OAKLAND —The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a different team at home this year in the playoffs.
They have won eight in a row. The Cavaliers’ offense is 7.9 points per 100 possessions better in Quicken Loans Arena, and their defense is 7.4 per 100 better. At home, the Cavaliers shoot 37 percent from three (31 percent on the road) and they outscore opponents by 8 points per 100 (they get outscored by almost that much on the road).
Is that enough to make these 2018 NBA Finals a series? There still seemed to be a spark in the Cavaliers’ locker room after Game 2, is that enough to ignite the fuel on a home court?
Or are these Cavaliers defeated already? Are we in for a repeat of 2017, when the Cavaliers came home down 0-2 to the Warriors, got 39 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists from LeBron James, and still lost to go down in an insurmountable 0-3 hole?
“We have to make sure that we really bring it in Game 3, because, I mean, that’s really the game right there,” Kevin Love said. “This is a team that you don’t want to be down 0-3 against. We know that…
“Home-court advantage is, can be a real thing. I mean, you look at how good the Warriors are here at Oracle, it’s the same for us at home” Love continued. “We feel like we feed off of our crowd. We really get up to play at home. You know, we know that come Wednesday we’re going to have to be better.”
Cleveland does have to be better, but they have been at home in the postseason. At home the Cavaliers’ role players have been the big difference — they have hit shots, particularly threes. Through the first two games of the Finals, the Cavaliers have shot 19-of-64 from three (29.7 percent). Get that up near their playoff home court average of 37 percent and things look better.
Overall, the Cavaliers have played with better energy and just looked more comfortable at home. Which may be good, but LeBron James doesn’t want his team to lean on that.
“We want to continue to be uncomfortable. Just because we’re going home doesn’t mean we can relax,” LeBron said. “This is the last team in the world you want to relax against. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor, no matter if it’s through adversity as people may call it like when they were going through the Rockets series or whatever the case may be. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor and do it in any fashion, in any way.”
Golden State has won on Cleveland’s court, including Game 3 last year, or closing them out to win a title in 2015’s Game 6.
The Cavaliers were not bad in Game 2 (outside of J.R. Smith) but the Warriors brought their “A” game, the ball was flying around, Stephen Curry started raining threes in the fourth (five in the quarter, an NBA Finals record nine for the game) and Cleveland’s defense had no answer. If the Warriors are focused they are too much for the Cavaliers, but we know the Warriors don’t always feel challenged. If the Warriors bring their “B” game — as they did in Game 1 — they will fall in Cleveland.
Plus, the Warriors have had no answer for LeBron, who has averaged 40 points, 10.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds, shooting 55.8 percent, through the first two games.
“It’s going to be a tough task,” Green said of winning in Cleveland. “You know, with a team going back home, you look at this and J.R. (Smith) shot 2-for-9. Some of the shots he missed, he’s going to make those at home. You know, you can go down the list and kind of say that about everyone.
“So I think it will be very important for us to be locked in from the jump on the defensive side of the ball and not giving those guys easy shots. They’ve got a great crowd and they really feed off of it. So just being locked in on the defensive side of the ball from the jump ball, it will pay dividends for us going into Cleveland.”
One thing both teams know well — being down doesn’t rattle LeBron and the Cavs.
“This team has been down 2-0 in the last series and came back to win it,” Klay Thompson said. “It’s nothing to feel happy about being up 2-0. This team plays great at home, and we expect their other guys to play even better at home, too, not just LeBron.
“So we’re not going to relax at all because this team has been down and out before and counted out by the media, and we’re not going to focus on that. We’re just going to focus on what we can do to win Game 3.”