When JaVale McGee got two dunks for the Warriors in the opening minutes of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, it was a fairly strong indication that the Cleveland Cavaliers were completely screwed. You know how there are signs in folklore? Like how seeing a single crow either means something terrible is about to happen or that you’re in a horror movie? That’s what the JaVale dunks were. And Sunday night only got more ominous for the Cavs as the game went on.
This is largely because LeBron James’s teammates not only didn’t do the group project, they took trench coats, stuffed them with leaves, and sent those to school instead. Steph Curry, who set an NBA record by making nine three-pointers in one Finals game, then took those trench coats, stole their lunch money, and stuffed them in lockers. When the greatest living player in the world gets 29 points and everyone kind of shrugs their shoulders and thinks, “Welp, not his best, just wasn’t enough to get the job done,” you know you have a problem.
And you know what that problem was? The Cavs’ spirit was broken. LeBron—exhausted from having to lug around his leaf-stuffed teammates for the past eight-and-a-half months—didn’t switch into his usual superhuman Turbo Mode. He didn’t look mortal, because LeBron never looks mortal, but he did look, well ...tired. He just looked tired, man. He looked like a guy who has done all he can with what he’s got, and is counting down the days until he’s a free agent and can go play basketball with people who aren’t Jordan Clarkson.
The Warriors were humming, working like the finely tuned basketball machine they are. Their energy made Cleveland look that much more defeated.
You can’t say that the only reason the Cavs looked so defeated was because of J.R. Smith’s huge mistake at the end of Game 1, when he dribbled out the clock because he thought his team was winning even though the game was actually tied (he later denied that, but, I mean …). A lot has gone wrong for Cleveland this season, which makes the fact that they’re even in the Finals that much more impressive. It’s a testament to LeBron’s incredible abilities.
But you can say that Smith’s blunder was the straw that broke Cleveland’s back. We can’t guess what would’ve happened if he’d taken that shot or passed to LeBron. He might’ve missed. LeBron might’ve missed. Stranger things have happened. But we’ll never know, because Smith made such an elementary error. That carelessness—that complete disrespect, really, especially given all James has done for this team—took whatever wind was left in the Cavs’ sails out of the equation. Sure, they’ve been down 3–1 in the Finals against the Warriors before (we all remember what happened then), but this feels different. That felt underdog-y. This feels sad.
The officiating in Game 2 didn’t help. I’m not sure why you’d give Coach Tyron Lue—TY LUE, WHO NEVER ARGUES—a technical foul when he questions a ref, but that’s what happened. The calls were uneven all game, and the refs seemed to strip away any momentum the Cavs had in the third quarter. It was unclear why certain guys were getting away with stuff that others weren’t, most of the time at Cleveland’s expense. But even if you account for that, the Cavs barely came within six points of the Warriors all game. They had bursts of energy, and LeBron was still phenomenal by all normal standards, but they never had the lead.
By the time it was 100–89 in the fourth, the game felt like a slog. Cleveland was wading through concrete as Golden State poured it. Then Curry heated up, doing things like shooting insane threes from, oh, a million miles away right as the shot clock wound down. The train, my friends, had left the station. The fridge was emptied. The bus was warmed up. It was 122–103, the game was over, and that was all she wrote.
We all should’ve learned by now never to write off LeBron. There’s always a chance he manages to push his teammates up the hill without them rolling back down on him, but winning a game off the Warriors at this point truly seems like a Sisyphean task. He didn’t have the fire on Sunday, and the matches are all wet. It almost makes you wish they could just mercy rule the series. Perhaps the silver lining is that this time Dan Gilbert probably won’t write a public letter in Comic Sans calling LeBron a terrible person for leaving Cleveland in the offseason. Anyone would have to be delusional to think he’d stick around for more of this.
It’s not over yet, but if I had to guess, this is how it ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper as the clock runs out.