OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Learn from your mistakes, Golden State.
Learn from how one got away in 2016. Learn from how sleepwalking through the third quarter on Sunday night made Game 2 of this series much more interesting than it ever should have been, at least until Stephen Curry went wild in the fourth quarter. Learn from Boston, both this year and six years ago. Learn from what cost San Antonio a title in 2013, too.
Don’t give LeBron James hope.
Golden State leads these NBA Finals 2-0, after a 122-103 win put the defending champions two wins away from what would be their third title in the last four seasons. Only four teams have ever wasted a 2-0 lead in the finals — and Golden State is one of them, letting a championship ring slip away against James and the Cavaliers two years ago.
The series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Wednesday night. James looked exhausted when Game 2 was over, but he’ll be somewhat rested by then. And he will most definitely be fueled by a boisterous home crowd that will want to both give him an immediate lift — and make one last series of impressions before he goes into free agency and considers leaving the Cavaliers again next month.
Game 3 is everything for the Cavs. If they go down 3-0, series over.
Game 3 has to be everything for the Warriors as well. They know it, too.
“I think because we’ve been here several times, I don’t think I’ll need to say much,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Guys in the locker room, they already know that.”
Boston had James in a 2-0 hole this year, then lost Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland and wound up falling in seven. The Celtics had him and the Heat down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, and couldn’t finish. The Spurs led 3-2 in the 2013 NBA Finals, had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6, and came undone.
The Warriors led 2-0 and 3-1 in 2016. This is not the same Golden State team (Kevin Durant helps). This is not the same Cleveland team (Kyrie Irving would really help). But the Warriors would be foolish to not remember that series, not to remember the ultimate cautionary tale.
They’re saying all the right things.
“It’s nothing to feel happy about being up 2-0,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “This (Cleveland) team plays great at home and we expect their other guys to play better at home too, not just LeBron. So we’re not going to relax at all because this team’s been down and out before and counted out by the media. We’re not going to focus on that. We’re just going to focus on what we can do to win Game 3.”
This series at times has been the Cavaliers versus the cavalier.
Golden State was fortunate to win Game 1, and realized as such. The Warriors should have been up much bigger than 13 at halftime of Game 2, and found themselves in a dogfight instead of a victory lap in the third quarter when the Cavs got within five on a number of occasions.
It took things like JaVale McGee going 6 for 6 and David West stepping up in a critical late-third-quarter moment to hit his first 3-pointer in seven months to help the Warriors keep the Cavs at bay Sunday, until Curry ran wild late on his way to a NBA Finals record nine 3s and turn the game into a rout. It took James, grotesque-looking eye and all, playing like his version of a mere mortal — 29 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds, 10-for-20 shooting.
“It was too easy for them,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said of the Warriors.
Give Golden State credit. They adjusted nicely against James after his 51-point barrage in Game 1. They took a page from the 2014 Spurs — who beat James in five games in the NBA Finals that year, the end of his Miami era — and routinely picked him up 30 to 40 feet away from the basket. Do that, and more often than not James will say that giving up the ball is the right play.
The Warriors welcome that. They want the other Cavs to have to beat them.
The formula worked Sunday. They just have to do it twice more to win another title. And just like the Warriors on the not-wanting-to-relax front, James said he hopes the Cavaliers continue feeling uncomfortable as well.
“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. They’ve proven they can win on someone else’s floor, no matter if it’s through adversity as people may call it like when they were going through the Rockets series or whatever the case may be.”
It’s often been said, even by James himself, that a series doesn’t really start until one team wins on the other’s home floor. All Golden State has done so far has hold serve.
But by the close of business Wednesday night, we’ll know if this is a series or not.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynoldsap.org
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