It was a night full of turnovers, defensive lapses, bad rebounding and not even remotely enough effort. The Cleveland Cavaliers played sloppy, made too many brain farts and it all came back to bite them in a bad way.
Let’s pause for a quick second. Am I describing Game 1 of the NBA Finals? Or is this rehashing one of Cleveland’s lazy mid-March contests against a lottery team?
Unfortunately, the answer is both.
For those who (choose to) remember the final months of the regular season, you’ll recall the Cavs playing some incredibly messy and uninspiring basketball. Mental gaffes could be seen on a nightly basis, while genuine effort only made brief cameos here and there.
When these warts popped up in the regular season, they were mildly excusable, passed off as the end result of Cleveland saving itself for the postseason and another Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors.
That those same issues cropped up on the stage the Cavs have been gearing up for all year is more than a little alarming. They opened the Finals about as carelessly as possible and, believe it or not, Golden State made them pay. By the time the dust settled, the Warriors took Game 1 by a score of 113-91 and now have the world doubting Cleveland will be able to recover.
I’m not here to play doomsayer. One game doesn’t make a series, and all it’ll take is a strong bounce-back effort from the Cavs to get right back into it.
This is, of course, provided they never again play as ugly as they did last night. If the Cavs want to turn this into a series, they need to make sure they got all their bad habits out of their system in Game 1.
By now you’ve seen the box score. Cleveland played an incredibly generous game, handing the Warriors an astounding 20 turnovers. Unsurprisingly, they cashed in on the Cavs’ mistakes, scoring 27 fast break points. LeBron James was responsible for eight of these fumbles, as he was constantly throwing cross-court passes to either unsuspecting teammates or wide open Warriors.
Cleveland played lethargic, and it was apparent from the get-go. The team allowed the Warriors to grab 15 offensive rebounds. Too many possessions involved a Cavalier dribbling down the court and hoisting a three-pointer just seconds into the shot clock. Also, while typing this out, I’m pretty sure Kevin Durant just threw down two more uncontested dunks.
It was, to be blunt, a garbage performance. Despite having a week to prepare, you may as well have assumed Cleveland had no idea what team it was playing until seconds before tip-off. How else could you react after watching the Cavs put forth the same kind of effort you’d see in a casual contest against a team like the Orlando Magic?
As Cleveland learned, though, it can’t afford to be so sloppy against a team like the Warriors. They’re already an incredibly dangerous unit. Doing their work for them doesn’t help matters.
Despite all of this, there’s still no reason to count the Cavs out after such a miserable night. Heck, it didn’t seem like Golden State was dominating the game until midway into the third quarter. By that time, the constant mistakes had put Cleveland into a hole too deep to climb out of.
Up until then, the Warriors were merely benefiting from the Cavs constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Of course they were going to score if Cleveland kept coughing up the ball. Of course Durant was going to pile up the points when he constantly found himself with 30 feet of free space to work with. Of course the Warriors would take advantage to Cleveland turning its offense into four-second one-and-done possessions.
Provided the Cavs realize the error in their ways and understand Golden State just isn’t a team you can play that poorly against, they can get themselves back on track. Bad defense and poor ball security will doom them against the Warriors ten times out of ten. If this point resonates with the Cavs, it’s not lofty to assume a different end result to Game 2.
The bottom line is nothing Cleveland showed us last night is impossible to fix. The Cavs can play better. I know it, you know it and (I would think) the players know it, too.
Provided they clean up the slop, hang on to the ball and realize the setbacks which come with a “just let Durant run free” defensive scheme, there’s no reason to believe the Cavs can’t even this series Sunday night.
Seems easy enough on the surface.