With about three and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by 11 points, Golden State made the push that we all knew was coming.
They were substantially aided by the mental flatulence of Cleveland guard J.R. Smith, whose horrid defense and dim-witted fouls toward the end of regulation provided a level of reckless irresponsibility that was only approached by the screenwriter of the otherwise fantastic film, The Departed, when he thought killing off every compelling character at the end of the movie was a good idea.
Stephen Curry awoke from his poor shooting night to tie the game with seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Warriors nearly pulled off the impossible. But Golden State was also abetted by Cleveland head coach David Blatt’s boneheaded decision to sit center Timofey Mozgof in the game’s waning moments, especially after the Russian stud turned in a stellar 17 points and 11 rebounds in a mere 29 minutes of action.
Cleveland answered a key question with their 95-93 overtime victory last night, which evened this fantastic series at one game apiece as the landscape now shifts to Cuyahoga County on the southern shores of Lake Erie.
One of their immediate uncertainties was how they would compensate for the absence of All-Star floor general Kyrie Irving. LeBron James, as we all knew, would show up and compensate in ways that would minimize Kyrie’s absence. But the lingering doubt centered around who on this depleted roster would step into the vacuum to steady the ship.
Matthew Dellavedova, Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, James Jones and Iman Shumpert, as they did in the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta without Irving, proved that they have the ability to confound conventional wisdom and give LeBron James enough heart, determination and grit to win games that, on paper, look to be a bigger mismatch than Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks in 1988.
But the beauty of LeBron’s game will always take a team of spirited and resolute role players to places they have no business going. His 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists en route to the 13th Triple-Double of his postseason career was masterful in that he yanked and dragged and hauled and towed his team to a win that very few thought was probable.
Despite Blatt’s head-scratching move to leave Mozgov, who’d been LeBron’s sole, reliable offensive support on the bench for the game’s critical and decisive moments, we must give him props for last night’s defensive game plan.
The Cleveland “D” made the Warriors normally fluid offense, which looked as beautiful as Jessica Alba for the majority of the year, look like the love child of Cadillac Anderson and Biz Markie for most of Game 2. Golden State’s trademark pace was replaced by something similar to what we saw when Charles Barkley raced 157-year-old ref Dick Bavetta at the 2007 All-Star game.
Golden State had been a phenomenal 47-3 at home during the regular season and the playoffs this year, but they allowed the Cavs to do something that teams rarely accomplish against them – dictate pace.
“If you expect us to play sexy cute basketball, that's not us right now,” James said during his post-game press conference. “Everything is tough and it has to be that for rest of series.”
Most people are crucifying league MVP Steph Curry for his sub-par performance today, which is not warranted. He still had an impact on the game with his 19 points and five assists, despite missing 18 of 23 shots and his six turnovers. He broke through an 18-minute scoring drought at the most opportune of times with a 3-pointer during a furious last-minute rally, and ultimately tied the game with a nifty drive and layup with 7.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Bad shooting games happen to the best of them. People seem to have dementia about Michael Jordan’s 6-for-19 dud against the Sonics in the Game 4 loss of the 1996 Finals, or his abysmal 9-for-26 and Reggie Miller-like, four weak rebounds, during a Game 5 loss in 1998 against Utah.
Despite losing last night, the Warriors should be encouraged knowing that their star can have an off game and they can still beat the Cavaliers.
LeBron James has no such luxury. If he doesn’t dominate and drag his team to victories with remarkable performances every night in this series, Cleveland has as much of a chance of hoisting the championship trophy as Ray J and Omarion have of surpassing Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder in the pantheon of musical greatness.
Despite having their worst three-point shooting night in the playoffs, Golden State should not be too worried. Curry will bounce back and Draymond Green will be more aggressive as a scorer, in addition to his usual work as a superb threat in the passing, rebounding and defensive game.
With Klay Thompson’s confidence-building, impressive 34-point performance last night, they have reason to be optimistic. But so does Cleveland, who has morphed into the best defensive team that the Warriors have had to deal with all year.
LeBron will continue to be superman and if the Cavs can get any intelligent play from J.R. Smith, if they can summon ANY offense from Shumpert and Thompson and if they can, collectively, continue to bring the type of defense that slowed Golden State’s prolific offense to a grinding halt and pull out a win at home in Game 3, we’ll see if Steve Kerr and Curry can earn their money.
And if folks are continuing to rave about Matthew Dellavedova later this week, well, that’s when the Warriors might begin to start worrying.