POSTED: Jun 10, 2015 11:17 AM ET
GameTime: Cavaliers-Warriors Game 2 Analysis
Shaq, Kenny, and Grant Hill give their opinions on game 2 of The Finals.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Five things we learned from the Cleveland Cavaliers' 95-93 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the 2015 Finals on Sunday at Oracle Arena:
Two rounds ago, with his team advancing out of its semifinals series against Chicago with about One-Point-Five of its Big Three healthy, LeBron James was asked about playing the role of underdog as Cleveland's postseason continued. "Huh? Underdog? Me?" James said, looking amused while shaking his head emphatically. "I would never be the underdog."
In James' world, the scrutiny and expectations that have dogged him since before his senior prom preclude any possibility that somehow the odds might be stacked in someone else's favor in any competitive situation. He undoubtedly still believes that today, with the Finals evened at 1-1 and the Cavaliers suddenly holding home-court advantage in the best-of-five series that remains.
But he can scoff all he likes. He is wrong. Absolutely wrong.
For the first time in his career -- if you cede him everything that has come before (including San Antonio looking like heavy favorites in those 2007 Finals) -- James is an underdog. Losing point guard Kyrie Irving to a broken kneecap in overtime of Game 1, going forward without Irving, Kevin Love and (for the record) Anderson Varejao against the NBA's dominant team all season, flying solo in relative terms after those years buddied up with the Super Friends in Miami, there's no way, no how James and what's left of the Cavs were considered favorites anymore.
Cavaliers On Game 2 Victory
David Blatt, LeBron James, and Matthew Dellavedova speak on the game 2 victory over the Warriors.
A Golden State sweep seemed not just possible but imminent. If Cleveland was going to win one on grit to save face, it likely would come in Game 3 or Game 4 back home at The Q -- and even then, folks might have wondered if the Warriors were just playing for time to stage the celebration back on their own court in Game 5.
Nope. James was, is and remains an underdog, which made his Game 2 performance so laudable Sunday. He carried the undermanned Cavaliers on his broad shoulders, amassing 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists for his fifth triple-double in a Finals game. He shot and kept on shooting like a lone soldier in a trench -- 11-of-34 overall, 4-of-21 from halftime on.
He got to the line for 18 free throws, made 14 and -- in true underdog fashion -- had even people who regularly root against him noticing multiple plays on which he got fouled without whistles. And he's become Wilt Chamberlainesque in minutes, averaging 48:03 because this is the first time Games 1 and 2 of the Finals have gone into overtime.
"Geez," Cleveland coach David Blatt said, "you'd be hard pressed to find a guy anywhere, anytime -- I can think of a name or two, but that's the whole history of basketball -- that can give you the kind of all-around performance and all-around leadership that LeBron does for his group. And I think you said it the right way, he really willed his guys to win that game. That's what a champion does, and obviously he's a champion."
It's the grit squad that we have. It's not cute at all. If you're looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, then that's not us. Everything is tough.
– LeBron James on the Cavs' style
Said James: "I don't need any extra motivation. I think our guys love it. Our guys love the fact that we've been counted out and come into the series being an underdog. They're pretty much saying that, especially after Kyrie got hurt and 'the series was over.' I think our guys are using that as motivation. I use a little bit of it, but I have a lot of motivation already to just be a part of greatness and be a part of this and be a part of this atmosphere."
The team that James leads now is unlike any of those four Heat teams that went to the Finals. This one was supposed to be like those, except the Cavs planned and injuries laughed.
Now? "It's the grit squad that we have," James said. "It's not cute at all. If you're looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, then that's not us. Everything is tough. You know, we're going to come in with an aggressive mindset defensively and offensively. And for us to win a Finals game shooting 32 percent from the field, it's just a testament of how gritty we can be. It has to be that for the rest of the series, no matter how many games it takes."
Matthew Dellavedova, Cleveland's backup point guard, had been "trending" for a couple of playoff rounds for his feisty-slash-reckless play and run-ins with heavyweights such Chicago's Taj Gibson and Atlanta's Kyle Korver and Al Horford. But the Thunder From Down Under seemed to have hit pumpkin time with a vaporous Game 1 (no points, no shots in nine-plus minutes). His team got outscored by 13 in the short stints Dellavedova was out there.
This stage, it appeared, was too big.
GameTime: Matthew Dellavedova
Matthew Dellavedova joins GameTime after Cleveland wins game 2 over Golden State in The Finals.
