OAKLAND -- Abandon all analysis. Give up all arcane thought. Stop talking tactics or strategy. This NBA Finals belongs solely and completely to Beelzebub and his little wizards.
The Cleveland Cavaliers dragged this thrilling, bizarre, bloody mess of series back to Ohio tied at one apiece by failing slightly less than the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, 95-93. It was first time the first two games of a NBA Finals required overtime, and the extra minutes only reinforced that this series is not for the faint-of-grit.
And let’s be clear here, the loftiest feeling anyone from either team save perhaps Matthew Dellavedova can have is relief – relief that the series is tied, and that they have all already produced the worst game their egos will allow them to accept.
And everyone else, from the owners in their sideline seats down to the casual viewer in CouchBound America, all get to feel like they’ve been rubbing shards of fiberglass into their eyes. It’s the price we all pay for believing this series was going to be something other than what it has become.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors force OT, but drop Game 2 to Cavs]
LeBron James had a triple-double (39/16/11) in a game in which he missed 16 of his last 20 shots. Stephen Curry went 5-for-23 and 2-for-15 from three, his worst shooting night with such volume since his rookie year, and his worst game ever from beyond the arc. Klay Thompson went for 34 but couldn’t get clear for more than one shot in the final seven minutes. The Warriors were outrebounded by 10, the Cavs shot less than 33 percent, both teams had more turnovers than assists, and in the end, and nobody – again, save Dellavedova, for whom the bar has been set disapprovingly low – came away looking well.
Oh, the game itself was a great watch, being that it was the second overtime game in succession and had 25 different moments when the game could have been decided one way or the other, whether it was Marreese Speights’ missed breakaway dunk or J.R. Smith’s monumentally silly fouls or two dozen other moments both good and bad -- but in the end, it was a wincing one.
“When you get games like this, they’re going to be ugly ones,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, trying desperately not to pull his hair out in clumps after watching the dismal-a-thon. “It’s always some of both in games like this, one team’s defense and the other team’s offense.”
When someone then asked if he was working on his public patience to hide his private rage, he smiled sideways, “How do you know I’m not just being patient with you? Maybe I did light into them after the game. Look, this is the finals. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard.”
An excellent point, that. But on an evening when so few players excelled, the just result was reached because the Warriors were further from excellence than the Cavaliers.
“Both teams are probably thinking they should be up 2-0,” Curry said afterward. “(Iman) Shumpert’s shot goes in in Game 1 and then tonight happens and they’re up 2-0. If you look at a little play like Draymond (Green) making a huge block on LeBron and Andre (Iguodala) gets the loose ball and I can’t get my hands down quick enough to catch the pass, and we maybe get to the free throw line and finish the game.”
As for his hideous shooting night, he tried to be philosophical.
“Sometimes shots don’t go in. Shots I normally make, I knew as soon as they left my hand, I knew they were off. Mechanically I don’t know if there’s a reason. It just never felt right.”
“It happens,” Kerr said. “It happens to everybody. MVP or role player. Sometimes things don’t go your way.”
In fact, if you boil it all down, this was a Matthew Dellavedova kind of night – ugly, face first, persistence over elegance. His work on Curry had in cussedness what it lacked in style, because the games have punished style and demanded grinding.
“He’s a courageous kid,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said of Dellavedova, the curiosity who has played the series irritant for the amusement of the outside world. “He plays right. There’s been a lot of nonsense swirling around about his style of play, but anyone who looks at him objectively and fairly recognizes someone sees he plays hard, heartfelt and tough basketball. He played big tonight, and we needed him to.”
The series now goes to Cleveland, and nobody knows in truth what to expect any more. The Cavs were supposed to be crushed by the loss of Kyrie Irving, but responded by turning the game into a classic old Eastern Conference skull-squeezer. As Curry said, each team has won a game they probably deserved to lose – the Warriors, by dodging bullets in Game 1, the Cavs by not completely blowing an 11-point lead in the final 3:11 of regulation – and each lost a game they thought they should be lucky enough to win.
And the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Tony Brothers and Zach Zarba could not silk purse this sow’s ear of a game. Too many missed shots, too many arrhythmic performances and the odd horrendously missed call (Brothers missed a slash on James’ arm by Andre Iguodala that he couldn’t blame on anything other than his willful desire not to call anything) helped make this game the wretched-yet-hilarious piefight it became.
In short, the series everyone wanted, from Adam Silver to the television network to the basketball world, has been a festival of maldeveloped, eye-searing nonsense in too many ways. Neither team has played the kind of basketball people came to see, so they are playing the kind of basketball that has to be played.
And there isn’t a lot of analysis to do once you find yourself there – in a series that is tough on the eyes as well as the heart. Just the way Satan would want it.