OAKLAND, Calif. (TNS) — The Warriors played a near-perfect Game 2 to take a commanding _ perhaps insurmountable _ 2-0 lead over the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals Sunday.
And while the Cavs gave Golden State a solid good shot, but the Warriors took it and still ran Cleveland off the court.
The Warriors' Big Four were stellar: Klay Thompson provided his team an emotional boost (and 33 solid minutes) playing on a high ankle sprain, Draymond Green was omnipresent on the defensive end, Kevin Durant landed body blow after body blow, and Stephen Curry came in and landed multiple haymakers in the fourth quarter.
If the Warriors continue to play the way they did Sunday, this will be a short series — four or five games.
But anyone who has watched the Warriors all season knows that maintaining excellence — well, that's not exactly this team's thing.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr has called the Warriors' proclivity to let their guard down — to play lazy, disengaged basketball in the immediate aftermath of an emphatic performance — many things over the course of the year, but time and time again, he has chalked it up "human nature".
After all, it is hard for the Warriors to maintain that necessary "appropriate fear" when — deep down — they don't question if they're the better team.
But if ever there was a time to deny that desire — to actually press down now that their foot is on their opponent's throat — this is it.
Game 3 — which will be played Wednesday in Cleveland — is the series' pivotal game.
Yes, the Cavs will have to win four of the next five to claim the title — something that looks exceptionally difficult (and highly improbable) at the moment — but the difference between a 3-0 lead and a 2-1 lead in this series is far more massive than one game.
A 3-0 lead has proven historically insurmountable and these Finals would prove no different.
A 2-1 lead? That's a series LeBron James and the Cavs — likely with a good deal of momentum behind them — are 100 percent in.
This series has been defined by James' superlative performances and his lack of help through two games, but home teams always seem to receive two advantages that could loom massive in that pivotal Game 3.
The first is a favorable whistle.
James was a demigod in Game 1, but he showed signs of mortality in Game 2 (in which he was still superb) — I suspect that he'll want to attack Green and Durant — his two primary defenders — to cut into the Warriors' lack of wing depth (Andre Iguodala is still considered day-to-day — ESPN reported Monday that he is running, which means he could play in this series).
LeBron hasn't been a James Hardenesque foul hunter often in his career (though he's an excellent exaggerator), but these are desperate times and it's a lot less taxing to score from the free-throw line.
The Warriors were able to get away with some uncalled transgressions in Games 1 and 2 — don't expect them to find things as favorable in the foul department Games 3 and 4. James will make sure of that.
The second is the power-boosting abilities home court has on role players.
In the first two games of the series, the Cavs' role players embarrassed themselves. Let's run through some of their performances:
* Kyle Korver: one made shot in two games
* Jordan Clarkson: 6 points on 13 shots
* Jeff Green: 5-of-15 from the floor, 1-for-8 on open (defender four-plus feet away) shots
* JR Smith: 5-for-19 from the floor, 3-of-10 from beyond the arc, 2-of-9 on open shots... oh, and perhaps the worst blunder in NBA Finals history.
Hot damn, what a collection.
In all, the Cavs are shooting 28 percent on catch-and-shoot opportunities through the first two games and while 43 percent of the team's shots quality as open, per the NBA's tracking data, they've only made 30 percent of those 71 attempts (15-of-49 from 3).
There's going to be a market correction — these role players might not be all that good, but they're much, much better than what they've shown, and for whatever reason, they play better at home.
There is going to a game where Smith makes four or five 3-pointers — feel free to bet on it. The question is if it comes when the Cavs are in a position to do something with it or if it'll be a bizarre consolation prize.
The Warriors, of course, can counter anything the Cavs throw at them, but they'll need to be on their A-game if they expect to beat the Cavs once in Cleveland, much less twice.
Of course, the Warriors said all the right things heading into Game 3:
"We're extremely focused," said Thompson. "(W)e're not going to relax at all."
"It's going to be a tough task," Green said of playing in Cleveland.
But we've heard all those things before — until the Warriors show that they're "locked in from the jump on the defensive side," as Green said Sunday, it's empty rhetoric.
The Warriors have a chance to effectively clinch a championship on Wednesday. This team might have messed around for 100-plus games — rationing their energy and focus for more important games.
Wednesday and Friday are those more important games.
It's time for the Warriors to take off the governor and make a statement.