OAKLAND, Calif. -- In theory, it was going to be different this time. This wouldn’t be like last year's NBA Finals, not with the Cleveland Cavaliers so healthy, not with their recent embrace of running and gunning. Not so much, as the Golden State Warriors once again constricted the Cavs' offense en route to a 110-77 victory in Game 2 of the 2016 Finals. This time, unlike in many of those 2015 games, Golden State did it while running a calm and focused offense.
Draymond Green led the charge with 28 points and five 3-pointers, outshining everyone in Cleveland’s frontcourt -- and that includes LeBron James, despite what Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game.
"We're not comfortable playing against LeBron, to be honest with you," Kerr said. "We're comfortable as a team playing together. We're comfortable with our ability to defend. We're comfortable with our ability to create offense off of our defense because of the shooting and the playmaking that we have. And I would say we're confident that we can beat anybody. But we're definitely not comfortable playing against LeBron. He's obviously one of the great players in the history of this game, and we've had success the first two games, but there's a lot of basketball left."
The Cavaliers, as a means of spackling over some of their defensive weak spots, are devoting more attention to the Golden State backcourt than is usual. Stephen Curry often gets trapped above the arc, but this time Klay Thompson, he of the playoff 3-point shooting record, was getting that occasional treatment.
Golden State responded by going away from that pressure, creating opportunities with man movement and back cuts. Eventually, Curry (18 points, 11 shots) and Thompson (17 points, 13 shots) got going as well. Much of the offense, especially when Curry sat with foul trouble, was orchestrated by Andre Iguodala, who was brilliant defensively yet again.
And Leandro Barbosa shined for a second straight game in the Finals, following up a 5-for-5 Game 1 performance with a 5-for-7 effort in Game 2. The "Brazilian Blur" has picked up the slack as the Splash Bros. backcourt has been uncharacteristically quiet in these Finals so far.
The issue for the Cavs is that Golden State has little interest in letting them be their preferred selves. The Warriors are fine with Cleveland’s offense looking like it did in the 2015 Finals, as they themselves look like something that resembles how they’ve appeared all season. It was easy to ascribe Cleveland’s inefficient 2015 Finals to an injury-riddled roster, but subsequent games have revealed that series to be a hint about the future.
"Well, our defense was the key to everything tonight," Kerr said after the game. "Our offense was not very good. We had a lot of careless turnovers, but we had a good stretch there where we converted some stops into scores. I think Steph and Klay both hit 3s during that time ... But everything was about our defense tonight, and I was pleased with that, but we've got to get better offensively when we go to Cleveland for sure."
Even with Kevin Love, even with Kyrie Irving, the Cavs have been balky and deliberate offensively against this foe. A lot of it has been Golden State’s switching strategy and a lot of it has been the players employing it (Iguodala, primarily).
After Golden State’s 2015 championship, you could reasonably blame James’ lack of help. After Game 1 of the 2016 Finals, you could possibly do what James did, and blame his bench. But now, with James shooting 33-of-80 (83 points) in four games against the Warriors since the 2015 Finals, excuses are running out. And for his team, so is time.