Cavs vs. Warriors: An NBA Finals/EHC Buzz Session

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Cleveland Cavaliers not only found a way to steal a game from Golden State, but are an Iman Shumpert bucket away from being up 2-0. With the series tied at 1-1 and the two teams heading back to Cleveland for Game 3, where do you see this series going now that the Cavs have garnered home court advantage?

This is our third EHC Buzz Session:

Jonathan Knight (@jknightwriter)--Everybody Hates Cleveland, Did the Tribe Win Last Night

This series, like the Cavs' entire playoff run, has already proven to be entirely unpredictable. As much as Cavs fans are excited about stealing one in Oakland, I think home-court advantage is a luxury, not a necessity. What they should be excited about is that the Cavs - while undoubtedly the less talented team at this point - are the grittier team. The equivalent of a baseball team that has the better pitching and the better defense matching up with the sexy home-run hitting lineup (and we all remember how the 1995 Indians wrapped up). Bottom line is that whatever you expect to happen probably won't. Like most great postseason series, each game will be its own separate chapter, with different heroes, subplots, and storylines. And if the first two games are any indication, we could be in for a few more long, pulse-pounding nights. Keep the alcohol handy - one way or the other, you're going to need it.

Al Ciammaichella (@gotribe31)

The Cavs started out as an underdog in the series, lost both Game 1 and their second best player. Naturally, they responded by winning a Game 2 slugfest and stealing home court from the best team in the NBA. This series has become about one thing and one thing only; LeBron James' ability to drag the battered corpse of this team to the finish line. If the depleted Cavs can somehow win this series (which looks a helluva lot more likely today than it did 24 hrs ago), it'll be a pantheon performance from one of the greatest players in the history of the league, breaking a 51-year (maybe you've read about this somewhere) title drought for the city that he grew up in, spurned, and then returned to. There will be a Disney movie made about it. Children will be concieved as a result of it. I will personally hug Jeff Nomina in the aftermath of it. As far as the NBA goes, this is the best story you could come up with for the city of Cleveland. Will they pull it off? I have no idea. But they have a pretty good shot, and as a Cleveland fan, that's all I can ask.

Nominadova (@SportsNom)

The Cavs have been able to control the first two games by slowing things down and keeping Golden State from getting into any sort of rhythm.  I expect Golden State to come out in Game 3 or 4 with ways to counter this strategy and rain fiery hell from above. The question for this series is if the Cavs have the depth to keep countering and finding new ways to hold back the Golden State onslaught. This is an incredibly resilient roster, but back-to-back overtimes against a deep and healthy team that is always one attempt away from a kill shot is going to wear them down as the series continues. The saving grace here is that this iteration of the Cavs seems to have come from a made-for-TV movie where no matter the odds, they find a way to triumph.  Golden State’s entire roster could grow 6 inches overnight and I’d still have at least a bit of faith the Cavs would win just based on grit and heart.

Josh Flagner (@railbirdj)

I've had this conversation two dozen times in the last day. I've detailed play calls, substitution patterns, and individual match-ups. I've argued about offensive sets and off the ball movement. But this series doesn't rest on perfect execution or quantifiable data sets. More than perhaps any Finals I can remember, the 2015 NBA Finals will hinge on hard work and determination. 

Golden State led at the end of the third quarter and OT in game one, and did not lead at the end of any quarter in game two. In a building where they are DOMINANT. The Cavs took and absorbed run after run, and brought home court advantage back from the hardest place to play in the NBA. 


Brian Heise (@WahoosBrian)

I can't help but feel encouraged based on the way the first two games of the series have gone. The Cavs are playing like a cohesive unit and have taken their intensity to a whole new level. Even the intensity level from game one to game two seemed to be cranked up a notch. Everything the Cavs did in game two seemed to have a greater sense of purpose. Out of everything we have watched, two elements of the Cavs recent performance stand out to me.

The first is their defense. This is a team that understand it is operating short handed on the offensive end of the court. They aren't going to out score the Warriors in a shootout. They need to slow the pace and play swarming, lock down defense. They're doing all of that and more. If they can keep up the intensity on the defensive end, there is no reason to think game three won't be as intense as the first two. Add in the adrenaline rush of the home crowd and game three feels like an opportunity for the Cavs to put the Warriors in a sleeper hold.

The second thing that is encouraging, and I feel like most everyone can agree on, is the play of LeBron James. Ever since the end of the Hawks series, and especially after Kyrie went down, everyone has counted out the Cavs. You can tell LeBron is using that as motivation. He even said as much in Sunday's post-game comments (even though he didn't exactly say that, he implied it). LeBron is out for blood. He wants to destroy the current MVP. He wants to show everyone who the undisputed best player in the league is. He wants to chase down history. And, most importantly, he wants to bring this title to Cleveland. The Warriors clearly have no way of stopping him... and he knows it. If I'm a Warriors fan, i'd be pooping my pants right now. LeBron James is coming to take your title and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Ed Carroll (@EdTheRevelator)

I'm not exactly an NBA expert, but it's hard to not see this Finals going to six or seven games. The Game 1 loss was a missed opportunity for the Cavs, but I'm not really in the belief that any team has control of The Finals quite yet. Cleveland had chances to score in overtime of Game 1, and while the team may have just been spent (quite understandable given the situation), only a garbage time LeBron James bucket kept the Cavs from being shut out in overtime. Cleveland has turned itself into a into a gritty defensive team and - I can't believe I'm saying this - Matthew Dellavedova has somehow become an absolutely crucial part of Cleveland's success, mostly do to his defense. James will have to continue to carry the heavy load of the offense, unless J.R. Smith can catch fire again and start laying that pipe. I'm still not sure Cleveland wins The Finals, particularly since I don't have a lot of confidence in winning a Game 7 at Golden State. If the Warriors steal a game at The Q, I just don't see the Cavs taking home the championship.

