After two deflating but somewhat inevitable losses to the Warriors to start off the finals, the Cavs face a daunting 2-0 series hole and not a whole lot of positives to glean from these contests.
Despite hanging with their rivals for almost all of Game 1, a combination of questionable officiating, bad luck and the enigma that is JR Smith conspired to hand the team a 124-114 OT loss that was so frustrating that both Lebron James and Tristan Thompson let their obvious anger and despondence boil over near the end.
The team has missed open shots left and right, shooting a combined 29.7% (19/64) from beyond the arc so far in the series.
Once one of their strongest weapons this postseason, Kyle Korver, has been almost completely neutralized, scoring only four points and being exposed on defense by his quicker and more versatile opponents.
The team’s once-vaunted postseason defense has been almost non-existent so far, giving up well over 100 points in both contests and looking every bit like the old, tired and inflexible unit that has festered this whole season no matter what personnel the team has had at its disposal.
Even Lebron and Kevin Love, the two stars of the team, have had their issues so far.
Love has had trouble hitting his outside shots, going 1-8 from three-point land in Game 1 and has been absolutely manhandled by Steph Curry so far when he is tasked with guarding him, with the three-point play he allowed Curry near the end of Game 1 being the epitome of this.
Meanwhile, Lebron has looked tired at times, which is what one should expect from someone who had a 51-point effort wasted by a weak supporting cast in Game 1 and was “inadvertently” poked in the eye by Draymond Green during this same contest.
Clearly, the team is having its issues, which makes winning four out of five and bringing another championship to Cleveland an incredibly daunting task for Lebron and Co.
However, can a change of scenery be the answer, allowing the team to make a series of this and go back to Oakland knotted 2-2? I would say yes, with both stats and common knowledge supporting this claim.
Consider this: The Wine & Gold have gone 8-1 so far at home this postseason, with their only loss being a stunning 98-80 drubbing at the hands of the Pacers way back on April 18.
That loss was before the team morphed into the battle-tested unit that has been successful during these playoff in spite of their ups and downs, before the Toronto Raptors were swept back into the cellar and the Mesozoic Era and before Lebron began to play every night like it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The team has also performed significantly better at home this postseason, averaging a little over seven more PPG, grabbing 10 more RPG, shooting 3% better from three, as well as exhibiting the energy, ball movement and swarming defense that is necessary to not only win but dominate a postseason contest.
The Warriors have also gone 4-4 on the road this postseason, having a similar disparity in these categories that should give the Cavs hope.
There are also intangible factors to consider when a series shifts locales.
Going from being cheered on by a friendly crowd of 19,596 comprised mostly of tech CEOs, celebrities and other casual bandwagon fans (I’m only slightly kidding) to the 20,562 strong jet engine that is The Q and will react loudly to every occurrence will be extremely difficult for the Warriors.
This will hopefully allow the Wine & Gold to make up for their admitted deficiencies on the basketball court with good old-fashioned motivation, harnessing the power of the crowd in the process.
The way the referees call the game will also be irrevocably affected by the change of scenery.
After all, the refs do tend to call the game with the home crowd in mind no matter how much they like to claim otherwise.
We saw this during the Games 1 & 2 through the many egregious calls made in the Warriors favor, including the infamous overturned charge call late in Game 1 and an uncalled foul on Lebron in Game 2 which got Tyronn Lue so angry he actually received a technical foul.
This was extremely frustrating to watch, but I predict that (fair or unfair) the refs will call the game slightly biased towards the Cavs in a way that is similar to how they called the first two games, but still not the blatant favoritism towards Golden State that seems to exude from the refs at times.
No matter what happens, I predict that these games will at least be a lot closer. It is hard to envision a scenario where the Cavs win or lose by double digits in either of these games due to the very real talent gap between these two teams, as well as the aforementioned stark differences in home/away performance exhibited by both teams.
These two games in Cleveland are also underlining a frightening and very real possibility: This homestand could be Lebron’s last in a Cleveland uniform. This makes it extremely important that the team makes this one a memorable and fruitful trip, not only for the series but for the fans too.
After all, Lebron’s last moments in Cleveland during his first tenure were an ugly 120-88 loss to the Celtics, leaving a bad taste in the city’s and organizations mouth and culminating in “The Decision.”
Will history repeat itself? Will the Cavs make this a series again? We will find out at the conclusion of these two games, with the future of this organization, the NBA and its marquee player hanging in the balance.