CLEVELAND — LeBron James is all too familiar with being down in the NBA Finals. His teams have been behind at least one game in all eight championship series he’s played.
James is tired of it. He’s tired of having to try and lift his teams out of a hole. Three times he’s led them to the championship. The other four didn’t end the way James would have liked.
That number could grow to five with the Cavaliers down 2-0 to the Warriors in these NBA Finals. But heading into Game 3 Wednesday, James was relying on those past experiences against a team that looks like a juggernaut and potential dynasty.
“It’s something I’m accustomed to,” James said. “It’s something that I feel like that it’s OK for me to kind of always go back and know that I can refocus. I can get my guys ready, get myself ready. You hate to continue to put yourself in these positions. But at the end of the day it’s all basketball, man.”
James cemented his status as one of the greatest to ever play the game by leading the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors in last year’s NBA Finals. If Cleveland somehow pulls off the repeat, against this team, a case could be made that James is the greatest ever.
But that’s a big IF.
The Warriors have yet to lose in this postseason, winning a record 14 consecutive games going into last night.
They’ve dominated this series, winning the first two games by an average of 20.5 points. The Warriors won the first two games by an average of 24 points last year. But they’re stronger with more weapons this year. It would be shocking if they gave up a big lead this time.
“I think guys are locked in like I’ve never seen before,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
“We feel like this is a different team,” Kerr said. “Not just because of personnel but because of our cumulative experience over the last few years in the playoffs. We have a better handle of how you have to approach things.”
The Warriors are healthier, sharper and have Kevin Durant, who is chasing his first NBA championship. Durant arguably has been the best player in the first two games of the series. He’s certainly has been the most impactful.
James, who is appearing in his seventh consecutive NBA Finals, has played his usual brilliant game. In Games 1 and 2, he shot 55.3 percent from the field, and averaged 28.5 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
But he wasn’t as aggressive going to the basket in the second half in Game 2, and was asked whether guarding Durant is taking a toll on him.
“Do I look tired?” James said. “No, I feel great. I’m averaging a triple-double in the Finals. I’m pretty good, I would think.”
But it hasn’t been nearly enough. Thus far, the Warriors have too much firepower, and have played with a fierce intensity on defense. Often it seems as if James has to do everything, on both ends of the court, and he’s not getting enough help.
This isn’t a new script. James needed more help two years against these Warriors, three years ago against the Spurs when he was with the Heat, and in 2007 in his first go around with the Cavaliers when they were swept by San Antonio.
Just as each loss made James hungrier, the Warriors look determined to erase the memory of last year’s epic collapse and avenge the Finals’ defeat to the Cavaliers. But James dismissed the idea that the Warriors are more driven than he or the Cavaliers are.
“I want to win just as bad as they do,” James said. “They probably had a bad taste in their mouth from what happened last year. We had one in our mouth last year from what happened the year before. I’ve had a few bad tastes in my mouth from what happened in the Finals. I’ve always had that feeling, so it never changes for me.”