We don’t think anyone can say the Cleveland Cavaliers lack heart.
They came into The Finals without Kevin Love and then lost Kyrie Irving during the first game with a fractured kneecap, but they gritted out a win last night to even the series at a game apiece with a 95-93 victory over Golden State in overtime.
Oh, and LeBron James showed once again why he’s still the best player in the sport with a virtuoso performance, scoring 39 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and making 11 assists in 50 minutes.
David Blatt’s team controlled the tempo and turned up the defensive intensity, holding the Warriors to under 60 points through three quarters, and under 90 points in regulation.
The wine and gold played gritty solid defense and bothered Stephen Curry into a 5 for 23 shooting night, with Matthew Dellavedova playing the role as main pest.
And for the most part, the coaching staff made adjustments all night long.
When Steve Kerr tried to go small, the Cavs countered by staying with Timofey Mozgov, and going to him a lot. The big Russian responded with 17 points, and went to the line 12 times, mainly because whoever was trying to guard him, mostly Draymond Green, lacked the size to handle him near the basket.
That said, we wish the coach would have gone back to Mozgov when the Warriors were intentionally fouling Tristan Thompson in the fourth quarter. We understand Thompson is the superior defensive player, able to guard guys much smaller than he is, but it would have messed up the strategy, and they could have used Mozgov’s superior offense in the post.
To be sure, Golden State fans will say that Curry won’t be this bad again in the series, but we would counter that by saying although Klay Thompson is an all-star, he probably won’t be as hot as he was in the first half either.
Nor will LeBron James have another game where he shoots 33% from the floor (11 for 34). If James is more efficient with his shooting going forward, it bodes well for the wine and gold.
Also, while the Warriors got a huge offensive boost from Andre Iguodala in game one (which we said was unlikely to happen again), the Cavs haven’t had a big game yet from J.R. Smith, who is capable of knocking down seven or eight three-pointers on a given night.
Cleveland did get a good game from James Jones last night, as he scored eight points in 23 minutes, but Smith and Iman Shumpert are capable of hitting long range shots that will open up the defense.
By the way, Shumpert did hit a huge three at the start of overtime last night.
And it is also doubtful the Cavs will shoot 32% as a team in the confines of Quicken Loans Arena.
Coming home doesn’t guarantee anything for the Cavs, and we are sure Mr. James will NOT let anyone of his teammates fall prey to complacency.
The concern is that since the Cavs are really only playing seven guys, the quick turn around could lead to fatigue, particularly late in the game. Blatt may need more minutes from Mike Miller and perhaps Shawn Marion tomorrow night, especially with the first two games going overtime.
The old adage is that defense is a constant, and that’s the biggest reason the Cleveland Cavaliers are in this series. Three more efforts like last night will be needed.