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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

NBA Finals: Here’s hoping LeBron James makes Cavs-Warriors III more interesting

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 1, 2017 in Oakland. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

The series everyone wanted and waited for, the one that was supposed to make up for what has been a mostly ho-hum NBA postseason, finally got underway Thursday night. But Game 1 of the NBA Finals continued what has been an unfortunate trend in these playoffs.

Another blowout. Another game decided long before the final buzzer. The Golden State Warriors built a 24-point lead en route to upending the reigning NBA champion Cavaliers, 113-91.

Yes, you’ve seen this before. But unless you’re a Warriors fan, you didn’t want to see this in the first game of the NBA Finals. Not after waiting nearly a year for these teams to meet in the final round for the third straight time. Not after all the one-sided games both of these teams played in these playoffs.

The Warriors are an incredible 13-0 this postseason, have won their last four games by a combined 84 points and have 11 victories by at least 11 points. They dominated Game 1 against Cleveland from the second quarter until the end. The ball moves, their feet move on defense and everyone is involved. It’s beautiful to watch.

“They’re the best I’ve ever seen,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

Kevin Durant looked unstoppable, easily scoring 38 points. Steph Curry had the touch from deep that was missing in the final three games of last year’s Finals. The Warriors played suffocating defense and won going away, even with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green totaling 6-for-28 shooting and 17 points.

So it would be easy to say the Warriors will cruise to the NBA championship, sweeping the Cavaliers or winning in five. But it says here that the NBA Finals will get better. It has to get better. There’s no way LeBron James won’t let it get better, won’t find a way to make these games competitive and make this series compelling.

In last year’s Finals, the Cavaliers lost Game 1 by 15 points and Game 2 by 33, but James carried the Cavaliers back from 3-1 down.

It took back-to-back 41-point games, a triple-double in Game 7 and the iconic block of Andre Iguodala’s layup late in the clincher, but James lifted his team and the Cavs made history, becoming the first team in the Finals to win the title after trailing 3-1.

In 2015, playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James willed the Cavs to a Game 6 before the Warriors captured the title. The Cavaliers also lost Game 1 of that series.

“Just get focused on Game 2,” James said after Cleveland lost for only the second time in 14 games this postseason. “We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really that needs to be said. We know we’re capable of playing a lot better. We didn’t play as well as we know we’re capable of, so we look forward to the next one.”

Sure, this Warriors team has more firepower now. But it’s hard to bet against James leading the Cavaliers back and giving basketball fans hope that this could become the classic so many want it to be.

If it doesn’t happen, then the Carmelo Anthony to the Cavaliers rumors, reports and talks could begin earlier than expected. If James’ team is beaten here without putting up some resistance, you know he’s going to want the Cavaliers to shake up the roster.

James already noted the presence of “KD” as the difference in Game 1. The Warriors already were great, and then they added probably the second-best player on the planet.

“We got to figure out how to combat that, which is going to be a tough challenge for us,” James said.

The Cavaliers let the Warriors have things too easily. They played poor defense, gave up uncontested drives and dunks, and were careless with the basketball. The Warriors had 31 assists and only four turnovers. The Cavaliers had 15 assists and 20 turnovers.

James did a little of everything, finishing two assists shy of a triple-double. But he needs to play better defense on Durant. James also had eight turnovers — double what the Warriors committed.

He has to be sharper. All the Cavaliers have to be. And they have to defend much harder or you can just crown Durant, Curry and the Warriors champs right now. That might happen anyway, and odds are it will.

Durant is driven to get his first ring. Curry had a rough finish to last year’s Finals, and Green believes his suspension in Game 5 cost the Warriors the championship.

But the Cavaliers are the champions until they’re not. They proved their heart and mettle last season, as James has over and over in his career. He has led his teams to the NBA Finals for seven straight years and still is the best all-around player in the game.

The Cavs may not win the series, but they still can make it interesting. One game doesn’t define or determine a series.

“We can play a lot better,” Lue said. “I know we will play better.”

Let’s hope.

New York Sports