Despite the initial hoopla of a LeBron-Curry rematch, the first two games have been pretty brutal from the Cavs’ perspective. Let’s take a look the series so far and see if we can salvage any nuggets of interest.
Do the Cavs have a chance?
Doesn’t feel like it. The old axiom is that a playoff series hasn’t really started until a team loses a home game. This makes sense on a technical level but the Cavs have got beaten by 58 points collectively over the first two games and that seems like a bad indicator.
How often does a Finals team get drubbed as bad as Cleveland has so far?
NBA Finals participants usually keep it much closer. In fact, the road team has split the opening two games every year from 2011 to 2015.
Let’s talk about that blow out thing…
So, the Cavs have lost the first two games by a total of 58 points. Let’s compare this with other teams that have lost the first two games of the Finals on the road. Here’s the list of teams to have gone down 0-2 in the Finals since 1980 (the first year of the three-point line) and how each series ended up:
-2016 Cavaliers: Lost first two by 58 to Warriors
-2010 Magic: Lost first two games by 30 to Lakers, lost series 4-1
-2007 Cavaliers: Lost first two games by 20 to Spurs, lost series 4-0
-2006 Heat: Lost first two games by 24 to Mavericks, won series 4-2
-2005 Pistons: Lost first two games by 36 to Spurs, lost series 4-3
-2002 Nets: Lost first two games by 28 to Lakers, lost series 4-0
-2000 Pacers: Lost first two games by 24 to Lakers, lost series 4-2
-1999 Knicks: Lost first two games by 25 to Spurs, lost series 4-1
-1997 Jazz: Lost first two games by 14 to Bulls, lost series 4-2
-1996 Sonics: Lost first two games by 21 to Bulls, lost series 4-2
-1995 Magic: Lost first two games by 13 to Rockets, lost series 4-0 (Magic were home team)
-1993 Suns: Lost first two games by 11 to Bulls, lost series 4-2 (Suns were home team)
-1989 Lakers: Lost first two games by 15 to Pistons, lost series 4-0
-1987 Celtics: Lost first two games by 32 to Lakers, lost series 4-2
-1986 Rockets: Lost first two games by 34 to Celtics, lost series 4-2
-1984 Lakers: Lost first two games by 9 to Celtics, lost series 4-3
-1983 Lakers: Lost first two games by 16 to 76ers, lost series 4-0
It would be expected for a road team to lose the first two games of the Finals but going down 0-2 is still not a good thing. 16 other teams have been down 0-2 since 1980 and only the 2005-06 Heat came back and won the series. Of the rest of the group, only two forced a seven game series. Interestingly, though, the most likely outcome from an 0-2 start was a six game series (seven times), which would be somewhat face saving for the Cavs if they could even get to that point this season.
The biggest takeaway from this exercise, however, is that the Cavs were, by far, the most trounced team on the list, as no other team lost the first two games by more than 36 points. What’s the difference between losing by 18 and 30 in only two games? In theory, once you are down by 15 points, does anyone really care how the game ends? Yes, the sample size is a bit too small to make any grand conclusions but, at best, the Cavs are in a bad spot. At worst, they are looking at the receiving end of a huge rout.
What can Cleveland do to get back in the series?
Just going to Cleveland should make things a little better. The Cavs’ basic strategy so far has been to force non-Curry/Thompson Warriors to beat them. The Cavs have successfully executed that portion of the plan but Draymond Green is destroying them and the secondary players are shooting insanely well (Shaun Livingston is 11-14 and Leandro Barbosa is 10-12). Converesely, none of the Cavs’ volume shooters have shot well at all (Kyrie Irving, in particular, is shooting an astoundingly low .347 eFG%).
One would think that Livingston and Barbosa can’t continue to shoot so well and the Cavs should start shooting better. Even if these things change, the Cavs will have to deal with Green. Tristan Thompson hasn’t cut it so far. The options are limited in replacing. Neither Channing Frye nor Timofey Mozgov have played much and the Cavs should consider playing Frye more (Mozgov is too slow to play against Green but might be effective against Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli). If the Cavs want to get really funky, they could play LeBron at center more and go super small. This would be more of a desperate lineup but these are desperate times for Cleveland.
Don’t forget the Warriors are a much better team
Just for a little perspective, a convincing Warriors win shouldn’t shock anyone. Don’t forget that the Warriors many more games than Cleveland this season. GS won 16 more games than the Cavs. To put that in perspective, the Cavs won 16 more games than the Washington Wizards, who were 41-41 and missed the playoffs. In other words, the gap between the Warriors and Cavs is significant. The Cavs had/have a chance at winning this series but don’t overreact to the next moronic talking head arguing that the Cavs “quit” or that Kevin Love or Irving somehow “losers” because they can’t beat a historically great team. LBJ has helped build a very good Cavs team but timing is everything and, for the moment, another title is not in the cards.