The Cavaliers have left the Bay Area down 2-0 in the NBA Finals before while looking like a team that was no match for the mighty, high-powered Warriors.
It was only last year, so that should be fresh in their minds, a point of reference to give them hope heading back home.
But there is one major difference between last year’s NBA Finals, when Cleveland erased a 3-1 deficit to win the championship, and this one. LeBron James already mentioned it after Game 1.
“KD,” James said.
Kevin Durant is arguably the second-best player on the planet, behind James. And Durant has been the best player in this series.
Durant dominated Game 2, leading the Warriors to a 132-113 win with 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals.
Eleven months after ripping out Oklahoma City’s hearts by leaving the Thunder for the Warriors, Durant has a chance to break Cleveland’s. The former MVP is averaging 35.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the finals. James again alluded to Durant after the Game 2 blowout.
“They’re a different team,” he said. “You guys asked me what’s the difference, and I told you. They’re a different team.”
James isn’t going to say the Cavaliers can’t beat the Warriors. But there certainly seemed to be doubt in his voice and his tone.
The Warriors are a major force and could become a real dynasty if they keep their core of Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They’re two wins from their second championship in three years and the first of Durant’s career.
This is why he came to Golden State: to put himself in the best position to win that elusive championship. He was criticized far and wide, but it will be worth it if he’s holding the gold trophy at some point in the next week or so.
It’s just like James, who was vilified worse for “The Decision” to leave Cleveland for Miami in 2010. But when he led the Heat past Durant’s Thunder in the 2012 Finals for his first championship, nothing else mattered.
“We know this is far from over,” Durant said. “We know how hard it is to be the best team in the league. So we got to just keep going, keep our foot on the gas.”
Had the Warriors had Durant last season, it’s hard to imagine that the Cavaliers would have made history by coming back from down 3-1 to win the series or that James would have brought Cleveland its first pro sports championship since 1964 in such an unforgettable way.
Now that the Warriors have Durant, it’s hard to imagine history repeating itself.
They’re undefeated in these playoffs, a record 14-0. For a team that was motivated to set the record for regular-season wins in 2015-16 and did so by going 73-9, you know they want to avenge last year’s meltdown in the Finals by being the first to go 16-0 in the playoffs.
If Durant keeps playing the way he has and Curry is as sharp — he had his first postseason triple-double in Game 2 — it’s conceivable the Warriors could run the table.
Granted, all they did was win the first two games on their home court, which a great team is supposed to do. But it’s the way they’ve done it, winning both games easily, and with Durant shining on both ends of the floor.
He had one defining sequence in Game 2 that was deflating to the Cavaliers. Durant stuffed Kevin Love’s shot and then scored on the other end while falling down. Durant could have called “Game” after that sequence.
“That’s where we kind of closed the game out with that play,” Green said.
As the series shifts to Cleveland for the next two, James is going to do everything in his power to not get swept. The Cavs will need some major adjustments — reports of former Knick Iman Shumpert being inserted in the starting lineup for Game 3 hardly move the needle — and lots of help to make this a series, never mind win it all.
James was special last year, but everything fell right for the Cavaliers at the end.
It started with Green getting suspended for Game 5 after taking a swipe at James as he was stepping over the Golden State forward. Then in Game 5, Golden State starting center Andrew Bogut suffered a season-ending knee injury. Curry wasn’t fully healthy or impactful in the series, and Andre Iguodala had a back issue.
This season, it appears even more would have to happen to help the Cavaliers.
James has been his usual spectacular self. He had a triple-double in Game 2. But he might have to be more selfish and attack the basket more than he has.
James isn’t getting as much help as Durant is, but that’s also because the Warriors are loaded. Just loaded.
If you help on Durant, you risk letting two-time MVP Curry beat you. Or Thompson. Or Green. The Cavaliers have Love and Kyrie Irving, but Love can’t take over games the way the others can, and Irving hasn’t really gotten going yet because of Thompson’s defense.
The Warriors have more weapons, better depth and another record in their sights. And with KD, the superstar who’s chasing a championship, the Warriors look unbeatable.