CLEVELAND: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers desperately seek a way to beat the Golden State Warriors, but they are running out of time to prove their NBA Finals rivals aren’t invincible.
The Warriors, on an NBA record 14-game playoff win streak, lead 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship series entering Wednesday’s (Thursday in Manila) third game at Cleveland. No team has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win an NBA playoff series.
“We have to defend our home court,” said Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. “It definitely is a must win.”
Golden State could become the first NBA team to make an unbeaten playoff run to the crown, having swept Portland, Utah and San Antonio and overpowered the Cavaliers twice at home to open the finals.
“We’re going to go home and watch the film to see ways we can be better,” James said. “Do things, I don’t want to say differently because you work so hard to get to this point, but make a couple of changes to see if we can be a lot better defensively and offensively.”
Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who left Oklahoma City for Golden State last July in hopes of winning his first NBA crown, had LeBron-like numbers—33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocked shots and three steals —in a 132-113 romp Sunday in game two.
Asked the difference between this year and last year, James simply said, “K.D.” and added, “They are a different team.”
The Cavaliers forced 20 turnovers compared to a finals record-tying four in game one, for all the good it did them.
“We forced them to 20 turnovers and they still beat us pretty good, so we got to be much better too,” James said.
“I’m not a past guy too much. I’m more of a present guy so we just got to figure out how we can be better in game three.”
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry added 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in his first finals triple double.
Curry’s pairing with Durant is already being compared to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan with Scottie Pippen as among the greatest duos in NBA Finals history.
‘It’s fresh in our minds’
Durant wants to prove he’s a champion after years of big numbers but no titles while Curry and others want to prove last year’s finals loss to Cleveland, when the Cavaliers rallied from 3-1 down to win in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, was a bump in the road for a dynasty team.
“We still remember what happened last year,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “It’s fresh in our minds.”
So while the Cavs cling to hope based on what they did before, the problem is what else do the Cavs have up their sleeves against a team now powered by Durant that has been unbeatable in the playoffs.
“We’ll win the next game and see what happens from there,” said Cavs forward Tristan Thompson, who might be pulled from the starting lineup to add more scoring punch and defensive versatility.
The Cavaliers had been 12-1 in the playoffs this year until facing the Warriors.
“We definitely have a sense of what they’re capable of,” Love said. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a different story at home. We’re plain and simple going to have to play better.”
Irving must improve
Cavs guard Kyrie Irving, who had 19 points in game two, needs one of his best games to help counteract the Warriors’ production.
“I would imagine Kyrie’s going to come out and have a great game,” Love said.
The Warriors have dominated the third quarter in both games and built a big lead the Cavaliers could not threaten, a script Irving said the Cavs must rewrite to win.
“We just have to sustain effort over the entire game. We understand how dangerous they are,” he said.
“Down 0-2, going home, you have to live with those odds. You have to remain non-wavering whatever the outlook looks like.”
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said a full 48 minutes of defensive focus will be needed to contain the Warriors.
“Having awareness — can’t relax, can’t fall asleep,” he said. Their offense is constant movement, so you got to be locked in, you can’t take a peek somewhere and lose your man. They make you pay.”