Cavaliers face steep finals climb
Vail, CO Colorado
CLEVELAND ” Time to bust out the hiking boots, grab some sturdy ropes and maybe even hire a Sherpa.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have some serious climbing to do.
Right now, the San Antonio Spurs tower over them.
Deep in the heart of the Texas, the Cavs dug themselves a canyonesque hole. Looking like lost tourists in their first NBA finals, they dropped Games 1 and 2 to the playoff-polished Spurs, who with the exception of a fourth-quarter letdown on Sunday night, have mastered Cleveland.
The Cavs will host a finals game for the first time in their 37-year history on Tuesday night, and they’re hoping to turn around this lopsided series in boisterous Quicken Loans Arena, where the ear-splitting crowd noise and fire-spewing swords on their scoreboard will be a welcomed sight.
“It’s going to be electrifying,” LeBron James said.
Shocking the Spurs won’t be so easy.
Creeping toward their fourth title, and third championship in five years, the league’s best defensive team unleashed its offensive fury on the Cavs in Game 2 as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 78 points.
The awesome threesome helped the Spurs bolt to a 25-point lead after two quarters ” the third-largest halftime lead in finals history ” and by the end of the third it was: Big 3 68, Cavaliers 62.
Pride kicked in and Cleveland frantically rallied in the fourth, trimming a 29-point deficit to eight in the final minutes before the Spurs stopped giggling, made a few more clutch plays, and finally put the Cavs away.
“It was irresponsible from us,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ near collapse. “We’ve got to learn from that and we’ve got to finish games.”
The Spurs are mindful Cleveland can come back. They’ve seen it before.
In the 2005 finals, San Antonio destroyed Detroit in the first two games, winning by a combined 46 points, but when the series shifted to Auburn Hills, Mich., the Pistons won by 17 points in Game 3 and 31 in Game 4.
They remember more than the Alamo in San Antonio.
While the Spurs are concerned about finishing games, starting them has been Cleveland’s problem.
Despite having three days to prepare, the Cavs came out flatter than a tortilla in the first half for the second straight game. They failed to match the Spurs’ intensity and were continually outhustled to loose balls, something they’ve routinely done to opponents. They also made mental errors early on and costly turnovers, mistakes the experienced Spurs made them pay for each time.
There was a lack of championship-caliber effort, and following the loss, coach Mike Brown and several of Cleveland’s players candidly assessed what has been a disappointing showing thus far by the Eastern Conference’s top team.
“We’ve got to play harder than we’re playing right now,” Brown said. “There’s nothing magical that’s going to help us. No magic play, no magic defense. We’ve got to bring the juice, and right now we’re not.”
Instead of flying back immediately after the game, the Cavs recharged in San Antonio overnight, hoping the added rest will give them fresh legs for Game 3. The Spurs opted to stay home and awoke in their own beds Monday morning before flying to Ohio.
Though new to the finals, the Cavaliers are in a familiar place: down 0-2 in a playoff series. They lost the first two games to Detroit in the conference finals before winning four in a row over the Pistons.
The difference this time, however, is that the Spurs are superior to the Pistons and while the Cavs could have easily won both games in Detroit ” they lost by three each time ” they had little chance in San Antonio.
The comforts of home will help, but nothing’s guaranteed.
“We can not rely on because we’re going home, that our games are going to improve and our shots are going to fall,” center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “Yeah, we’re going to have our crowd and the energy and stuff. But we have to make some adjustments. They’re just playing harder than us ” simple as that.”
The Cavs have a been a different team at home, where the baskets seem wider, the rims softer and the crowds have been crazed. Cleveland went 30-11 at “The Q” during the regular season and are 7-1 in the playoffs. Still, the Spurs are good enough to overcome any team and 20,000 towel-waving enemies.
“We’ve been a good home team all season long,” Ilgauskas said. “But if we’re going to think that way, before we know it it’s going to be 0-3, and then it’s over. We have to bring the energy right at the beginning.”
As he promised, Cleveland’s 22-year-old All-Star was in attack mode at the outset of Game 2, but two quick fouls forced him to the bench and doomed the Cavs, who were still within 16-13 without James on the floor when the Spurs ripped off 12 consecutive points to close the first quarter.
Only three teams have overcome an 0-2 deficit in the finals to win the title, but one of them was the 2006 Miami Heat, who looked as bad as Cleveland did in Games 1 and 2 at Dallas before winning four straight.
Last year, the Heat jumped on the shoulders of their star, James’ good buddy, Dwyane Wade, in Games 3, 4 and 5, and stunned the Mavericks. As James showed against the Pistons, he’s capable of a similar one-man spectacle.
Before Game 3 of the Detroit series in Cleveland, James showed up at his home arena three hours early to work on his game, something he hadn’t done all year. “It’s the biggest game of my life,” he declared before scoring 32 points with nine rebounds and nine assists to revive his team.
The Cavaliers barely have a pulse now, and it’s up to James to get them beating again.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” he said while walking to the team bus late Sunday night.
“It’s going to be tough, but we can still do it.”
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