Cavs’ tough­ness, pas­sion and heart in question

Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - By MARIA RIDENOUR (Akron Bea­con Jour­nal/TNS)

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.

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