I’m still not entirely sure what we saw last night, only that I loved it. This was not a good game by any means—it was sloppy and disjointed and featured as many bad misses as missed calls—but it was the most single most viscerally entertaining game since at least Game 7 of Clippers-Spurs. And it featured the greatest player in the world doing great things.
Timofey Mozgov was solid, Matthew Dellavedova completely shut down Steph Curry, and the Cavs defense was tenacious enough to take the win despite Cleveland shooting 32.3 percent—but this was a LeBron James Game. One of many, by this point, but the next time you get into a LeBron/Jordan debate, Game 2 was one to hold up as proof that James would have thrived just as much in the ‘90s, when on-court muggings were de rigueur.
James’s 39-16-11 is all the more remarkable considering how, for the final few minutes of regulation and just about all of overtime, the referees gave the Warriors free rein to grab, slap, hack, hold, and otherwise maul LeBron. The NBA’s traditions of superstar calls and late-game whistle-swallowing directly clashed, and this time the latter won out. It was left for James to keep driving, keep getting fouled, and keep getting no relief.
None of these were called:
It was hero ball, in the literary and archetypal sense: outnumbered, against the odds, with every variable stacked against him, James did just enough. Even if it wasn’t pretty.
“It’s the grit squad right now,” James said. “If you expect us to play sexy, cute basketball, that’s not us right now. Everything is tough, and it has to be that for rest of series.”
Ugly ball is the only chance the Cavs have. The talent equation favors the Warriors, whose more aesthetically pleasing game lives on the perimeter and shies from contact. But with Golden State’s shots not falling—credit David Blatt’s defensive schemes for a good part of that—the Cavaliers are big and tough and filthy enough to make this a series. And the most striking part of LeBron James’s game is how he can adapt it to fit the situation and his opponent, and still be the singular best at it.
This series is fascinating. One play here or there, and it could easily be the Cavs or the Warriors up 2-0. But going into Oakland, losing Kyrie Irving, and coming out with a split is a victory. One LeBron wanted very, very badly, so he made it happen.