The Warriors woke up this morning with the sting of the worst home loss in franchise history ringing between their collective ears. For the layman, think the same feeling as rushing to your flight at McCarran, wallet a couple grand lighter, and realizing once you get to the gate you left your shoes, belt and laptop at security.
Much of the pre-game attention was placed on the displaced kneecap of the Cavs’ starting point guard Kyrie Irving. As it turns out, Irving, who will enjoy the rest of these finals in blazer and wine-colored turtleneck, can also be replaced.
It was a tale of two heroes for Cleveland (three if you count the officials). The first half it was the big Russian Tomofey Mozgov who sat the entire fourth quarter after an emphatic 17 points and 11 boards. He drew so many fouls the first half that the re-play had to check LeBron for a hidden whistle. As the Warriors went small with their lineup, Cleveland coach David Blatt benched his favorite fermented potato swiller to go with his more nimble defenders.
Enter the play of Matt Dellavedova. Though the reserve point guard from St. Mary’s looks like the coach’s kid on a CYO team—a combination of pasty skin, brown mouth guard and fear, it’s as if for the first time this season the NBA lifted the embargo on putting a hand Steph Curry’s face and Dellavedova was the beneficiary. The result, the NBA’s current MVP missed all eight of his attempts while being D’d up by Dellavedova including airing out a game-winning jumper with 4.4 to go in overtime.
Curry’s rough entry into the finals continues.
He committed four turnovers and has shot 5 of 21 overall and is only 4 for 21 beyond the arc for the series thus far. Curry’s streaky play dates back to the last series—the fall from the rafters game four in Houston to be exact. Curry has been abysmal since he went bungee jumping without the cord off Trevor Ariza, lending credence that whatever ails him may have been more than an “abrasion” to the head. Here’s Curry’s stat line since the injury: 26-of-73 from the floor for 35.6% and 10-of-36 from three for 27%. During the regular season, he was 48 and 44 percent respectively.
In light of Curry’s ineffectiveness, it’s a wonder the Warriors escaped the confines of Oracle with the series knotted at one.
Injury notwithstanding, this isn’t the first time the Warriors have experienced a dip in Curry’s production this playoffs…and the first time they persevered. During the western regional, after hoisting the MVP trophy in the pre-game, Curry was shut down by Memphis, then again in the city Sun Studio built to go down 2-1 in the series.
But the stroke eventually came back: “It didn’t feel right,” Curry said of his first two games Sunday. “I don’t expect to shoot like this. I’ve got to play better, find better shots and be more in a rhythm throughout the course of the game for us to really assert ourselves as a team.”
The Cavs aren’t faring much better from the floor. Game two, they shot 33 percent and James, though he messed around like Ice Cube and got a triple-double Sunday, clanged 24 shots including a signature bullying drive and ensuing missed layup with seven to go. LeBron’s second game in a row with the rock in his hands and the chance to end it in regulation and he’s oh-for-two.
But the King still gets plus points for his acting, and not just in the Trainwreck trailer which looks like one of those Jason Bateman/Jennifer Aniston-type entries where the chick works at a high-end magazine and has a great apartment because that life exists. Then people make up relationship problems that completely don’t exist in relationships as the audience sticks around if only for the end credits outtakes.
The refs decided that every contact on LeBron didn’t send the superstar to the line in the fourth and overtime and so King J cried and smacked his forearms more than an addict. The histrionics continued into the post game when Bron plead his case as sympathetic creature. “We’re without two All-Stars,” James said of the absence of Irving and power forward Kevin Love. “I don’t know any other team in this league that would be able to do that, to be able to be without two All-Stars on their team and compete the way we compete and be a force.”
That’s a surreptitiously self-aggrandizing way of putting it #humblebron, but the reality is LeBron and Love have yet to gel on the court and while Irving, it can be argued, is one of the top five point guards the league (the top two being Curry and LeBron himself) his game also has yet to completely jibe with the King’s.
What happened Sunday was oftentimes a nearly unwatchable scrap. LeBron’s play, though it can be at times dominating, has never been pretty and is hardly ever clutch. But he’s got his goons and Cleveland has been getting wildly lucky that the Warriors, with the exception of Klay Thompson’s 20-point first half performance Sunday, have yet to heat up.
I don’t buy the argument that the Warriors are for the first time this season facing a physical team and can’t hang. If anyone, it’s Golden State who showed resolve late as they clawed back from an 11-point deficit starting at 3:14 to go in the fourth. If anything is to blame for the home loss Sunday, it’s Steve Kerr’s rotation follies, especially in OT.
His squad came out flatter than day-old Coke the second half. During his first timeout, Kerr should have let Marreese Speights tear off the warmups to reveal his cape along with Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Festus Ezeli and Leandro Barbosa. That second unit simply snuffed out the Cavs’ candle in game one, including the majority of OT—preventing them from scoring until the game’s final seconds.
And yet Kerr strayed from the formula that gave the Warriors the season’s best winning percentage and has worked all playoffs. Don’t look for that mistake to happen again on the shores of the mighty Cuyahoga.
The only thing uglier than play on the court was the drunken officiating. Though both teams can point to egregious missed calls. LeBron still lowers his shoulder, travels like an empty nester and hacks every play and yet when he started getting touched with five to go in the fourth, he behaved like a chin-strapped and tatted-up toddler.
A Scott Foster-led crew has let the road team win for the last 11 games this playoffs. Golden State only hopes Foster lends them his same sympathies Tuesday at the Q.