CLEVELAND — LeBron James has been in this position before, far too many times for his liking. The Cavaliers hosted Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Warriors trailing in the series 0-2 for the third straight year.
James doesn’t want to reflect on what he was thinking last year in this situation or the year before that. Different teams, different situations and James is a different player.
Heading into the critical third Game Wednesday, James was just focused on this team and trying to turn these Finals — that no one is giving the Cavaliers a chance of winning — into a series.
“We’ve been very persistent and very resilient throughout this whole season, no matter what has been going on,” James said. “We have an opportunity to protect home, as Golden State has done. We look forward to the challenge.
“It’s a very tall task. A very tough challenge, as I mentioned before the series even started, going against these guys, going against this team. But we have an opportunity to seize the opportunity. So I look forward to that.”
That persistence and resiliency showed itself in the Eastern Conference finals last month.
The Cavaliers came home from Boston down 0-2. The won the series in seven games, winning the clincher on Boston’s homecourt with James carrying the Cavaliers to the victory. They’ve won eight straight playoff home games.
But now they’re facing the Warriors, a team that has two league MVPs and arguably four future Hall of Famers on their roster. They’re also expected to have 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala back for Game 3 after he missed the prior six with a bruised knee
“We obviously know they’re not the Celtics,” J.R. Smith said.
The Warriors have been the best team in basketball over the past four seasons, and are two wins away from their third NBA title in that span. Their only blemish was 2016, when the James-led Cavaliers became the first team to erase a 3-1 Finals deficit and win the championship.
There were extenuating circumstances, though.
Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 after a scuffle with James late in Game 4. Warriors starting center Andrew Bogut blew out his knee in Game 5 and Iguodala was limited in Games 6 and 7 with back issues.
If anything, that experience has the Warriors on high alert. This was before they had Kevin Durant. But the Warriors know what James and the Cavaliers are capable of, and don’t want to poke the bear.
“He’s pretty much dangerous every night,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Down 0-2, we know they just faced this against Boston. We know the force he’s going to bring, the pressure he’s going to put on us. We’ve got to withstand that.”
“LeBron, this crowd and their environment, we know the kind of force they’re going to bring. And we have to be prepared for that. We know it. We’ll see if we can do it.”
The Warriors know they were fortunate to be up 2-0 after James dominated Game 1. He scored 51 points in an overtime loss that could have, and probably should have been a Cavaliers’ victory.
But an overturned call from a charge on a Durant to a block on James, a missed free throw in the closing seconds by George Hill and Smith dribbling out the clock unaware it was a tie game all contributed to what James termed “a heartbreaking loss.”
This series very easily could be 1-1. The way the Warriors are speaking, they seem to be approaching these next two games as if they’re in a hole.
“I don’t really think about being up 2-0 because the series could turn so fast,” Durant said. “It’s a great position to be in. “I don’t want to take that for granted; don’t get me wrong. But the job is not done, and you can’t relax or be comfortable when you’re still trying to win this thing.
“We just know how important every possession is. We’ve just got to embrace whatever happens and look forward to a crazy, crazy environment with a team that’s desperate. Those combinations are tough to stop.”