Matt Kasznel (@mkasznel)

You could look at Game 2 two different ways. If you’re looking at things through crimson and gold glasses, you might say, “This could be a 2-0 series. We’re heading home after earning a split in the hardest building for road teams to win in. We held the highest-scoring team in basketball to nearly 10 points less than their average through two games by cutting off their passing lanes. We weathered the Klay Thompson storm (not to mention the J.R. Smith storm). LeBron is still the best player on the floor, even if the refs wouldn’t blow the whistle if Steve Kerr sicced a wild hyena on him. Victory is ours!”

Of course, if you see things glass half Warriors, you could argue, “This could be a 2-0 series. LeBron put out a Herculean effort in Game 2 while our MVP point guard had the worst shooting performance of his career, and we still only lost by 2 – and I’d be happy to take Steph Curry’s chances against Matt friggin’ Dellavedova any other day of the week. LeBron will get his points, but if it takes him 35 shots and a trillion minutes to get there, that’s fine – we still have far more depth than the Cavs and their ‘25 Minutes A Night for James Jones’ rotation. Victory is ours!”

It’s a fool’s errand to bet against LeBron James, but it’s not as difficult to question the cast around him. Which half of J.R. Smith’s Jekyl-and-Hyde persona will show up the rest of the series? Where did David Blatt keep Timofey Mozgov locked up at the end of Game 2? How long will Dellavedova’s ankles hold up before Curry inevitably breaks them into pieces? And seriously, what in the world is up with this James Jones stuff? There are simply more question marks on Cleveland’s side than Golden State’s at this point, even coming off an emotional W.

In Game 2, the Warriors proved they can still make a game of things when their best player – a man in the same category as LeBron if not yet his equal – goes AWOL. The Cavs, meanwhile, showed they need LeBron to play God just to make things close. Doing the “me versus the world” routine a la Russell Westbrook is hard enough *without* going against one of the best statistical teams in NBA history each night. It’s going to be a blast to watch, but it’s going to end with a Golden State championship in 6.

Brian Rosen (@landloyaltyro)

The media and almost the entire basketball world says this series is already over. The near-unanimous narrative revolves around the notion that the hapless Cavs, minus LeBron James, do not belong on the same court as the 67-win Warriors. Except this series is tied. This series arguably should be 2-0 in the Cavs favor. The media's insistence that this series is a wrap does not jive with what has happened on the basketball court. Yet, the talk and the hate continues to permeate from the studios of the worst city in Connecticut to the coast of California.

Keep telling the greatest player on the planet that he can't win. Keep telling his teammates that they are a thin band of mostly mediocre players. The underdog suits Cleveland and is blatantly disrespectful to LeBron. King James is taking this very personally and that is scary for the Warriors. Game #2 illustrated that LeBron doesn't just score when he wants but he can facilitate when he desires. That isn't something that even the mighty Western Conference can prepare a team for.

Furthermore, the Warriors had an excellent regular season but they did not have to defeat the Spurs or Clippers to get to this point. They may have had a tougher road than the Cavs but do we really know they are even the best team in the West? It's unfair to take away what they have earned and they should be considered slight favorites in this series. However, I'm putting my figurative money (sorry Horseshoe I'm done with your kind forever) on LeBron James, the player and the leader. He has his team in the perfect state of mind and the pressure is on Golden State to win this "easy series." I predict June 16th, 2015 as the fateful date. Game #6, Quicken Loans Arena: The championship drought ends and an era of supremacy begins!

Rich Primo (@primo_EHC)

Before the series started, I thought the Cavs were going to win it, not (just) because I am a fan, but because of their defense. Defense isn't sexy and nobody likes to talk about it, but as the adage goes, it does win championships. I felt like the Cavs perimeter defense would win them the championship. 

And then there was Game 1. 

The Warriors showed their own gritty perimeter defense, and they looked like a team that couldn't miss a shot. Game 1 did not go the way that I had envisioned it, so I thought the vision was wrong and that the Cavs were, instead, going to lose the series.

And then there was Game 2.

That game looked like what I was expecting. Why? I feel like for the very reason the rest of the world gave up on us: Kyrie Irving got hurt. The Cavs made up for his points, not by finding scoring elsewhere, but by deducting the points the Warrior could score. They could easily be up 2-0 just as they could easily be down 0-2. But those two close games were in Oakland, where Golden State is unbeatable. And both games went into overtime.

