But two games into this series, the NBA’s dreams of a historic Finals is in tatters.
Instead of an evenly-matched contest between Golden State and Cleveland, it appears this best-of-seven series will simply be a coronation for arguably the greatest team in NBA history.
After a 110-77 Game Two annihilation of the Cavs, Steph Curry and his band of brothers have complete control. Thirty one teams have taken a 2-0 series lead in NBA Finals history. Twenty eight of them raised the banner. This series looks like going no more than five games — at best.
The Cavs were supposed to provide an improved challenge with a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the lineup to support LeBron James. But to this point they’ve been worse than last season.
“We’ve got to be tougher, that’s the main thing for us,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ve got to be tougher.”
Again, the Cavaliers were swept aside without the need for any heroics by the Splash Brothers. Curry (18 points, 7/11 shooting) and Klay Thompson (17 points, 6/13 shooting) were efficient — both going 4/8 from deep — but the difference-maker was Draymond Green.
The brash forward scored 28 points — including 5/8 threes — and added five assists and seven rebounds in a powerhouse performance.
In contrast, only three Cavaliers — James (19 points), Irving (10 points) and the impressive Richard Jefferson (12 points) — scored in double figures as the defence which led Golden State to last year’s championship re-emerged.
Aussie centre Andrew Bogut was at the forefront of the steely display, clocking up four blocks in the first quarter of the game to set the tone.
“I’ve got to protect the basket. If I’m not protecting the basket and imposing myself in the paint, I’m usually coming out of the game pretty quickly,” Bogut said.
James again went close to a triple double but this wasn’t a vintage performance by any means as he produced seven turnovers.
“I’m not disappointed or frustrated in our guys,” James said. “We’ve just got to do a better job.”
To add to Cleveland’s woes, Love was diagnosed with concussion after copping a hit to the head early in the game.
He’ll be assessed for Game Three in Cleveland on Thursday (AEST), but that’s just one of many Cleveland is facing.
“This was one of the most pathetic performances I’ve ever seen … the Cavaliers quit tonight,” ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said. “They got punked.”
Golden State repeated the rollicking start it made to the fourth quarter of Game One — only this time it wasn’t particularly crucial to the final result.
The Warriors began the final stanza with a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 27 points. Both teams began to empty their benches as Kevin Love was taken behind closed doors after being diagnosed with concussion.
Leandro Barbosa continued his impressive start to the Finals by scoring 10 points on 5/7 shooting as the Warriors won 110-77.
“We got a lot of great defenders on our team so if we come out focused and locked in, we’re able to do something like this,” Draymond Green said.
It won’t be the bench taking the heat if Cleveland fails to fight its way back into this game.
The Cavs starters have been outplayed by Golden State as the Warriors extended their lead to 82-62 at the end of the third.
After giving up a 45-10 edge in scoring in Game One, Cleveland’s bench has almost matched the Warriors’ substitutes (15-17) largely through the efforts of Richard Jefferson (12 points).
Draymond Green continues to do the bulk of the damage for the home side. He has 28 points (11/20 from the field, 5/8 from three) to go with five assists and seven rebounds.
LeBron James has 19 points, nine assists and eight rebounds but also seven turnovers.
Steph Curry picked up his fourth foul midway through the quarter — the only potential problem for Golden State right now.
After his first scoreless first quarter in the NBA Finals, LeBron James made an aggressive start to the second term.
The Cavs superstar (14 points, six rebounds, seven assists) targeted the rim as Andrew Bogut continued to sit and twice finished close to the basket.
But Draymond Green (18 points) more than matched him at the other end, hitting three three-pointers to give the Warriors a 52-44 halftime edge.
Steph Curry — despite picking up three first half fouls — found a rhythm to finish the half with 12 points.
Andrew Bogut channelled Dikembe Mutombo to help limit the damage as Golden State made a sloppy start to Game Two.
The Australian centre blocked four shots and added four rebounds and an alley oop finish before being rested late in an opening term the Warriors finished trailing 21-19.
