As the Cavs watched a 55-48 halftime lead transform into a 13-point loss in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, they found themselves in familiar, yet uncharted territory in the form of an 2-0 series deficit against the Boston Celtics.
They’ve overcome two significant 2-0 deficits in the past— the first coming in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons, in the first LeBron James era. The second time, and what makes this appear to be a familiar situation, was when they came back to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
“There’s never comfort [in falling behind 2-0], but we know what it takes,” head coach Tyronn Lue said when asked about that most recent 2-0 series deficit that the Cavs were on the winning end of.
But the reality of the situation is, only four players on the Cavs roster know what it takes. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith were all in the starting lineup of that 2016 squad. The rest of that roster has since retired or been traded away.
“We can’t expect the other guys to inherit that because they weren’t there when we went through it,” Smith said after Thursday’s practice. “So it’s a totally different group. It’s the same core I would say, but at the same time, it’s a different group. We just gotta approach it like it’s new.”
The Cavs have said on more than one occasion this year that with all the trades and drama that has surrounded this team, it has felt like four seasons wrapped into one. While they have had to deal with mounting pressure since trading Kyrie Irving, the Celtics on the other hand are playing more freely and with more of a sense of urgency.
Boston has yet to lose at home this postseason, but does have a 1-4 record in road games. The Cavs are 5-1 in Quicken Loans Arena throughout the 2018 playoffs, and will look to even the series with a group that wasn’t put together until the February trade deadline.
As a result, the veterans that remain on the team from 2016 know that they can’t rely on the fact that they have overcome this exact same situation before to carry them over the finish line in 2018.
“Being in this situation repetitively for the last couple of years, I don’t want to say you get numb to it because you don’t want to take it for granted,” Smith said. “Obviously guys don’t have this opportunity too many times. But this season alone has been an extremely weird year, and we just gotta figure it out.”
Thompson seconded Smith’s sentiments.
“Every year is different,” Thompson said. “I don’t want to always go back to comparing it to being down 3-1 because this is a completely different team. The Celtics did a good job taking care of home. They had home-court advantage, won both games at home and now it’s up to us, like Milwaukee did, to come back home and protect home.”
The Cavaliers will get that chance to protect their home court in Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday as they try to even the series.