Although the old cliché is a playoff series doesn’t truly begin until the home team loses, Cleveland’s inability to steal a contest in Oakland against the heavily favored Warriors means they have to be perfect in both of this week’s games or risk being eliminated in four or five games.
A few weeks back, I wrote that you should back Golden State and Cleveland to meet in the Finals for a fourth straight time – the stance in this column since the season began – despite both being down 3-2 in their respective conference finals. That was your chance to truly cash one last time if you hadn’t gotten in already on advice administered multiple times since way back in October.
The exact series price prop – my recommendation was to play four and five games – also looks good as we head into Game 3. Opportunities to cash in on this season are obviously now dwindling.
Cavs shooting guard J.R. Smith became the fall guy for Game 1 after forgetting what the score was upon coming up with George Hill’s free-throw miss with the score even at 107, dribbling out the clock. He wasn’t the lone culprit.
Tyronn Lue could’ve called timeout. Referees were also to blame.
Following a block/charge call that was overturned at the monitor after triggering a replay due to the restricted area, the Warriors ended up with two late free throws that tied the game instead of giving the ball back to the Cavs to run the clock down inside 10 seconds.
Whether that play should’ve been reviewed in the first place remains a subject of debate, especially since officials have been embarrassingly bad through the first two games with all eyes watching. Ultimately, the reversal was correct since LeBron James did appear to get to his defensive spot late as Kevin Durant barreled in for a layup, but those who say there was no need to go to the monitor are justified in that belief.
The Cavs nearly stole a Game 1 in which they closed as a 12.5-point underdog, losing in overtime despite James’ career playoff-high 51 points. The extra session guaranteed the demise of all under bettors and also denied those who took a shot at a Cavs money line, which was available at around +650, from potentially cashing in big.
LeBron, the best player of his generation, didn’t have the same bounce in Sunday’s 122-103 Game 2 setback, finishing with “only” 29 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists. Smith reprised his role as a goat by shooting just 2-for-9 from the field, looking completely devoid of confidence in scoring just five points.
Stephen Curry set a playoff record with nine 3-pointers, five of which came in a decisive fourth quarter where the Cavs had pulled to within seven points. Meanwhile, starter Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, JaVale McGee and key reserve Shaun Livingston combined to miss just nine of 38 shots, helping embarrass a suspect Cleveland defense.
What can we expect to change as the series shifts to Northeast Ohio? Full disclosure, I have had this series backwards thus far, expecting a blowout in Game 1 and a closer contest in Game 2, which has made for less than satisfying viewing despite the great show the superstars in this series have put on.
Besides expecting James’ brilliance to carry over since he finished his epic performance with blurry vision after being poked in the eye by Draymond Green and said he felt better after a few days of rest, I didn’t anticipate Klay Thompson being as effective as he was following a nasty-looking injury suffered in Game 1 when Smith slipped and wound up taking him out on a slide.
Although a knee injury was initially feared, Thompson actually suffered a high ankle sprain and was limping around so noticeably the day before Game 2 that Green actually called Nick Young to try and pump him in anticipation that he would have to emerge as the Warriors’ starting shooting guard for at least a night.
Instead, Thompson came out and excelled, taking advantage of Cleveland’s inability to force him to put the ball on the floor early, which allowed him to get a rhythm despite admitting post-game that operating on a bum ankle held him back and really affected his mobility. He looked in sync on both ends as a result and finished with 20 points on a very efficient 8-for-13 shooting.
Time after time in Oakland, it appeared the Cavs blew one assignment after another and missed chances to put strategy in place to try and capitalize on potential advantages like Thompson’s injury.
Refs missing call after call against them didn’t help either, but conspiracy theorists should take into account that it makes no sense for the NBA to pick on the series underdog, increasing the odds we get a shorter series. Fewer games, less revenue. No, the officials just guess too much and Cleveland ended up victimized more than Golden State on the road.
The Warriors held serve despite 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala being held out due to a knee issue that he may be able to come back from this week, adding another critical element to the mix since he’s the guy on the roster best equipped to defend James. His potential return wouldn’t help the Cavs’ cause.
Getting back home and taking advantage of a great homecourt edge is the only chance Cleveland has to lengthen the series, but it’s going to take multiple guys picking up their level of play.
Lue must decide whether to open with the same starting lineup or opt for change. Either Larry Nance, who badly outplayed Thompson in providing a spark off the bench, or Jeff Green, who would help Cleveland match up better with Golden State’s smaller lineup, could factor in immediately. Rodney Hood may rejoin the rotation after being banished earlier this postseason if Smith continues to play like he’s lost his competitive spirit.
The Cavs opened as a five-point home underdog for Game 3 according to Westgate but are a one-point favorite for the first half. Do you believe James will make sure his squad shows some backbone out of the gate or will the better team impose their will to try and take control of the series? Bet your inclination.
The current series prices list Golden State at -2500 and Cleveland at +1100, which means you can only bet the Cavs in that regard at this point.
Although they came back from a 3-1 deficit against a Warriors team that didn’t have Durant on board yet to win the franchise’s only title back in 2016, I’d advise you to save your money on that lottery ticket this time around.
Even Finals MVP odds, currently rightfully favoring Stephen Curry, don’t seem worth betting.