Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
It was easy for most folks to jump to conclusions about the 2017 NBA Finals after what we witnessed in Game 1. The Golden State Warriors trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers en route to a 22-point victory. After Game 2, it could be even easier to conclude that the Cavaliers have no shot in this series.
The Warriors won Game 2 132-113.
One thing fans and analysts alike should have learned over the years, though, is that things can quickly change from game to game in a series between teams like the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Last year, the Warriors won the first two games in the series by 48 combined points. They still lost the series in seven games.
As this year’s edition of the Finals shifts to Cleveland, it’s difficult to tell exactly what will happen next.
We are going to make our own predictions, of course, as we look ahead to Game 3. We’ll examine the game’s scheduling information and the latest odds—courtesy of OddsShark.com. We’ll also run down the latest Finals-related buzz.
2017 NBA Finals Game 3
What: Golden State at Cleveland
When: Wednesday, June 7
Time: 9 p.m.
National TV: ABC
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Warriors 3-2, Cavaliers 13-10
Prediction: Cavaliers 111-108
Remaining Finals Schedule
Game 4: Golden State at Cleveland—Friday, June 9 @ 9 p.m.
Game 5: Cleveland at Golden State—Monday, June 12 @ 9 p.m.
Game 6: Golden State at Cleveland—Thursday, June 15 @ 9 p.m.
Game 7: Cleveland at Golden State—Sunday, June 18 @ 8 p.m.
*All games televised on ABC
LeBron Can’t Be a Solo Act
Cavaliers star LeBron James led his team to a title last postseason by being the best player on the court. He led both teams with 29.7 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 8.9 assists per game and 2.6 steals per game.
Kevin Durant of the Warriors has been arguably the most unstoppable player through two games in this series—he has 71 points so far—but it’s not like James is letting the Cavaliers down. He had a triple-double on Sunday, posting 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists. The problem is that, for as good an overall player as James is, it isn’t enough against the Warriors.
James is one of the better defensive players in the NBA, but the Cavaliers cannot lean on him defensively and still expect miracles at the other end. James can see the court better than perhaps anyone in the game, but he can’t will the second team to success.
The Cavaliers leaned on James in Game 2, which was the plan. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
“I thought for the most part, with the game plan that we had, we tried to execute it as close as possible,” James said, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. “We were much more physical today than we were in Game 1, and we forced them to 20 turnovers. And they still beat us pretty good.”
The reality is that even the perceived best player on the planet isn’t enough to beat a stacked team like the Warriors four times in a series. James had a lot of help defensively and from the bench last season. He hasn’t been getting that help this year—as Windhorst explained:
“It would help if the Cavs had some better defensive players or habits. It would help if their bench, which was woeful for a second consecutive game, would carry some weight. But there doesn’t appear to be a magic bullet. Even LeBron James, an all-time trump card, can only do so much against the armada the Warriors have assembled.”
The Cavaliers have three legitimate difference-makers in James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Last year’s Warriors had their own big three in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The addition of Durant—perhaps the second-best player on the planet—has tipped the scales deep in the favor of Golden State.
So James can be James in this series—meaning he can be the best overall player on the court—but it isn’t going to be enough to best the Warriors unless Cleveland somehow figures out a way to bring things back into balance.
The Cavaliers figured out a way last year, recovering from a 0-2 deficit to win the series. However, the dominance of James was perhaps the biggest factor in 2016, and it isn’t likely to be enough this year.
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Kevin Durant Game 1 Dunk Compilation
Steph Curry Drills the Stop and Pop
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Howard Beck’s NBA Spotlight: Predicting the Winner of Cavs/Warriors Part 3
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Kyrie Irving Makes Trick Play in Game 4
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Kevin Durant Gets the Double Block
As we mentioned, Durant has been perhaps the most dominant player in this series. From a scoring standpoint, that’s without question. Yet, buckets aren’t the only thing Durant has brought to the proverbial table.
Through two games, Durant has racked up 71 points, 22 rebounds, 14 assists and five blocks. As an overall player, Durant may be a step below James, but if the Cavaliers cannot find a way to slow him, it isn’t going to matter.
After Game 1, a reporter asked James, “What’s the difference in stopping the Warriors between this year and last year?”
“K.D.,” James responded, per Roger Groves of Forbes.
Durant had his way with the Cavaliers defense in Game 1. He did it again in Game 2. Cleveland has to find some way to neutralize him moving forward if they’re going to extend the series past four or five games.
The Cavaliers showed more hustle in Game 2. They played better defense, and they kept the game close for longer than in Game 1. Unfortunately, they couldn’t contain K.D., and after four full quarters, they were left with the same result as they gleaned from Game 1.
We’re Witnessing Greatness
Some folks consider it blasphemy to put LeBron in the same conversation as the legendary Michael Jordan. They’ll point to the fact that Jordan was a killer on the court, and that he never lost a Finals series.
While it’s fair to say that Jordan and James are different players, let’s take a moment to admit that Jordan never faced a team like the 2016-17 Warriors.
Golden State has three of the best shooters in the NBA on its roster in Curry, Thompson and Durant. Durant and Curry would likely both be legitimate MVP candidates if not on the same team. Curry won the award last year with Durant coming in fifth. The Warriors are a team that is supposed to dominate the league, and yet the Cavaliers are talented enough to at least keep things interesting.
If we take a step back and examine what we’re seeing in this year’s Finals, we’ll see that maybe the best four players in the NBA are involved—let’s not discount Irving just because James is his teammate. When you factor in Thompson and Love, you may be looking at six of the top 16 players in the entire Association in one series.
Either one of these teams could rightfully be considered historically great, and either would likely go unchecked in the NBA if not for the other. The fact that these two are Finals rivals for the third straight year—and perhaps into the future—is likely to further dull the greatness of these teams in the collective consciousnesses.
We’re undoubtedly going to take time to compare players—both present and past—and to compare rivalries. Yet, we should also take the time to breathe and appreciate the sheer amount of talent we’re seeing on the court.