LeBron James isn’t just the best basketball player on the planet.
He’s also one of the smartest. In fact, one could argue his intelligence, combined with his strength, is what separates The King.
After the Cavaliers dropped Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, James called it one of the toughest losses of his career. Why?
James knew his overwhelming underdog Cleveland team had just played about as well as it could on the road and the Warriors had played their C+ game. If the Cavs were going to win one in Oakland, which they have to do to win this series, Thursday night was the game.
But George Hill missed a free throw. J.R. Smith wishes he missed the final 4.7 seconds. And Golden State won 124-114 in OT.
Fast forward to Game 2 Sunday night. The Warriors played one of their best Finals games:
They made 57% of their shots, up from 51% in Game 1.
They were outrebounded 42-41 in Game 2 after getting manhandled, 53-38, on the glass in the opener.
Led by Shaun Livingston’s 5-for-5 shooting, the Warriors bench outscored the Cavs’ reserves, 26-21. The Warriors reserves barely outscored Cleveland’s bench in Game 1, 24-23.
James, who had a Finals career-high 51 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists, was clearly less aggressive in Game 2, scoring 29 points with 13 assists and nine boards.
The Warriors never trailed in Game 2.
Game 2 didn’t go to OT as Game 1 did. This game was over in the 4th quarter, with James sitting out the final 4:09, as the Warriors rolled to a 122-103 win and 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
“I didn’t think we started the game with the physicality we did in Game 1,’’ said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “It was too easy for them. They ran around a little too freely, so that’s how they were able to score and kind of get control of the game early.’’
Let’s not even speculate as to whether James is getting fatigued physically, or of the lack of support he has. This series now belongs to the Warriors. The Cavs would have to win 4-of-5. If the Warriors play the rest of the series as well as they played in Game 2, break out the brooms.
Game 3 is Wednesday night in Cleveland. James already has waved the yellow caution flag.
“Just because we’re going home doesn’t mean we can relax,” James said. “This is the last team in the world you want to relax against.”
STAR OF THE GAME
Steph Curry. It seems every time the narrative shifts away from him – James was dominant in Game 1; Kevin Durant didn’t shoot well; would Tristian Thompson and Draymond Green continue to snipe each other in Game 2? – Curry reminds the world he’s an MVP-caliber star. So was the case in Game 2. He scored 33 points in 38 minutes.
STAT OF THE GAME
Curry set a Finals record by draining 9 three-pointers, including one heave from Alcatraz that just beat the shot clock, giving the Warriors a 103-89 lead with 7:54 left. Game over. Curry was 9-of-17 on 3s.
“It was like dagger after dagger,’’ said Draymond Green.
With 55.7 seconds left in the third, Larry Nance Jr. stepped to the line for two free throws that would have cut the Cavs’ deficit to 87-81. He missed them both. On the other end, veteran David West drained the one and only shot he took, a 3 right in front of the Cavs bench, extending Golden State’s lead to 90-79.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
James, unhappy with some of the questions after game Game 1, walked out of his press conference. As he left, he mumbled to reporters, ‘Be better tomorrow.’ Apparently, Warriors coach Steve Kerr thought the reporter’s questions after Game 2 were very good. He ended his press conference by throwing a little shade at James.
“By the way, I thought you guys were much better today,” Kerr quipped.
Honorable mention: Livingston of Curry’s three-point shooting. “Amazing,’’ said Livingston. “Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.’’