After two decisive losses in Golden State to start the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers can only become champions by securing victory in four of the next five games against the winningest team in league history.
It has taken a total team effort to put the Cavs in this precarious position.
Eyes always focus in on LeBron James, and while he deserves his fair share of the blame, the entire Cleveland roster has played a part in starting the Finals down 2-0.
Unlike last June, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love came into the series healthy. The Cavs absolutely needed big games from both stars to beat the Warriors on the road in either Game 1 or 2. But Irving has made just 12-of-36 shots, including 1-of-7 from three. He has five assists and six turnovers over 71 minutes, with a playoff-low 10 points in Game 2. Love scored 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting in Game 1, but he left Game 2 after 21 minutes with concussion-like symptoms. He has only 22 points in 58 minutes, or five less than Shaun Livington has given the Warriors in 51 minutes during the first two games.
Cleveland’s inefficiency in the NBA Finals can be summed up in J.R. Smith, who has exactly eight points over 69 minutes. A streaky three-point shooter, he has attempted just seven threes and nine total shots to start the series, while also committing eight fouls and playing inconsistent defense on Golden State’s perimeter weapons.
Tristan Thompson is shooting just 42 percent and averaging nine points. He’s been no match for Draymond Green (44 points, 12 assists, seven three-pointers) on the offensive end. For some puzzling reason, Channing Frye—who hit 26 three-pointers during Cleveland’s first three playoff series—has played just 11 minutes and taken only two shots. Matthew Dellavedova has made three of his first 12 shots to start the series.
Overall, the Warriors bench has scored 85 points in two games, while the majority of Cleveland’s 41 bench points came during garbage time of Sunday’s blowout in Game 2.
Then there is the King.
For all his impressive volume numbers (20 rebounds, 21 assists), James has shot only 16-of-38 from the field. He’s also committed 11 turnovers, including a game-high seven in Game 2.
Add up the collective struggles, and it’s easy to see why the Cavs are down 2-0—with a combined point different of minus-48—to start the NBA Finals.
Amazingly, the Cavs were dismantled in Golden State despite Steph Curry—the league’s first unanimous MVP—scoring just 29 points over 61 minutes. Klay Thompson, the other Splash Brother, has scored only 26 points. The two made just 21 combined field goals over Games 1 and 2.
In other words, the Warriors are coasting to NBA Finals wins.
Are the Cavs this bad? Probably not. There’s nothing easy about playing the Warriors at Oracle Arena, and the job becomes next to impossible when the entirety of the visitor’s roster is struggling in the manner Cleveland’s has during the first two games. The 2016 NBA Finals will hinge on whether or not the Cavs can snap out of the slump at home over Games 3 and 4, but even a big rebound in Cleveland won’t matter if the Cavs don’t play significantly better in Golden State in a hypothetical Game 5.