Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals will air tonight at 8 p.m. EST on ABC, and it is probably going to be the turning point in the entire series. While it is generally thought that a playoff series does not actually begin until a team loses on its home floor, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be in big trouble if they go down two-games-to-none against the Golden State Warriors. In addition to the Cavaliers being in trouble, LeBron James, who has a 2-4 record in the finals over the course of his career, is in danger of losing his fifth NBA Finals.
If the Cavaliers lose tonight, they are not mathematically eliminated, but the math is not in their favor. As reported by CBS Sports, teams that take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals are almost guaranteed to win the series.
“Teams that go up 2-0 after winning the first two games are 25-3 all-time in the Finals. Considering the matchups and historical legacy that the Cavs are facing in the Warriors, they can’t really afford to lose Game 2. A series doesn’t start until someone wins on the opponent’s floor, but if the Cavs let that start wait until they get back to Cleveland, the series might end very shortly after it begins.”
Being one of the greatest NBA players of all time, James could very well overcome such a deficit. The problem for James and the Cavaliers is that they are not facing a normal opponent. While every team that advances to the NBA Finals is going to be the best of their division, this Warriors team finished with a record of 73-9, which was the most wins for any team in the history of the NBA. With a roster that features Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, the Warriors also have one of the best and deepest benches in the entire league. Andre Iguodala, who has faced off against James in numerous playoff series that date back to his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, is a particularly difficult matchup when he’s guarding James since he knows many of his tendencies.
James proved last year in the finals against the Warriors that he can will his team to victory. Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, James led the Cavaliers to two wins in the series. Now, with a healthy Love and Irving, James has much more help than he did last year. Regardless, he may be better off being more selfish with the basketball than he is during the regular season. While setting up teammates for easy shots is important, the Cavaliers may need James to attack the basket and shoot more often if they have any hopes of keeping up with Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ prolific offense.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that James is practically unbeatable in the second game of a playoff series after losing the first one, according to USA Today.
“Starting with the 2009 playoffs, James is 9-0 in the second game of a playoff series after losing the first one, including winning Game 2 of the past four NBA Finals following a loss.”
And it is not a fluke that teams led by James are winning the second game of a series after failing to win the first one. For whatever reason, James is able to take his play to an entirely different level. While James is good in regular playoff games, he is even better in NBA Finals games when being down.
“In those nine Game 2 victories, James averaged 29 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists, and the four Finals games he has won after losing the opener, he averaged 30.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists.”
In addition to Love and Irving, the Cavaliers’ wildcard player could be J.R. Smith. After a disappointing first game where he only took three shots, the Cavaliers need Smith to be the 3-point threat that he was for them in the regular season. This will take pressure off of James and the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster, and it will open things up more on the offensive end.
Being compared to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, this is an important NBA Finals for James. While it can be argued that his team is inferior to the Warriors, a 2-5 record in the NBA Finals is not going to be a good thing for James’ legacy. The good news for the Cavaliers is that it is still very early in the series. Regardless, if the Cleveland Cavaliers fail to beat the Golden State Warriors in tonight’s Game 2 matchup, they are in big trouble.
[Photo by John G. Mabanglo/Pool/Getty Images]