Culture of Hoops

Cavaliers Win Ugly, Insanely Unpredictable Game 2

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

Screen capture courtesy of the NBA/YouTube.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won a gritty Game 2 of the NBA Finals, a contest that had a belief-defying amount of drama and action. There was LeBron James having a dreadful shooting game while posting a monstrous triple-double: 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists on 11-for-34 shooting. There was Stephen Curry having a nightmare from the floor: 5-for-23 from the field, 2-of-15 on triples. There was Matthew Dellavedova‘s brilliant six-turnover, one-assist game as a starting point guard. Most shockingly, there was an epic Cleveland collapse in the fourth quarter, blowing an 11-point lead near the end of regulation, only to end up winning by a 95-93 score in overtime.

The amount of subplots is difficult to calculate. “Ugly” is a word that remained attached to Game 2 throughout all the madness, a lone constant in a wild showdown. For Cleveland, they built a lead behind isolation-heavy offense for James. He was able to accomplish productive work in the post as he utilized teammates more so than in Game 1. Timofey Mozgov was a huge first-half factor, finishing the game with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He disappeared, however, when Golden State ran a small lineup. J.R. Smith had 13 points in 38 minutes, but most notably committed a series of foolish fouls in regulation and overtime.

In the fourth quarter, Cleveland’s reliance on James shifted negatively. The team’s sluggish, movement-challenged possessions allowed the Warriors to comeback. Curry, Andre Iguodala, and others began chucking threes while the Warriors also implemented a hack-a-Tristan Thompson strategy. After James missed a layup and Thompson missed a tip at the end of regulation, we had overtime. Iman Shumpert‘s triple set the tempo to begin OT, but the Warriors took a one-point lead late after Curry made two free throws. Following a missed James Jones three, Dellavedova crashed the offensive glass, somehow being able to draw a foul on Harrison Barnes as the St. Mary’s product threw up a shot attempt.

Nothing about Dellavedova’s game is pleasing to the eye. His dribbling skills are questionable. His jump shot is often ugly. Why is this the case? In part, it’s likely because he exerts such a tremendous degree of energy on defense. In this spot, however, Dellevedova made both free throws to put Cleveland up 94-93. He then attached himself to Curry on the defensive end as the MVP chucked up an airball. James landed the rebound, split his free throws, and a Warriors’ desperation possession was halted when Shumpert deflected a would-be pass from Curry to Klay Thompson. Once the final buzzer sounded, James exclaimed in a combination of immense happiness and pure relief.

On the Warriors’ end, it’s time to wake up. Kevin Love isn’t playing in the NBA Finals. Kyrie Irving didn’t play in Game 2. For the mastery James provided, he was 11-for-34 from the floor. Cleveland’s offensive trips were as predictable as a Stephen A. Smith rant. Okay, Golden State’s comeback was noble. Epic, even. But the team lacked any sort of offensive rhythm for the entire game. Thompson was able to drop 34 points without committing a single turnover, but his running mates weren’t able to join the ride. Going 8-for-35 on threes as a team, the Warriors played a miserable game with sloppy execution. Furthermore, Cleveland nearly gift-wrapped Game 2 by blowing that 11-point lead late in the fourth. The Cavs’ miscues opened the door for Golden State to take a 2-0 lead. Golden State’s comeback was only made possible by Cleveland’s ineptitude.

Beyond the aforementioned chaos mentioned, this game also featured oddities and frustrating sequences. Down three near the end of the first half, Marreese Speights missed a basic dunk attempt that should solidify his inclusion on SportsCenter’s next “Not Top Ten.” It was an embarrassing error that dropped jaws for all the wrong reasons. Almost equally as egregious was the officiating. There were various periods where the refs simply swallowed their whistles, failing to call both travels committed by James, and fouls, hacks, to be more specific, against him. The refs were wildly inconsistent and put forth an officiating product that was anything but clean. Both teams were harmed by the inconsistency.

All that said, we have ourselves a series. The NBA Finals appeared over once Irving went down, but James possesses a will that most professional athletes are unable to claim. He was aggressive and constantly pushing forward in his 50 minutes. For Golden State, there can’t be anymore sleepwalking. They need a cohesive performance bolstered by its MVP. Ugly games favor Cleveland. The Cavs want a chaotic style since that’s how Cleveland’s role players can compensate for the talent they lack compared to Golden State. In Game 3 and beyond, the Warriors have to break out of its offensive funk.

Tied 1-1, the NBA Finals now shift to Cleveland. Game 3 will be Tuesday, 6/9 at 9:00 pm ET.

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