where Shaun Livingston left off in Game 1 and carrying the offensive load on relatively slow nights for Stephen Curry (18 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and four three-pointers) and Klay Thompson (17 points, two rebounds, five assists, four threes). Green also helped claim the rebounding advantage for his team, 34-28. Leandro Barbosa led the reserves with 10 points in 18 minutes, including a steal that he translated into an easy layup that reaffirmed the Warriors’ dominance in the fourth quarter – such was their comfort that Curry played only 25 minutes and Andrew Bogut just 15.
But the true pain for the Cavaliers came on offense. James ended the first quarter scoreless and checked out of the game with 19 points on seven of 17 shooting. His first basket of the game did not come until two minutes into the second quarter. As a team, the Cavs shot only 35.4% from the field and an abysmal 22.7% from the three-point line. Bogut’s four blocks in the first quarter set a tone of Warrior defensive dominance early in the contest. Yet again, the Cavaliers gave up double-digit turnovers, besting their 17 turnovers from Game 1, though their 18 giveaways were trumped by 21 from Golden State.
“Our defense was the key to everything tonight. Our offense was not very good. We had a lot of careless turnovers, but we had a good stretch there where we converted some stops into scores,” said the Warriors coach, Steve Kerr.
“I think Steph and Klay both hit threes during that time. Then of course we didn’t close the half very well. I think we went from up 15 to up 8 in the last two minutes. But that second-quarter stretch was important as was the third-quarter stretch after Steph picked up his fourth. But everything was about our defense tonight, and I was pleased with that, but we’ve got to get better offensively when we go to Cleveland for sure.”
Even though James struggled, Cleveland held the lead at the end of the first quarter, 21-19. That slim advantage evaporated early in the second. Three minutes into the quarter, the Warriors went up 29-28 thanks to a Harrison Barnes dunk and never looked back. Love’s injury, suffered during a rebound attempt in the second, has placed him in the NBA’s concussion protocol.
While the medical staff attended to him, the Oracle Arena crowd went silent for the first and last time during the game, perking up to clap as Love walked to the bench under his own power. He returned to the contest, but was visibly dizzy for the rest of his time on the court, wobbling a bit after catching a pass in the corner and hesitating with his shot. Though Love was certainly not playing his best basketball in the series thus far, his absence was felt by Cleveland, robbing them of an offensive weapon on a night when nothing went their way.
With Love out and Jefferson in, Green continued his offensive explosion, adding 10 points in the decisive quarter. A Klay Thompson three-point play increased the lead to 20 and a game that still held the twinge of possibility officially became a proper rout. Benches were emptied and fans headed for the parking lot. Many of those fans departed uttering the refrain, “See you next year” with the confidence that this would be Golden State’s final game at Oracle before lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the second year in a row.
The series now pivots to Cleveland and the question must be asked: what does this Cavalier team do to win a game? There are no obvious adjustments to make and they might not have Love in Game 3 if tests confirm that he suffered a concussion.
More ball movement and fewer isolation ball could help them score more, but they have so far shown very little ability to get stops. Their defense continues to struggle, particularly JR Smith. After every missed assignment or failed rotation, Smith would shrug his shoulders in frustration. Particularly egregious was a play in the third where Smith moved to double Klay Thompson while Leandro Barbosa comfortably rolled to the cup. All Smith could do was spin around as though he had dropped his keys.
It was a microcosm of a series that the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have misplaced.