Cavs’ toughness, passion and heart in question
In Sunday’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had their toughness tested.
The result should have been an affront to their manhood.
The Cavs couldn’t match the defending champion Golden State Warriors’ physicality.
They were mentally powerless to stop a 20-2 run in the second quarter and another onslaught in the fourth.
They were thrown off their games by the officiating crew, which ignored the pounding the Cavs absorbed, especially under the basket.
They couldn’t handle the pressure of the big stage, with only the oldest man on the roster, Richard Jefferson, playing as if he weren’t intimidated.
Rookie coach Tyronn Lue looked overmatched, struggling to find effective combinations.
It all added up to the Cavs returning home down 0-2, setting up a must-win situation in Game 3 Wednesday night in Cleveland.
The Cavs may have been aware of the physical style required, especially in Oracle, where the Warriors are 50-3 this season, 11-1 in the playoffs. But the Cavs still didn’t play that way.
Even LeBron James failed the Cavs. He saw his career-best string of 25 consecutive postseason games with at least 20 points snapped, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
For the second consecutive game and continuing a troubling trend from the 2015 Finals against the Warriors, J.R. Smith struggled offensively. He hit 2-of6 from the field and scored just five points. Smith came out trying to dribble past Klay Thompson and looked ragged and erratic.
The Warriors showed no mercy in pouring it on, and did it again without superstars Curry and Thompson responsible for all the damage. But it wasn’t just the dazzling ability to score, but the intensity with which the Warriors played, no matter who was on the court.
Cleveland takes its cues from its leader, and when James starts slowly, so, too, do the rest. But the Cavs also failed to channel their frustration over the officiating into playing angry on offense.
Even after Kevin Love took an inadvertent forearm to the back of the head by Harrison Barnes, the Cavs continued to play passively, were outhustled and outmuscled, seemingly resigned to their fate.
The Warriors looked like an unstoppable juggernaut, the Cavs the psychologically fragile souls that some in the league perceive them to be.
As a team, the Cavs and Warriors could not be further apart, the Warriors far superior in terms of heart, swagger and the ability to rise to the occasion.
Perhaps the friendly confines of home will renew the Cavs’ energy, will ignite their aggression, will help them locate their passion.
If not, the Warriors’ record-setting 73-victory season seems to be marching toward another champagne celebration in the visitors locker room.