I'll be anxious to see how the two teams come out on Tuesday night. Who will make the better adjustments? Will Golden State find a way to regain their shooting? Will the Cavs find a way to counter the Warriors when they go small? I have no idea. But I think Game 3 will be the game that reveals the rest of the series.

Steve Orbanek (@orbaneks)

How can you not just bow down to the King at this point? What LeBron James has done against the Golden State Warriors in games one and two of the NBA Finals is the gutsiest basketball that we’ve ever seen him play. That’s not hyperbole either. As Jim mentioned, the fact that Cleveland is just an Iman Shumpert bucket away from being up 2-0 in the series proves it.

On Friday, I had discussion with a friend, who was pretty distraught after the Kyrie Irving injury. He had declared the series over, and while I admit that I too was pessimistic, I reminded him, “Let’s just wait until we get the series back in Cleveland before making any judgments.”

Even as I said that, I knew it would take one helluva effort for the Cavaliers to get out of Oakland with the series tied 1-1. Even knowing that, I was not ready to write this team off until we got to see them perform on their home court, even if they were in an 0-2 hole.

So, with that in mind, imagine my sheer jubilation over the fact that this thing is now coming back to Cleveland tied 1-1.

I’m not ready to say that Cleveland is the favorite. There’s too much manpower on Golden State for me to go that far. They remain the favorite, perhaps the overwhelming favorite as well.

However, with Sunday's gutsy overtime win, the Cavaliers — and especially LeBron — proved that they cannot be taken lightly. As long as LeBron is healthy, this team has a chance. So just for fun, let’s go ahead and say Cleveland gets a win tonight, then who becomes the favorite?

While Matthew Dellavedova’s performance on Stephen Curry was the thing that Cleveland sports legends are made of, I realize it is unlikely that Curry has another 5-of-23 shooting night. That was the worst performance of his entire career, so expect him to make adjustments.

The key is that the Cavaliers make adjustments as well. One potential starting point would be to give Timofey Mozgov  more playing time down the stretch. It’s obvious that David Blatt chose to sit Mozgov because he was concerned with how he would deal with Golden State’s small lineup, but the big Russian is an underrated offensive weapon.

In 29 minutes Sunday, he scored 17 points and got to the free throw line 12 times. The Cavaliers’ offense gets so stagnant at times with little to no ball movement, but Mozgov can help that when he’s on the floor. James trusts him and enjoys feeding the big man down low, and that could have been beneficial once the Warriors cut into Cleveland’s 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers desperately needed some easy buckets and Mozgov could have contributed in that area.

Overall, the Cavaliers just need to stick to their game plan. I expect the Quicken Loans Arena to be all kinds of loud, and that should help the Cavaliers’ defense.

This could be ugly, on par with the previous two contests. While I said Golden State is still the favorite in the series, everything could change after tonight. We can expect a better performance from Curry, but I also expect Blatt to make adjustments accordingly should Curry start to get out in space and find a rhythm. While James has been amazing this entire series, we have to also give Blatt a good deal of credit here. He has shown himself to be very sound with making defensive adjustments, and his coaching definitely played in key role in how close the first two games were.

Jim Pete (@jimpeteehc)

No sensible human being should pick the Cavs to win the series against the Golden State Warriors.

No #KLove.

No Kyrie Irving.

A truly smart person could wax poetic 12 different ways about how good Golden State is on paper both offensively and defensively. 

A Rhodes Scholar would follow up with the offensive arsenal that Cleveland is missing.

A shrewd NBA fan would point out that the NBA East was atrocious this year, and that the Cavs weren't even the best team in the East in the regular season.
"I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go."
I keep coming back to these words from LeBron James' fantastic essay announcing that he was coming home Cleveland. I remember the first time I read that thinking, "He thinks he can win a title this year." I know, it's counter-intuitive to what he actually said, but I'm not new to this LeBron James game. This may have been a bit of a cautionary tale for LeBron, but I can guarantee you that when he said this, he was thinking, "We're winning in 2015."

A lot had to happen, but owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager David Griffin understood this going in, and here we are. Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith were brought in to fill the holes, and that they did, more than we ever knew.

The series is tied at one game apiece and WHO KNOWS where this is going to go from here.

Will LeBron lead this team to a title, or will he keel over from exhaustion because he has to play all 48 minutes of every game?

Will the Cavaliers' defense continue to hold up as the best in the NBA, or will the athletic Warriors eventually break their proverbial backs?

Can Matthew Dellavedova continue to be a thorn in the side of Stephen Curry, or will Curry reign down threes like dragon-fire?

Will J.R. Smith return to the pipe-laying wunderkind of earlier series', or did he revert to Knicks-Smith in Game 2?

I don't know.

Here's what I do know: LeBron James is on our side, and along with a pretty amazing defensive transformation led by head coach David Blatt, this team is playing with the type of fortitude that wins championships.

So I ask you this question: Which team best fits the term Warriors?

The true answer to that question will likely be the team that walks away with the NBA Championship. What's my answer? I'll defer, as the Cavs often do, to LeBron James:
"Our city hasn’t had that feeling (winning championships) in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
Bring that trophy home LeBron: #AllinCle.
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