The stat line tells you LeBron James had a dazzling 39 points/16 rebounds/11 assists. And for much of the night he really was good—not great, because those points came on 11-of-35 shooting, but terrific in distributing the ball. But I can’t ever recall watching a great player turn into as much of a train wreck as James did at the end of Game 2 in the NBA Finals and still win the basketball game, 95-93 in overtime.
James settled for jump shots, turned the ball over and missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation for the second straight game. And yes, Cavs fans, he got assaulted fouled on two absolutely atrocious no-calls. You could have further argued that he was fouled on the aforementioned potential game-winner—it’s the kind of call most players don’t get, but superstars do in end-game situations.
But it was still enough for Cleveland to win, because James set the tone for the entire night—it was sloppy basketball all the way around, and with both teams engaged in a race to the bottom for sloppiness and stupidity, we ended up with an exciting finish.
Golden State rallied from 83-72 down late in the fourth quarter, thanks to two incredibly stupid fouls by Cleveland’s J.R. Smith, plus a third where he fouled Steph Curry on the perimeter. I’m inclined to cut J.R. a little break on that one because I agree with ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy that a shooter shouldn’t be able to draw a foul by jumping into the defender.
But the Warriors dug themselves the hole to begin with, and then couldn’t finish their comeback in overtime because Curry spent the entire game being as bad as LeBron was in the last few minutes. The league MVP made just 5-of-23 shots from the field. He went 2-of-15 from trey. Most of the misses weren’t even close, save one in the fourth quarter that went about halfway down before popping out.
Consequently, Golden State gave away a terrific opportunity to put these Finals firmly under control and wasted a 34-point outburst from Klay Thompson.
Now that we’ve panned the quality of play, especially that of the stars, it’s time to focus on the two big positives that got the Cavaliers their first NBA Finals victory ever (Cleveland was swept by San Antonio in their lone previous appearance back in 2007).
Cleveland was outstanding on the boards, winning this battle by a decisive 55-45. In addition to LeBron, Tristan Thompson got 15 rebounds and did his usual yeoman’s work on the offensive glass, grabbing seven of them. I’m convinced that if the Cavs win this series it will be because Thompson kept the series’ biggest possession alive with an offensive board and got the ball to LeBron. Timofey Mozgov was also a steady contributor all night, adding 11 rebounds to go with his 17 points.
Finally, we come to the big hero of the night and it’s Matthew Dellavedova. He guarded Curry much of the night and harassed him into ineffectiveness. Dellavedova is only starting because of the injury to Kyrie Irving, but this type of performance is the reason I’m not backing down from my Cavs in six prediction, even after the injury. Dellavedova makes Cleveland a much better defensive team, and it’s defense that will be required to beat Golden State.
The Finals are following a similar pattern to last year—in 2014, LeBron’s Miami Heat dropped a close first game in San Antonio and then won a down-to-the-wire game in Game 2 when the Spurs got sloppy. In that case, LeBron’s team couldn’t keep the momentum going and got blown out three straight times. Now, we see if the Cavs can take advantage and hold serve in the upcoming two games at Cleveland.
Game 3 is Tuesday night, 9 PM ET on ABC.