The Cleveland Cavaliers went into Sunday night's game looking to bounce back from their game one loss and the season ending injury to Kyrie Irving. While the task wouldn't be an easy one, the Cavs haven't quit at any point during the playoffs and tonight was not any different.
The Cavs did a fantastic job dictating the pace in the first half of the game. While it wasn't the most pretty brand of basketball to watch, they managed to keep the Golden State Warriors out of transition and not letting any push get out of hand. Klay Thompson was radioactive hot to start the game off, but a couple quick fouls forced him onto the pine and kept the Cavs in the game.
LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov were absolutely spectacular early on. While a few more made free throws would have been nice, both players were playing with aggression and finding ways to exploit their individual matchups. David Blatt also did a good job of inserting James Jones into the lineup when the Dubs went small. While Jones struggled with his shot earlier in the playoffs, he did what he was brought in to do and even provided some active hands on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs ended up leading the Warriors by two at the conclusion of the first half.
It was very obvious that LeBron James was wearing down a bit in the second half as his efficiency started to decline. That being said, he still was completely dominant in how he was able to manipulate the Warriors defense, create opportunities for others and dictate the the pace of the game. His leadership was on full display and continued to show just how special he is.
The Cavs were able to extend their lead to ten with under three minutes to go. What ensued was the toughest stretch of basketball I've ever watched. The Warriors went to a hack-a-Tristan that saw him split both pairs only to have them answer with threes on the other end. The Cavs just weren't able to get enough quality looks down the stretch while the Dubs kept coming with quality looks. LeBron had another chance to win the game in regulation as he took the ball to the hoop. He wasn't able to convert and the tip back attempt by Thompson was unsuccessful, sending the game into overtime.
Overtime was just as taxing emotionally. The Cavs were able to once again get out to a lead, but a combination of poor offensive decisions, fatigue and questionable calls let the Warriors get back into the game. LeBron was clearly fouled with 1:11 remaining but no call was made on the play. That missed call left the Cavs up only one and in need for a big play defensively. Luckily they received it as Tristan Thompson defended Green perfectly forcing him to throw a desperation pass into the corner that was then thrown into the hands of Dellavedova. Unfortunately the subsequent offensive possession resulted in a Green/ LeBron jump ball where LeBron was once again clearly fouled, but it was missed and they called James for catching the jump ball.
Two of the biggest possessions of this game were courtesy of Matthew Dellavedova. He was fouled on a putback attempt and converted both free throws. He also forced Steph Curry into an airball on the Warriors final possession of the game. A LeBron free throw extended the lead to two and a turnover sealed the Cavs first ever win in the Finals.
Thoughts from the game:
- The Cavaliers played the right style early on in this game. I felt like it was good recognition of David Blatt to take Matthew Dellevadova out early and go with a lineup featuring James-Smith-Shumpert-Thompson-Mozgov. That lineup allows the Cavs to take advantage of their size and hopefully manufacture enough offense to hang around. The play was ugly, but it was physical and it prevented the Warriors from pulling away at the start.
- That being said, Delly was very effective for the Cavs when he checked back into the game. The Cavs went on an 8-0 run to tie up the game heading into the second quarter. Delly wasn't always in position defensively, but his activity caused Curry to change his decision making on a couple plays and disrupted what he was trying to do. Both he and Tristan Thompson were terrible on offense at points, but their defense was phenomenal.
- The officials really let a lot go on both ends of the court. While it's a style that benefits the physical defense the Cavs want to play, the contact that was allowed when players were battling for rebounds really hurt the Cavs ability to finish putback attempts. The game was called evenly and consistently in regulation, which is what you want. But in overtime there were several questionable calls against Cleveland. Obviously there's no hidden agenda here, but it's impossible to talk about this game without bringing those calls up.
- We saw the defensive impact of Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green tonight for the first time this series. They were dominant in how they defended the rim overall tonight. While Mozgov had a big night, they changed a lot of shots and made him work for his points at the free throw line often.
- I alluded to it above, but Klay Thompson was absolutely incredible. It didn't matter if the shots were open or contested, he was hitting them. He's a tremendously talented player and gave the Warriors a lot on a night where Steph Curry was non-existent.
- In a game that seemed like every other heartbreaking Cleveland loss, the Cavs found a way to hang around and come away with a win. It was a thing of beauty and took years off my life, but they got it done.