OAKLAND — The Cavaliers did what they promised the past couple of days: They were more engaged, more physical, they forced turnovers and put in a lot more energy on the defensive end. The effort was there.
The pre-series questions about Cleveland’s defense are being answered in a way that does not bode well for the Cavaliers, as they gave up 132 points despite their effort, and for a second-straight game were blown out, 132-113.
Golden State is up 2-0 in the NBA Finals as the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 Wednesday.
Steve Kerr was back on the bench for the Warriors in this one, which was great to see and gave the Warriors and emotional boost. But in reality, he was far from the difference in this one.
Curry had a triple-double with 32 points (on 17 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Durant had 33 points, 13 rebounds, and played fantastic defense on LeBron James for much of the night.
“They give (Durant) a lot of space and a lot of room to operate…” Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue said. “A lot of things you can’t do defensively by having K.D. on the floor. So they make it tough and they put you in some tough situations.”
LeBron himself had a triple-double with 29 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds. This was the first time in NBA Finals history two players on opposing teams had triple-doubles. An interesting historical anecdote.
Cleveland showed a lot more fight and heart — and Lue threw a lot of different lineups out there — but when tested Golden State responded with knockout punches. They have more versatility on their roster, and can match up just about anything the Cavs can throw at them.
The real issue through two games is Cleveland’s defense may be what we saw in the regular season, and asked to defend the Warriors’ offense they are in way over their head.
“Defensively,” Lue said when asked what Cleveland has to do differently to win Game 3. “I think that having awareness, can’t relax, can’t fall asleep. This team, their offense is constant movement, so you got to be locked in, you can’t take a peek somewhere and lose your man, so they make you pay. And they have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball, have a lot of guys who are great passers, so you got to be alert at all times.”
This isn’t completely effort thing, it’s just personnel — Kyle Korver can’t guard anyone, and Lue tried to go with Channing Frye but has given up on that experiment. Kevin Love tries but can only do so much in space. Kyrie Irving is not a great defender. Lue did something smart putting LeBron on Shaun Livingston for a while — allowing him to roam and help on defense around the floor — but he simply can’t be everywhere. Throw in another “meh” game from Tristan Thompson — just four rebounds again — and the Cavaliers do not have enough defenders to stop an average team.
The Warriors are far from average — especially with Klay Thompson back, scoring 22 and hitting 4-of-7 from three.
“I just felt like he was poised to come out and make some shots tonight, and he did,” Kerr said of Thompson. “And his defense again was tremendous. I thought Klay, he guards so many people out there and he has such a responsibility with Kyrie and switching onto LeBron, and I thought he was fantastic.”
The themes of Game 2 were established early. The Cavaliers defense far more active, and at points that forced a hurried Warriors team into turnovers. At the other end, Cleveland’s first eight points were in the paint. On offense, LeBron had the ball but there was a lot of 3/4 pick-and-roll with Kevin Love and he had a quick 9 points as the Warriors struggled to stop it. Bottom line, the Cavaliers were engaged in a way they were not in Game 1, and while the Warriors pushed the lead out to 10 at the 2:41 mark, their eight first-quarter turnovers — double how many they had in all of Game 1 — helped the Cavaliers stay close. It was 40-34 after one quarter very fast-paced quarter.
“So they were going downhill, getting into the paint, but I just think we just stayed poised and tried to play better one-on-one defense and make them shoot over or contest,” Durant said. “And they’re going to make some, but if we just try to make it tough on them, it will be in our favor.”
To start second Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue once again went to a lineup with Kyrie Irving on the floor but no LeBron or Love, and without LeBron they were a quick -9. The lead was back up to 12 by the Warriors within a couple of minutes (and Channing Frye got rejected at the rim twice in that stretch).
But LeBron put the Cavs on his back — reminiscent of last year’s Finals — and it was his 18 points and 10 rebounds that had Cleveland down just three, 67-64, at the half. Well, the Warriors helped out with 13 turnovers, or 22.4 percent of their first-half possessions. Curry had six of those turnovers.
The second half started much the same way, the Warriors pushed the lead out to 10 again, Cleveland clawed back to keep it close (aided by a number of Warriors missing very good look threes). But every time the Cavaliers would make it close, there seemed to be a Warriors run of threes that would push the lead back out to double digits. The difference was just three third-quarter turnovers for the Warriors, which is why they led 102-88 after three quarters.
In the fourth, the Warriors poured it on against a Cavaliers team that started to look spent.
If you’re trying to find a positive spin out of Cleveland, they lost these two games by a combined 41 points and that’s less than the combined 48 from last year (when the Cavs famously came back and won). But with Durant on the court, this feels different. Cleveland has had no answers for two games, and if they don’t find some by Wednesday, this series could be very, very short.