Doubt about the Cleveland Cavaliers has existed all year, but it really began to set in when Kevin Love went down in the first round against the Boston Celtics. Even through injuries and coaching problems, this team found the resolve to get through its conference foes and represent the East in the 2015 NBA Finals. But then star point guard Kyrie Irving — already battling knee tendinitis — went down toward the end of Game 1 with a fractured kneecap, and that was it. The nail in the coffin. The team that had started the postseason with a formidable big three, had officially lost the second member of its newly formed dynamic duo. And there was no coming back from that. This club was beyond saving.
With Kyrie still able to take the floor, the perception was that the Cavs could muster up the necessary firepower to compete against the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors. But with Irving gone for the remainder of the postseason, and Cleveland already in a 1-0 hole following a heartbreaking overtime loss in Game 1, it didn’t matter that the Cavaliers still had the best player on the planet, they didn’t have enough to stay in this series. LeBron James may, at times, be superhuman, but even he couldn’t carry this group against an ultra-talented Dubs team that won 67 games in the regular season. This series was over and everyone knew it. Everyone, except the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The undermanned Cavs didn’t fold under the weight of their insurmountable odds. Instead they banded together to take Game 2 in overtime by a score of 95-93. James led the charge with 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists. Both teams head to Cleveland with the series tied at one game a piece. The King’s numbers may soar above the rest, but he knows this was a collective win.
“I tried to give it all to my teammates. And they do a great job of giving it back to me. Total team effort,” James said after the game, “To be back in the same position we were in three days ago and to come back and even the series is big time.” It was almost not meant to be. The Cavaliers were up 11 points with just over three minutes left to play, and they couldn’t close things out. The Warriors went on a run and, for the second game in a row, the winner would be decided in overtime (the first time in NBA Finals history that Games 1 and 2 have both gone to TO). However, unlike in Game 1, the Cavaliers wouldn’t let this one slip away.
It wasn’t a pretty win by any means. But that’s no longer who the Cavaliers are. This team scrapes and claws and brings physicality on both ends of the floor. They limited Golden State to just 39.8% shooting from the field and forced the Dubs to commit 18 turnovers. But if we’re looking for one play who most exemplified this newfound toughness, it was Matthew Dellavedova.
The scrappy Australian only scored nine points on the night, but it was his harassing defense against Stephen Curry that changed the dynamic of the game. Chef Curry wasn’t his usual lethal self — scoring 19 points on 5 for 23 shooting, including just two makes (of 15 attempts) from beyond the three-point line — but he was especially ineffective against the physical guard. In Game 2, with Dellavedova guarding the MVP, Curry didn’t score — 0 for 8 from the field — and he also committed four turnovers. We’re not saying the Baby-Faced Assassin will continue to shoot this poorly for the rest of the series, but he better be prepared to work extra hard for his shots.
It certainly wasn’t all roses for the Eastern Conference champs. This game should’ve never needed an extra frame, and the club had no answer for the other Splash Brother Klay Thompson, who went off for 34 points on 14 for 28 shooting. But with their backs against the wall, the Cavaliers formed a unified front and forged the sort of identity that may allow them to actually pull off this monumental upset.
“It’s the grit squad right now,” said James. “If you expect us to play sexy, cute basketball, that’s not us right now. Everything is tough, and it has to be that for rest of series.”
The Cavaliers may not play sexy for the rest of the series. They might not even end up winning the whole thing. But one thing’s for certain, this group will not go down without a fight. And if the rest of the series plays out like these first two games, trust us, no one will be complaining.