- The Warriors entered this year's Finals the heaviest of favorites against the Cavaliers. With a 2-0 lead in hand, would a Golden State sweep indicate a Cleveland mental breakdown or just the reality of the Dubs' dominance?
After a devastating Game 1 defeat, the Cavaliers were overwhelmed by the Warriors' stars in a Game 2 blowout. As the series shifts back to Cleveland, the biggest question on everyone's mind is: Will the Warriors pull off the sweep?
In the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver check in from Cleveland to discuss the Warriors' first two wins and how the Cavaliers might respond in Games 3 and 4. Will LeBron James be able to carry his teammates to victory? Or will his supporting cast step up to lessen the load and catch the Warriors off guard?
With Game 3 tipping off Wednesday night, Sharp and Golliver examine what the Cavs will have to do to stave off the sweep. Subscribe to Open Floor on Apple Podcasts to check out the full episode and more. (This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity).
Andrew Sharp: If the Warriors sweep, is it a mental breakdown on the Cavs' side or was it always on the table? All along, we said getting a game off the Warriors was probably the best LeBron could do. What do you see happening from here?
Ben Golliver: It reminds me of the last couple of years. Same situation, down 2–0 coming back to Cleveland. It’s kind of that make-or-break Game 3. If you come out and throw a big punch and everyone is hitting their three-point shots, the role players step up, Rodney Hood has his game, Kyle Korver finally gets loose, Golden State can’t quite match the urgency of Cleveland and LeBron has a 40-point triple-double…then OK. This is going to be something we’re going to talk about. If it’s going to be like last year and they just can’t quite summon that level of energy, then this is going to end pretty quickly. So to me, we’re going to know one way or the other pretty soon…
I’m leaning toward it’s probably not going to matter. I think the big takeaway from Game 2 was that Steph Curry and Kevin Durant finally struck the proper balance in terms of their roles offensively. I think the heavy switching in the Western Conference finals threw Golden State for some real loops. And I think what we saw in Game 2 was KD making really aggressive quick decisions, not overpassing, passing when he needed to, and then attacking off the dribble to get to the basket or get easy eight-foot shots instead of 18-foot shots. That constant pummeling set up Steph Curry. He was slumping a bit in the first three quarters, but that set him up perfectly for the haymakers that he was throwing in the fourth. Cleveland, they really had no answer for Curry, because they couldn’t divert attention away from Durant, because he was basically scoring every time he touched the ball. But once Curry gets going, they can’t divert extra attention to him, because he just makes that slip pass to Durant for a back-breaking dunk midway through the fourth quarter. It was finally the proper interplay between Durant and Curry that had really been lacking for the last month or so. When those guys are clicking, I don’t know how you stop them. And I certainly don’t know how Cleveland’s defensive personnel stops them.
Sharp: Yeah, I agree with everything you said. You took a bit of a passive-aggressive shot at Steph struggling for the first three quarters…
Golliver: Well, he was…
Sharp: I’m not sure I’d agree with that whatsoever. I think he was doing a great job setting the tempo and getting everyone else involved.
Golliver: But he was like 6 for 18. We can’t say that was a good shooting performance from Steph in the first three quarters.
Sharp: But if you’re going to be reductive and say Steph’s shooting is exactly how we feel about his game, then sure, he wasn’t great.
Golliver: I just said he struggled with his shot, that’s all. He wasn’t really initiating most of the offense earlier in the game. They were playing through KD. But the point was, when he was ready to get going, the board was set up for him perfectly and he knocked them out. Five straight threes in the fourth, one being a four-point play… it was pow-pow-pow. It doesn’t take 48 minutes from Steph to do that. All I’m saying is it came in an eight-minute flurry and that was that.
Sharp: I just enjoy how quietly defensive you are getting…
Golliver: Oh, come on!
Sharp: This has been a trying few weeks for your boy Durant and I understand. I’ll give you space, just like Ty Lue. I’ll let you work through it.
Golliver: What am I supposedly working through? The fact that KD was better than Steph in Game 2?
