The Cavaliers finally came to the party. We knew they would come out swinging.
At halftime, after two quarters of blistering action, it was hard to fathom what had just went down. We knew it would take something crazy to match the Warriors, but what they put forward was simply the greatest first-half offensive display in NBA Finals history. They didn’t just swing, they threw a haymaker – and it connected.
You can sort through the various numbers: 49 first-quarter points, 86 first-half points, 13 made threes. All records.
You could point to the disjointed flow of the game, or the bewildering officiating on multiple occasions. Bit it can all be boiled down to one element.
We’ve seen this before — LeBron’s Heat, facing elimination down 3-1 to the Spurs, came out firing and kicked out with an immediate 22-6 run. There was that same overarching sense of desperation. There wasn’t any margin for error and they knew they had to start strong.
They overplayed their hand, ran out of energy and watched the Spurs methodically pull them back, comfortably cruising past them for a 17-point win…and a championship.
It makes a nice parallel to this series. By the time the elimination game rolled around, the deficit between the teams was obvious. San Antonio had clearly figured Miami out, and the Heat were relying on talent, and talent alone, in hopes of a comeback. And whilst that may sound simplistic, they were super talented, and it might just have worked against a different team. The Spurs hit a groove at the right time and totally obliterated a terrific team.
This is directly relatable to 2017, as the conversation circles the same theory. The Cavs are incredibly talented, only problem is they’ve just run into a flying freight train, unlike anything we’ve seen. They had to get desperate to get results.
That’s scary, because desperation is like adrenaline. It can lead to extraordinary happenings, but everything regresses to the mean. That’s the point of the seven-game series. The Cavs can’t break records for three more.
And whilst there are comparable aspects, there are some stark differences. LeBron was the man in Miami, but the team wasn’t built with his skills in their DNA. The Cavs have quite literally been assembled to accommodate for James’ best skills.
They’re also much younger — Miami hit a wall in 2014 and it was clear they didn’t have the legs to finish the job. That won’t be a problem here.
Then there’s his new sidekick.
No one, not even the great Dwayne Wade, was a shot-maker like Kyrie Irving. His game has obvious flaws, but when he’s cooking there isn’t many options in the way of slowing him down. Klay Thompson smothered him with stellar defensive play once again, just this time the shots went in. Kyrie was always going to keep taking them. Now he just has to keep making them. He isn’t going to shy away from the stage, and Cleveland is going to have to lean just as heavy on his contributions as they will James’.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 10, 2017
It’s a tall order, and whilst their historic 3-1 return from the grave last time out inspires confidence, pulling out a performance like this three more times isn’t that straightforward.
See, basketball is a game of runs, and no one can get as hot as Golden State. Think of the 13-0 third quarter run in Game 1. And how about the 11-0 run to finish game 3?
The first two games were oddly comparable to last year. Cleveland came out lacking focus and polish, and the Warriors finished the job. Game 3 was Cleveland’s chance. Complacency, poor execution and a Durant dagger should have sucked the life out of the team as it did the building once the buzzer hit.
But champions know how to win.
Irving and James are going to continue making big plays, but they needed help.
We finally got the JR Smith game, and Tristan Thompson is prolonging the effects of the dreaded Kardashian curse, with his best (and first) showing in the series. Kevin Love has played some of his best ball (and hasn’t been a liability defensively), his performances underrated. They need everyone to hold this level if they are going to pull off the unimaginable.
Nobody in NBA history has had to go up against tougher Finals opponents than LeBron James. pic.twitter.com/pZucQJuPnr
— Cavaliers Nation (@WeAreCavsNation) June 11, 2017
We know all the tropes used to explain what we’re seeing — the Warriors shoot a ton, sometimes they’ll have bad nights. The Cavs also shoot a ton, sometimes they’ll have good nights. LeBron is ridiculous and he is capable of superhuman things.
But it’s the unspoken ideas that will define the rest of these Finals.
When the Warriors go cold, it can get ugly. It doesn’t happen often. This team runs so smoothly, and operate at such a level that rarely to they struggle for rhythm. Complications are so minimal that sometimes they seem unequipped, or at least inexperienced in dealing with adversity.
Conversely, LeBron’s Cavs 2.0 is a crash course in crisis aversion and overcoming hardships. They’ve been through everything, including this exact scenario they find themselves in now, and come out the other end better off. That can’t be underestimated — this team won’t quit. They really believe they can overcome this.
And they just might.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 11, 2017
Or the Warriors could come out and be the Warriors for two quarters of Game 5 and that’s the end of that. The explosive nature of these teams leave us believing anything is possible.
There is finally semblance of competition. At the very least, we finally have a series.