Golden State missed its opening five three-point attempts as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson continued their cold shooting from Game One. Cleveland wasn’t any better from long range, but stayed within touch through the hustle of Tristan Thompson (two offensive rebounds) and elite passing of LeBron James (five assists).
Golden State can tie two NBA records today. The Warriors enter Game Two of the NBA Finals against Cleveland with 49 home wins and 86 wins overall this season, factoring in regular season and playoffs.
That puts Golden State one shy of matching the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ full-season record of 87 wins. The Warriors toppled their regular-season mark of 72 wins this year, going 73-9.
Also, Golden State could become the third team to win 50 home games. That would match the record set by the 1985-86 and 1986-87 Boston Celtics.
Having said that, Golden State could stand alone in one respect: The Warriors would be the first team to win 50 games in one arena in a season.
Those Celtics teams that won 50 games at “home” played three games in each of those seasons at Hartford, Connecticut, going 5-1 in those contests.
As gifted as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are with the ball in their hands and one defender to beat, that is not what got the Cleveland Cavaliers to a second straight NBA Finals.
The Cavs are at their best when the ball is humming around the perimeter, forcing defences to scramble and creating open looks from 3-point range when one just happens to be a step slow closing out.
The ball movement and 3-point shooting ground to a halt in Game One of the rematch against Golden State, with the Warriors swallowing the Cavaliers up with a switch-everything defence.
After the dispiriting 104-89 defeat, the Cavaliers spoke about the need for injecting that movement and energy back into their offence while also acknowledging that the defending champions make that task exceedingly difficult to execute.
The Warriors’ versatility allows them to switch pick-and-rolls and rotate on defence better than any team in the league. And even though James and Irving are potent off the dribble and attacking the basket, they would much rather see the Cavaliers isolate the two stars on one side of the floor rather than have them swing the ball from side to side to spread the defence and get open looks for all their 3-point shooters.
“There is a fine line,” James said Friday. “I’m okay with us having some isolation basketball if we’re going quick. But we’re holding the ball and we’re just staring down the defence and we’re staring down the ball, then it can become a problem for us.”
As bad as things went for the Cavaliers in Game One, there was a sense of calm at practice. They had a lead late in the third quarter before things got out of hand, contained the Splash Brothers as well as any defence has this year, won the rebounding battle and shot twice as many free throws as the Warriors.
Cleveland also lost Game One in Oakland last year before rallying to win the next two and James’ teams have won nine straight Game 2s after losing the series opener dating back to 2008.
“You don’t just throw everything away over one game,” James said.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he is trying to get his team to play faster in Game Two on Sunday. That approach could have pitfalls because that’s what the Warriors love to do most.
But Lue wants James and Irving to push the ball to create more energy and open looks in transition and take advantage of mismatches that come in the ensuing scramble.
“When you’re switching one through five, it makes you stagnant,” Lue said. “It makes you play one-on-one. So the best thing you can do is try to get the matchup you want and try to explore it.”
The Cavaliers were the second-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA this season, behind Golden State. They made just 7 of 21 in Game One, with J.R. Smith a quiet 1 for 3 and Channing Frye only getting one field goal attempt.
Irving was 7 for 22 from the field and Lue said the Cavaliers missed nine open lay-ups on their way to shooting 38 per cent.
“We weren’t necessarily playing the basketball we want to play on the offensive end,” said Kevin Love, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds in his finals debut. “A lot of times we were force-feeding the post and we found ourselves standing around.
“Where we’ve been so effective and devastating is when our guards, and primarily LeBron and Kyrie, play down hill and find our shooters on the perimeter.”
The Cavaliers walked off the floor after Game One knowing that an opportunity was missed. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson almost assuredly won’t miss 19 of their 27 combined shots again.
But James was undaunted. He’s been here before. And he knows this can be a long series — if the Cavs respond accordingly.
“I’m not discouraged at all,” James said. “I understand we had our opportunities. We played some good basketball for 36 minutes, and the fourth quarter got away from us. We definitely missed some really easy looks. Some looks that we’re accustomed to making that we’ve made all year long.
“But not discouraged in the fact that we were able to get into the paint, get where we want to go, but we’ve got to be able to knock them home.”