CLEVELAND — Golden State has won the first two games of the NBA Finals, both of those wins coming by double figures and with a few dominant stretches of basketball in there.
Strange as this sounds, that has the Warriors feeling a bit uneasy.
The champions know exactly how fast a series can change, having just pulled off a mathematically improbable comeback from 3-1 down against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals. And even with the odds now stacked high against Cleveland in these NBA Finals, the Warriors say they cannot fall into the trap of thinking this series that resumes with Game 3 on Wednesday night is already over.
“That’s a great analogy, one that we’ve already used,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter what the scores are, doesn’t matter if you win by 25 or lose by 25, it’s one game in the series. And we got blown out twice in a row in OKC, down 3-1, and we were able to come back. We know we’re playing against a great team. They’re coming home. They can change the momentum around with just one win.”
Cleveland hopes he’s right.
The Cavs might be without concussed Kevin Love for Game 3, but they are 7-0 at home in these playoffs – winning by an average of 20.9 points.
“It’s a do-or-die game for us,” Cavaliers forward LeBron James said. “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’re playing.”
When the Warriors were on the brink of elimination against the Thunder, history suggested that they had a 3.9 percent chance to win the series – 232 previous NBA teams were down 3-1 in a best-of-seven, and only nine won.
Compared to that, Cleveland’s chances look fabulous.
“We’re not in that bad of shape as they were – 3-1 is worse than 2-0,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And they came back and took it one game at a time, like we have to do.”
Teams that have fallen behind 2-0 in the NBA Finals have rallied to win 9.7 percent of the time, with three of them getting it done in 31 past opportunities. The 1969 Boston Celtics, 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and 2006 Miami Heat all lost the first two games of the finals on the road before winning the title – the Celtics doing so in seven games, the Blazers and Heat getting it done in six.
“History,” Lue said, “is something that’s made to be broken.”
Despite their predicament, the Cavaliers certainly seemed confident and loose on Tuesday.
During the open portion of practice, James was laughing with teammates and tossed up the occasional underhanded 60-footer – reacting with mock disbelief when the low-percentage shot didn’t fall. Point guard Kyrie Irving played a long game of 1-on-1 with Cavs assistant coach James Posey, who was on that Heat team that rallied from 2-0 down in the finals against Dallas and hit a huge shot in the clinching game.
Their thinking is simple: Take care of home court Wednesday and Friday, knot the series and see what happens in a best-of-three.
“When they go on their runs, we have to be able to withstand those punches,” Irving said. “And Game 1 and Game 2, we’ve done it at times. We’ve shown that we’re capable of doing it, but we’re just constantly on our heels.”
That’s what the Warriors do against everyone, not just the Cavs.
Cleveland’s biggest lead in the series so far is six points. Golden State’s is 33. In four games this season, including the two regular-season matchups, the Warriors have held the lead for a staggering 87 percent of the time. And in last year’s finals, Golden State won twice in Cleveland – more than proving that it can handle the Cavs’ raucous home crowd.
“We know they’re going to make adjustments,” Warriors star and two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry said. “We know they’re going to come out with a sense of urgency in the moment. But we need to have that same mentality, because for 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.”
And no one has ever come back in an NBA series from 3-0 down, either.
“We can’t relax,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “No time to relax.”