Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Why not us? We know that nobody has ever come back from a 1-3 series deficit in NBA Finals history. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, the mindset today has to be “Why not us?”. Somebody will eventually become the first team to do it. It will happen. Sometime. But will it be this year?
There’s a certain romanticism to that thought. As Cleveland fans, how could we not be jealous of the Boston Red Sox’ unthinkable comeback from an 0-3 deficit, trailing in the 9th inning of Game 4? The comeback to beat the Yankees and then win the World Series and finally break the “Curse of the Bambino” is an all-time legendary story. It’s something Red Sox fans will be talking about with their friends, their children, and their grandchildren until the day they die.
The Golden State Warriors became just the 10th team in NBA history to overcome a 1-3 deficit when they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. But no team has ever done it in the NBA Finals. If the Cavaliers can pull off the impossible, we would have our own story to talk about until our very dying breath. I want that.
I’ve been saying all along the recipe for winning this series was win three at home and steal one in Oakland. I thought if the Cavaliers lost any of their home games, they would have no chance in this series. Well, the Cavaliers lost one at home in Game 4. So here we are, staring into the nothingness of the reaper’s face. This series seemed destined to be over in Game 5 after the Cavaliers gave away Game 4.
But then Draymond Green got himself suspended and suddenly, the Cavaliers stole one in Oakland and now hope remains alive, if only for a little while longer. It’s really a shame the Cavaliers couldn’t pull themselves together in the 4th quarter of Game 4. Had they taken care of their business at home and still won Game 5, we’d be looking at a potential Championship clinching game in Cleveland on Thursday. Instead, the Cavaliers still face incredibly long odds thanks to this hole they dug for themselves. Steve Kerr said it best after Game 5, “I like our position a lot more than I like theirs.”
Maybe it has to be like this. Maybe the only way for Cleveland to win a Championship and end the drought is to overcome impossible odds. Playing the odds in Cleveland’s favor hasn’t worked out, so maybe this will, right? Or maybe that’s just the kind of platitudes people express when there’s no other logic-based conclusion that works in their favor.
This probably sounds like I’m being pessimistic. I’m actually not. I actually think the Cavaliers have played better in this series than I expected them to. There’s now a new recipe for winning this title now. It starts with getting stellar performances from the role players in front of an energized home crowd on Thursday, and then LeBron and Kyrie doing their thing in Game 7 while Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are just slightly off enough for Cleveland to win. The odds aren’t in Cleveland’s favor, but they sure are a heck of a lot better than they were prior to Game 5.
If I’m being honest, I actually think the Cavaliers have been the better team in each of the last three games of this series. People may scoff at any thought that the Cavaliers were the better team in a game they lost such as Game 4, but I feel like the things that cost Cleveland that game were self-inflicted. They played better than the Warriors for most of that game, in my opinion. They just weren’t better when it mattered the most, particularly in the two stretches the Warriors took over in the second half of that game.
So fine, you can dispute Game 4 if you want, but I think the Cavaliers have generally been playing better than the Warriors after Game 2. If they can keep this up, the Cavaliers will have a chance. Game 6 at home will be there for them if they want it. It will just be up to them to not only take it, but to also stave off a more focused Warriors team. Say what you will about Golden State, but in these playoffs, they have frequently allowed complacency to step in. They lost every Game 3 in these playoffs for a reason. They don’t really zero in on their best game until they absolutely need it. That’s what makes them so dangerous. As soon as you put them in a tough spot and start feeling good about yourself, they strike back and retake momentum. In these Finals, though, there’s no more momentum to give back.
If Andrew Bogut misses any time in this series, it could be a fortunate turn for the Cavaliers as well. I know, I know….but Bogut barely plays, how can his absence really matter? But Bogut has clearly been the Warriors’ best rim protector. Draymond Green is obviously the better overall defender and better at defending the lane in general, but in terms of pure rim protection, Bogut has been great in his limited time in this series, averaging 2 blocks per game in just 12 minutes per game. With the Cavaliers’ mindset of attacking the rim early, not having an excellent shot blocker in the back end of the defense will allow the Cavaliers a chance to get off to a good start and build momentum.
All of this is just one big way of saying, the Cavaliers are in this. This series is not over. There are analytical ways of looking at this series and visualizing the Cavaliers winning it. It may not be the most likely outcome. Golden State still has to be a clear favorite to win this series. But the odds of Cleveland winning are not astronomical. It could happen.
Who knows what these next two games will hold. Can LeBron and Kyrie continue to be this kind of great? Can Kevin Love wake up and rediscover the form and quality he showed earlier in these playoffs? Can JR Smith deliver another one of those JR games? Can Channing Frye, whom the Cavaliers gave up Anderson Varejao for and who played so well in the Eastern Conference series before becoming a ghost in the Finals, just give the Cavaliers one game where he finds some playing time, gets some space, and knocks down some shots? Or will LeBron and Kyrie have to continue to mostly do this on their own (with all due respect to Richard Jefferson, who has been great and Tristan Thompson, who has had his moments)?
We’ll find out on Thursday.