Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 at 3:09 PM
If you say the Cleveland Cavaliers have underperformed in the first two games of the NBA Finals, you have a dramatic capability for understatement. Even with Las Vegas bettors flocking to Golden State, to the point that in this most hyped of Finals the pointspreads for Games 1 & 2 were (-8) and (-9) respectively—even given that, the Cavs still never came close to covering, much less winning. Now the question becomes if they’re still worth investing in as the series returns to Cleveland on Wednesday night (9 PM ET, ABC).
The market will make it worth your while if you still believe in Cleveland. For Game 3, you get the chance to bet the best player of his generation in LeBron James as a (+3) underdog in a must-win home game. Or you could bet (+145) on the moneyline. If you think the Cavs can repeat last year’s trick of rallying from a 2-0 series deficit, the reward is (+650) if you’re right.
Skeptics, which are abounding right now, can point to the fact LeBron has been as good as any reasonable person would want him to be. He’s scored 57 points, grabbed 26 rebounds and dished 22 assists in the first two games, all the while shooting 21-for-38 from the floor. Where are the Cavs going to find improvement?
The good news is that there are several possible sources for improvement…
*How about we start with Tristan Thompson, for whom an APB needs to be sent out for—or at the very least someone needs to tell him the Finals have started. Normally as reliable a rebounder as there is in the league, Thompson has done next to nothing in these first two games. Cleveland’s advantage over Golden State—if they have any—has to come from the interior and that has to mean Thompson.
*Kyrie Irving played poorly in Game 2, shooting 8-for-23. And even though his stat line was good enough in Game 1 (24 points on 10-for-22 shooting) he didn’t seem to be impacting the game at its most important moments. Golden State is playing with two stars hitting big shots right now, with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry and it should go without saying that if Kyrie doesn’t do the same, this series will never make it out of Cleveland.
*One of the Warriors’ weaknesses this season was depth, a natural consequence of their decision to use salary cap dollars on a super-team with Durant in the mix. So how have the Cavaliers done in exploiting this potential edge? Their bench was outscored 24-21 in Game 1 and only won rebounding 16-15. In Game 2 it got worse—the Golden State bench combined for 31 points/15 rebounds/10 assists, while Cleveland’s got 30/15/5.
This is an area of the game the Cavs simply must win decisively. Instead, it’s a draw at best at a minor defeat at worst.
If Thompson re-asserts himself and the bench gets into the game, Cleveland can reverse the inexcusable rebounding deficit they suffered in Game 2 and make this competitive again. If Kyrie Irving gets his offensive game back, the Cavs can start winning. As handicappers we have to decide if that will happen, when it will happen or if it’s already too late.