And yet, in being thrust into the starting lineup by Irving's absence, Dellavedova rallied in a huge way. He scored a modest nine points but he was aggressive, flinging himself to the floor and across the sideline or baseline when required. Best of all, Dellavedova did a terrific job defending Golden State's Stephen Curry. Busting through screens, face-guarding when needed, chasing and constantly pestering, Dellavedova was the primary irritant in holding the Warriors' MVP to 19 points on 5-for-23 shooting, including a frosty 2-for-15 on 3-pointers.
Get a load of this: Dellavedova was plus-15 in his 42 minutes. Curry was minus-2.
"It had everything to do with Delly," James said. "He just kept a body on Steph. He made Steph work. He was spectacular, man, defensively. We needed everything from him.
"Obviously he's a guy that's been counted out his whole life. Probably people have been telling him he's too small, he's not fast enough, can't shoot it enough, can't handle it good enough, and he's beat the odds so many times. The confidence that we have in him allows him to be confident in himself."
Never more so than with 10.1 seconds left in overtime, when Dellavedova barged in for an offensive rebound and then hit two pressure free throws for the tying and winning points.
"I mean, that is a classic thing you practice as a kid growing up: Down 1, you need to make both free throws," Dellavedova said. "So I felt like I've been in that situation a million times before."
In 106 minutes, the Warriors have scored 201 points to the Cavaliers' 195. That favors Cleveland, particularly with the short rotation Blatt feels he has to use (with Irving out and Dellavedova starting, Mike Miller got the eighth-man cameo role). And it didn't require any home court for the Cavaliers to drag down the pace.
The third quarter was NSFW, from an aesthetic standpoint. Cleveland missed 17 of its 21 shots, Golden State missed 11 of its 16 and the two clubs combined to go 2-for-13 from the 3-point line. There were 12 turnovers, nine field goals and four assists -- total -- in those 12 minutes.
It was a grind out, kind of old-school game. That's the style that it's going to be when you get this deep in the playoffs. It's rarely a track meet.
– Steve Kerr on Game 2
"This is what we expected," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Tough game. Great defensive teams. Both teams I thought defended like crazy out there. It was a grind out, kind of old-school game. That's the style that it's going to be when you get this deep in the playoffs. It's rarely a track meet."
But the less frenetic the pace, the more it plays into the Cavaliers' hands. In Game 1, Golden State seemed to come at them in waves, enjoying a 34-9 scoring advantage from the bench. This time, with J.R. Smith (13) and James Jones (8) accounted for a 21-17 edge for the Cavs.
The big fella was rolling for Cleveland. Timofey Mozgov had 17 points and 11 rebounds by the time he sat down with 1:50 left in the third quarter. He was something reliable up front, helping Cleveland to its 26 first-half points in the paint and picking up slack for fellow big Tristan Thompson's chilly night (0-for-5).
And yet, that was it. Mozgov never got off the bench over the game's final 19-plus minutes. It was Blatt's decision to do away from the big fella, and that's just the way it's going to be.
"First of all, Moz played great," Blatt said. "He played extremely well the in first game too. We played the lineup we thought we needed to play to match up properly with them and at the same time not lose an advantage at the other end. As you guys know, we've played different lineups and used different lineups throughout the course of the year. But the lineup to finish the game is one that's been a winning lineup for us, and that's why we played it."
Warriors On Game 2 Loss
Steve Kerr, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry address the media following a game 2 loss to the Cavaliers.
No, we're not saying Shaq is ugly. Seriously, big fella, read that sub-headline carefully. We're referring to Kerr's decision to purposely send Thompson to the line twice late in the fourth quarter. Golden State trailed 83-72 with 3:13 left in what was looking like a lost cause. But after Andre Iguodala hit a 3-pointer from out front, Steph Curry ran over and fouled Thompson intentionally. The Cavs forward missed his first free throw and made the second.
Then Curry hit a 3-pointer over James and promptly did it again. Thompson, again, sank one of two. Then Curry suckered J.R. Smith into a cheap foul that got Golden State two free throws, and that 8-2 run in 38 seconds closed the gap to 85-80. Then Blatt pulled Thompson briefly until the stiffer penalty of free throws-and-the-ball kicked in.
No doubt there was a lot of groaning, based on hacking strategies used earlier in these playoffs against the likes of DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard. But for a surgical strike, using the questionable tactic in just the right dosage, Kerr did the right thing. Without that one for the Cavs, three for the Warriors stretch, his team never milks an extra five minutes of opportunity out of it.
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