Cavaliers must pick up pieces following 33-point drubbing but face tall order in winning 4 of next 5 to unseat defending champions
POSTED: Jun 6, 2016 12:43 AM ET
Cavaliers on Game 2 Loss
Tyronn Lue and LeBron James address the media following the Game 2 loss to the Warriors.
OAKLAND — Jerry West might want to stay off the Interwebs today.
One day after the legendary Lakers Hall of Famer called criticism of James' 2-4 Finals record "ridiculous," staunchly defending the Cleveland Cavaliers' superstar on an off-day at Oracle Arena, James was facing a fresh round of scrutiny after his team's overmatched 110-77 Game 2 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
"That's the most ridiculous thing," said West, the man known as "The Logo" for his silhouette in the NBA emblem. "If I were him, I would want to strangle you guys. He's carried teams on his shoulders."
James' hands, actually, were occupied as he did a little figurative strangling of himself after the 33-point disaster. For the second time in as many games, he came close to a triple-double -- 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, with four steals -- and maybe even gets odd brownie points because he did that in just three quarters. His team, after all, was down by 20 at that point and since James already was on the bench, he never had to take off his warm-up shirt as the Warriors' ballooned their advantage to 34 in the fourth.
But 19 points isn't nearly enough given the load James carries for the Cavaliers and seven turnovers -- again, in just three quarters -- was way, way too many. Those giveaways -- contributing to the 18 that Cleveland had, turned into 26 points by Golden State -- told more of Game 2's story than James' positive numbers, along with his 7-of-17 shooting and an ugly minus-20 in the plus/minus column.
By comparison to some of his teammates -- Kyrie Irving dropped from 26 points in Game 1 to just 10 Sunday, Kevin Love scored five in the 20:46 he played before exiting with dizziness from an inadvertent Harrison Barnes elbow -- James' numbers seemed, well, not horrible. And a lot of chatter in the building afterward focused on the absence of big-game responses from the other Cavaliers, something that was part of his first tour in "The Land."
But when asked if he needs to be more selfish to get the direction of this best-of-seven series turned around before it's too late, James took a step back.
" 'Selfish' is probably the wrong term," he said. "I got myself in a lot of trouble tonight personally. Turned the ball over way too much. And I said after Game 1 we just can't turn the ball over against a great team and expect to win, and I had basically half of the turnovers ... when I came out, and it resulted in them getting some easy baskets.
"So I've got to be better. I've got to be better with the ball. You know, trying to play-make for myself and play-make for my teammates at the same time, I've just got to be more solid."
As James sat on stage at the table, in front of a roomful of reporters and cameras, he seemed truly stymied and puzzled by what has happened in two games and how quickly -- despite the extended schedule after last year's travel grumbles -- these Finals are slipping away.
Factors that were supposed to be pointing in Cleveland's favor -- the roster's health, its re-invigoration with Tyronn Lue as coach rather than David Blatt, the 12-2 trek through the Eastern Conference -- haven't shown up at all. Even James' much-chronicled winning streak in Game 2s in the playoffs -- whether secret weapon, a sign of his resilience or mere fluke -- betrayed him and his team. James had won nine in a row. Now it's nine out of 10.
The trends facing Cleveland now arrive in darker tones. Consider this: Thirty-one times a team has fallen behind 0-2 in The Finals. Only three of those 31 teams -- the 2006 Miami Heat, the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 1969 Boston Celtics -- climbed out of the hole to win the championship.
Golden State lost just nine times in 82 regular season games and five times in 19 since the playoffs began. So now Cleveland has to figure out a way for the Warriors to drop four games in no more than five.
Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green -- the two members of the defending champs making life so difficult for James out on the floor -- aren't going anywhere, no matter how many shots to the groin the former endures. And when center Andrew Bogut is around, even James' bull rushes into the paint for layups risk getting turned back around on him. Bogut had five blocks in the 15 minutes he played.
Love's status doesn't figure to help. The Cavs forward was officially put into the NBA's concussion protocol process after leaving for good with 9:54 left in the third quarter. He had been hit from behind when Barnes went for an offensive rebound midway through the second quarter, and lay on the court in no small distress while play swirled around him, Green essentially sidestepping the fallen Cav on his way to a layup.
The extra day between Games 2 and 3 -- last year, there was just one day as the series shifted East -- buys Love and Cleveland some additional recovery time before Wednesday. But finding answers for the Warriors' many weapons, and finding weapons to thwart the Warriors' many answers, might be a project requiring weeks or months, not 72 hours.
"We can't have as many mental lapses," James said. "More than the physical, it's a lot of mental as well. These guys put you in so many mental positions where you have to figure it out, and they make you pay for it when you don't."
Richard Jefferson, the oldest Cavalier, came the closest to playing with the vigor required against the NBA's best overall team. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes and took a "no worries, all is well, Golden State held serve" attitude afterward.
"They just won two games at home," Jefferson said, dismissing the 48-point difference through two games. That's a point every two minutes, if you're counting.
"There is no gap. They won two games. If you win by one or you win by 100, it doesn't matter. They were down 3-1 in their last series -- what did they see at 3-1? They didn't see anything, they just kept playing hard and things went their way."
Doesn't something like this sting one's pride? Lue said his players were more ticked off than disappointed.
Said Jefferson: "No, no. This is the NBA Finals."
For a couple more games it is, anyway.
James, who often has to figure out ways to spark better play from his teammates, now has that on his plate along with the things he has to clean up in his own game. See, 72 hours is going to fly by, unpleasant as they are.
"The next couple days will be ... I won't be reflecting," James said. "I'll figure out ways I can be better, starting as soon as I leave this podium. Probably go back to the room and watch the game, re-watch for ways I could have been better. I had a lot of uncharacteristic unforced turnovers which resulted in those guys getting 26 points. ... So I'm one of the guys who kind of always wants to shoulder the blame and take the blame when we don't play as well as we should.
"It's just who I am, and I've got to be better."
Even The Logo might agree with that.
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