I remember what happened last year.
I remember how the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in last year’s NBA Finals down 2-0 to the Golden State Warriors. I remember those two losses being violently lopsided. I remember that, despite the series leaving Cleveland with the Cavs down 3-1, they ended up stunning the world and defeating Golden State to bring home their first championship in franchise history.
It was thrilling. It was incredible. It’ll never be forgotten.
So, it’s understandable to see many fans reciting these memories as the NBA Finals once again return to Cleveland, with the Cavs once again down 2-0 to Golden State. They were once again thoroughly spanked in the first two games, and are once again searching for answers when it comes to stopping the Warriors’ vaunted offense.
Theoretically, since Cleveland is essentially going through deja vu, you’d think it wouldn’t be necessary to view tonight’s Game 3 with any hint of doom and gloom. People were writing the Cavs’ eulogy in a similar situation last year, and look what ended up happening.
With all of this said, I’d like to think we can agree on two things. One – it’s highly doubtful last year’s outcome would encourage the Cavs to fall back into a similar or even worse hole against Golden State in this series. This is because of point number two – there’s just no way Cleveland could overcome it this time.
So, when people say Game 3 is a must-win, they’re 100% right. If the Cavs can’t right the ship tonight, if they once again can’t handle the firepower of Golden State, their season is essentially over.
Despite the frighteningly long list of similarities between last year’s Finals and this season’s, there’s one key difference needing to be called out – the Warriors themselves.
Yes, there are many familiar faces, namely Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. However, the addition of Kevin Durant has changed everything. It’s changed the way Golden State can attack you, and as a result has also drastically affected Cleveland’s defensive game-plan.
With Durant on the floor, the Cavs can no longer just key in on Golden State’s shooters and sag off of a less-than-imposing player as they did last year with Harrison Barnes. Now, if you try to send extra effort to stop Curry, there’s another MVP ready and waiting to burn you.
Durant has turned an already imposing Golden State team into a juggernaut, and the Cavs have yet to find an answer. A messy showing in Game 1 resulted in their getting emphatically trounced. Despite tightening up the defense and forcing more turnovers in Game 2, they still lost by 19.
So, while the setting looks familiar, the faces have changed. With Durant in tow, the Warriors have yet to even face adversity. Last year, Cleveland was able to find a flaw or two to expose. This time, it’s still coming up empty.
Toss in the fact Golden State is far less likely to relent after last year’s outcome, and you can see why depending on another miracle is an ill-fated strategy.
While a Cavs loss tonight wouldn’t technically end their season, it would basically be all over but the crying. The Warriors have so much firepower and so much desire to erase memories of last year, handing them a 3-0 series lead would be a death sentence for Cleveland.
The Cavs essentially have to play flawlessly tonight. They’ve received plenty of reminders on what can happen if you ease up even a little bit against this Golden State team. Far too many manageable deficits have become insurmountable thanks solely to Cleveland putting forth just two or three sequences of sloppy basketball.
In order to pull off a victory in a must-win Game 3, this has to end.
Additionally, LeBron James and Kevin Love need to continue their aggressive play. Kyrie Irving desperately needs to find his game. Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith can no longer afford to be liabilities. Cleveland’s bench needs to contribute far more.
It sounds like a tall order, sure. However, that’s the situation the Cavs find themselves in.
Cleveland has to find an answer, and it has to happen tonight. If Game 3 ends with another Cavs loss, it’s fair to say they can start getting their offseason plans in order a little early.