CLEVELAND: LeBron James knows all-too well the Cleveland Cavaliers must win on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) in the NBA Finals if they hope to make one of the greatest fightbacks in 70 years of championship history.
Defending champion Golden State, which set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins, has seized a 2-0 lead over the Cavaliers in the best-of-seven series, winning twice at home by blowout margins to capture momentum.
“It’s a do-or-die game for us,” James said on Tuesday. “We can’t afford to go down 3-0 to any team, especially a team that’s 73-9 in the regular season and playing the type of basketball they are [playing]. We’re going to come in and give everything we’ve got and leave it on the floor.
“Coming back home and understanding this is our home floor where we’ve played some really good basketball, we can’t afford to go down 3-0. It will be more adversity if we got to that point, which I don’t believe we will.”
Only three teams in NBA history have rallied from 2-0 down to win the NBA Finals. No team trailing 3-0 has ever fought back to win an NBA playoff series.
“We’re not discouraged,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “History is something that’s made to be broken, so we’re not worried about being down 2-0.”
Golden State worries about matching Cleveland’s intensity, especially early.
“They are going to come out with a sense of urgency,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said.
“We need to have that same mentality because what’s at stake, if we’re able to go up 3-0, that is a great position to be in. That is the opportunity in front of us. So we can’t get complacent.”
The Warriors have struggled in game threes, losing the third game in their past four playoff series and five of the past six.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can point to in terms of why we’re struggling in game threes,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve just got to come out and play better.
“They can change the momentum around just with one win, so we’ve got to be ready.”
The Cavaliers are 7-0 at home in this year’s playoffs after 33 regular-season home triumphs.
“We’re a confident bunch especially at home,” James said. “Our fans have done a great job of giving us everything and it’s our job to give it back to them. I know the guys are excited about the opportunity to get back out there and defend home court.”
The Warriors are 3-4 on the road in the playoffs this season.
“The storyline tends to be the same: The other team comes out hungrier than we do,” Golden State’s Harrison Barnes said. “We can’t afford to get down early and think we’re going to have miraculous comebacks. It doesn’t always work that way. We have to do a better job starting off the game on the right foot. After that, everyone will adjust and be fine.”
Cleveland forward Kevin Love is uncertain for game three after taking a blow to the back of the head that sidelined him most of the second half in game two. It could be a huge blow for the Cavaliers, whose plan to change their fortunes involves James, Love and Kyrie Irving forcing more inside shots.
“Being aggressive, getting into the paint, then if we can make a couple shots at the rim, it will start opening up our guys on the perimeter,” James said. “Myself and Kyrie and hopefully Kevin, we can attract some more defenders and get some bodies off some of our shooters.”
‘I’ll be better’
James, whose teams rallied from a 2-0 playoff deficit to beat Detroit in 2007 and to force a seventh game against Boston in 2008, ripped himself for seven turnovers in game two but vowed, “I’ll be much better and much more sound tomorrow night.”
Golden State’s Klay Thompson says a strong start will be crucial to staying with the Cavs.
“We expect them to come out with great desperation and great hunger and we’ve just got to match that,” Thompson said. “You can’t let them come out with more energy.”