Sharp: [Laughs] In all seriousness, what I liked about that Warriors win was that we got to see them at their very best. Everyone was hitting on all cylinders. And really, that’s one of the games that I wanted coming out of this series. Because the Warriors can screw around and win four games and a title, but we saw them get pushed enough to show why they are going to win three titles in four years here. They did a lot of little things defensively to make LeBron’s life tougher and there were guys like Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson, who showed up and played hurt and got 20 points—everyone was great. Draymond was great, even though he’s not shooting anymore. That’s kind of the Warriors’ formula. A team that is really smart and does all the little things, and then you have Steph come in with the backbreaking threes. It was the ideal Warriors win in Game 2. And I’m glad we got a chance to see it. And I should add: Cleveland deserves credit for forcing Golden State to play that game. Going into Game 2, I had my guard up for just a terrible Cavs effort. After Game 1 and the way that ended, I really was nervous that they were going to be totally checked out and Golden State went up 9-10 points early on, but Cleveland kept fighting back and chip into that lead. And it forced the Warriors to play a solid 48-minute game. I was impressed with both teams in Game 2.
Golliver: Yeah, LeBron was having to work a lot harder in Game 2 but still generating a lot of offense for both himself and Kevin Love. If you’re trying to sell help to Cleveland, that’s where it starts. Golden State doesn’t really have LeBron figured out here. Now, Andre Iguodala coming back could help, but they don’t have some master plan. Like having KD or Draymond pick him up around midcourt and try and wear him down possession after possession is a really good strategy, but it’s not like the LeBron Rules. They haven’t found some way to neutralize him, he’s still getting basically anywhere he wants on the court and getting some quality three-point looks for his teammates, who were just not hitting them in Game 2. I thought, given how slow Steph started, that could have really been a game had the Cavs’ guys showed up. I wasn’t surprised to see it kind of crumble in the fourth because I just didn’t think Cleveland had enough offensive continuity to keep pace once Steph got going.
Sharp: And that’s part of what makes the Shaun Livingston, two-seconds-on-the-shot-clock, 16-foot jumper so painful. Knowing the Steph run is coming makes all the other little things more demoralizing.
Golliver: Or that David West corner three? His first three-pointer since November? That was a crusher, too.
Sharp: Exactly. Playing the Warriors would make me lose my mind, so I admire the way the Cavs are fighting. They just don’t have the horses, at least on the road. Because at Oracle, you know you’re getting one game when things get out of hand and Golden State wins by 15-20. We’ve seen that game 100 different times over the last four years. And that’s another reason why Game 1 was so excruciating.
I’ve got another question for you as a human. I need you to try and be a regular person here. And give me a real take. Would you like it if this series was just over in four and we could move on?
Golliver: I don’t really care about four or five. Logistically, if I have to head back west, it’s fine. If this winds up being a real series and Cleveland gets control at home—I’m all for that. But if Golden State comes out and screws around and they have a 25-turnover game and we wind up having a Game 6 we actually don’t need to have, then I’d be a little annoyed. But basketball is basketball. We don’t have anything else to watch until Las Vegas Summer League and the quality of play in those gyms is a little bit lower than what we’ve seen so far in the NBA Finals…
So I’m not rushing this series out the door by any stretch, because I still think we have storylines to look at. Not only is this Durant-Curry pairing interesting to watch or Draymond’s thinking through his shooting selection interesting to watch—but some of these things have carryover effects to this summer’s free-agent decisions or into next season. But also on Cleveland’s side, at practice on Tuesday, Ty Lue was saying, “They switch everything. We can’t get Kyle Korver open. What are we supposed to do?” He was just kind of throwing his hands up and saying, “We’re not getting anything from Korver. They stay close to him every time LeBron drives and they switch so aggressively on the perimeter that he’s not able to get the looks he can usually get.” I thought it was a very honest admission from Ty Lue. It’s one of those situations where it’s tricky to counter. You can’t really have Korver cutting backdoor and getting these high-flying layups—that’s not really his game. So I want to see in Game 3 and Game 4, does that continue? Are they able to find ways to crack Golden State’s defense? Obviously the Hood factor, which we led with because we’re morons, that’s interesting too! My point is, there are enough basketball wrinkles that even though this is the fourth time they’ve played, I’m not bored yet.