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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

NBA Finals: LeBron James needs more from his teammates for Cavaliers to have a shot

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 3, 2018 in Oakland, California. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

After a thrilling, drama-filled Game 1 that was closer than many anticipated and could have and should have gone Cleveland’s way, Game 2 of the NBA Finals went off as expected. The Warriors were too much for the Cavaliers.

That’s a sentence that could be cut, saved and pasted two more times in this series between the best basketball team on the planet and the best player. The best team usually wins.

The Warriors have been the NBA’s best team the past four years and are two wins away from their third NBA title in that span, following Sunday’s 122-103 victory over the Cavaliers.

Just about everyone outside of the Cavaliers’ organization expected this series to head back to Cleveland with the Warriors up 2-0. It is after Steph Curry overshadowed LeBron James by hitting an NBA Finals record nine three-pointers during a 33-point night.

“Pretty special night,” Curry said. “Hopefully some more special things happen and we get two more wins.”

It would be a huge upset and shocker if they didn’t. It’s too early to say this series is over. But at this point it would be surprising if it goes back to Cleveland for a Game 6.

James had the kind of game that against most teams would result in a victory, or at least a close game. He finished with 29 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds. It hardly mattered. James was a minus-18 in the game.

None of this is a knock on James. The Warriors controlled the game from start to finish. That reality could be as deflating as the Cavaliers’ loss in Game 1.

James and the Cavaliers will never admit it because they’re competitors and they have to believe. But the reality is it will take more than a LeBronian effort or a Jordan-esque performance from James for Cleveland to win.

The Cavaliers just don’t have enough. That was the narrative heading into this series, and that’s what played out in Game 2. James appeared frustrated on the court during the game but still tried to remain positive afterward.

“I put our team in position to try to win a championship, to compete for a championship,” James said. “It’s my job to make sure that we’re as focused, laser focused as possible, do my job, and continue to instill confidence into my teammates until the last horn sounds.

“That’s my job. That’s my responsibility. That’s my obligation, and I need to continue to do that, which I will.”

James is the best leader in the NBA. But he has to do everything for the Cavaliers to even have a chance against the Warriors.

He scored 51 points in Game 1, and it wasn’t enough for several reasons. The most notable were George Hill’s missed go-ahead free throw with 4.6 seconds left, and J.R. Smith not knowing the score and basically dribbling out the clock after getting the offensive rebound.

In Game 2, after the Cavaliers put a scare into Golden State three nights earlier, Cleveland was not going to compete with the Warriors with Smith shooting 2-for-9, Jeff Green 2-for-7 and Kyle Korver 0-for-3.

James needs more help than that, especially on a night when Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson each scored at least 20 points and JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston combined to shoot 11-for-11 and score 22 points.

That says something about the Cavaliers’ lack of defense or putting up any resistance.

The Game 1 loss took some of the spirit out of the Cavaliers, predictably. But it shouldn’t have. These are the NBA Finals, and you should go all-out every second you are on the court. The Cavaliers didn’t.

That’s not all about talent. That’s about effort, heart, desire, passion. The Cavaliers lost some of that after Game 1. They’d better hope they find it back in Cleveland.

James already is setting the tone for Game 3. He and the Cavaliers are no stranger to this position, but he said he doesn’t draw from past experiences here.

Cleveland was down 2-0 to the Warriors two years ago, down 2-0 to them last year. The Cavaliers won two years ago in seven, and were beaten in five last year.

They trailed the Celtics 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals this year. But Boston’s lack of star power and playoff experience showed up when it was winning time. The Warriors have too much of both to let that happen.

“We’ve played some really good basketball on our home floor,” James said. “But that shouldn’t give us any comfort. We should still be uncomfortable with the series as we were in Game 1 and as we were (Sunday).”

The Cavaliers can’t be comfortable. Neither can the Warriors. They appeared too comfortable in Game 1 and it almost bit them. But that served as a wake-up call the Warriors will take with them to Cleveland.

“We’re not going to relax at all,” Thompson said, “because this team has been down and out before and counted out by the media.”

That’s where the Cavaliers are again, and against Golden State. They’ve suffered some self-inflicted wounds, but the story is a familiar one for James. Most times the best teams beat the best player. These Finals seem to be following that script.

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