USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt discuss that while the Warriors squandered a 2-0 start in last year’s NBA Finals, something feels different this year.
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The parallel tracks of the past two NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers run similarly.
To a certain point.
Yes, the Warriors won the first two games at home by a significant margin. Golden State is plus-41 this year compared to plus-48 last year and takes a 2-0 series lead back to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday and Game 4 on Friday.
But if you’ve watched this series closely, the idea has emerged that no matter what the Cavaliers do, it won’t be enough, even with LeBron James generating triple-doubles, as he did in Game 2. Beating the Warriors four times in the next five games seems impossible.
It felt that way a year ago, too, but this season’s Warriors are different. Most notably, they now have Kevin Durant, who is performing at a Finals MVP level.
“You guys asked me what was the difference, and I told you,” James said. “They’re a different team.”
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That’s not to say the Cavs can’t win a game or two at home and turn this into a series.
But the Cavs’ margin of error is slim, and they need a near-perfect game to beat Golden State. The Warriors don’t have that same issue. They committed 20 turnovers in Game 2 and still generated the most points scored against Cleveland this postseason.
The Cavaliers played better on Sunday than in Game 1 and it was still a 132-113 loss.
“I don’t want to get into the ‘what we need to do better’ right now. The game is too fresh,” James said. “We’re going to go home and watch the film to see ways we can be better. Do things – I don’t want to say differently because you work so hard to get to this point – but make a couple of changes to see if we can be a lot better defensively and offensively.”
The Cavs could start with a lineup change. ESPN reported the Cavs’ coaching staff might consider starting Iman Shumpert instead of J.R. Smith, who is struggling on both ends of the court. That would give the Cavs some much-needed help defensively.
But a move like that comes with a risk. How does Smith handle it? Does it send a message to the locker room that the coaching staff doesn’t have faith in him after relying on him throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs?
“Having awareness, can’t relax, can’t fall asleep,” Cavs coach Ty Lue said of Cleveland’s defense. “Their offense is constant movement, so you got to be locked in. You can’t take a peek somewhere and lose your man, so they make you pay. And they have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball, have a lot of guys who are great passers, so you got to be alert at all times.”
Finding Kyrie Irving better scoring opportunities and getting more production from Cleveland’s non-Big Three is also necessary.
There is room for improvement, and the Cavs believe they can make the adjustments that lead to that improvement.
But this isn’t all in a bubble of what Cleveland isn’t doing. Golden State is responsible for plenty of Cleveland’s struggles because of their offensive weapons and defensive pressure.
There is a psychological component, too. The Cavs have watched the film. They know they’ve been close, trailing 86-82 midway through the third quarter of Game 2. They’ve seen what happens.
Golden State turns a four-point lead into a 12-point lead in a few possessions and a 12-point lead into a 22-point lead shortly thereafter. You can see the frustration in Cleveland’s body language.
The elite athlete’s mind blocks out or ignores what seems logical to critics. It’s why the New England Patriots didn’t give up when they trailed the Atlanta Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl 51. It’s why the Chicago Cubs didn’t quit when they trailed the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series and why the Cavs kept believing when they were down 3-1 to the Warriors in last year’s Finals
“They took care of home court,” Irving said. “We understand that. Down 0-2, going back home, you have to live with those odds. You have to remain non-wavering. As I say, never waver in terms of whatever the outlook looks like. We understand who we are and we stay the course.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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