If you had traveled back in time to Sunday morning and shown me a snapshot of the Game 2 box score as it stood with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, I would have assumed that something cataclysmic was in store—that Steph Curry was going to lose his right hand right before tip-off, or that Steve Kerr would be infected with a brain-eating virus that would force him to run the offense through Andrew Bogut.
72 points, 38 percent from the floor, 20 percent from deep, and Steph Curry mired in the worst shooting performance of his career. That’s where the Warriors stood just before going on a run to tie the game and send it into overtime, and nothing made any sense. The Warriors are a historically great team, and before last night, the thought of shutting them down on offense for 48 straight minutes felt outside the realm of consideration. “Can you stop the Warriors from scoring?” felt like asking “How many of these cinder blocks can you chew through in four quarters?”
But there were the Cavs, who have transformed into a devastating defensive unit this postseason, mouths all bloody and covered in cement dust. It’s easy to look at the numbers from last night and assume that the Warriors just missed a lot of shots they would normally make, and that we’re due for a big course correction in Game 3. (That’s how Draymond Green seems to feel, anyway.) The Warriors may very well blow out the Cavs in the next game, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a bunch of problems on their hands right now. Steph Curry’s jumper didn’t end up in the desert by itself; relentless defensive pressure put it there. He, and the rest of the Dubs, had to work harder to find decent looks than they had all season.
Pick out any random Warriors possession from last night, and you’re likely to see all five Cavs defenders redlining their way through the shot clock. They bumped, trapped, and harassed Curry all over the floor, slithered around and exploded through screens, and generally marauded. Matthew Dellevadova, in particular, was a bit of a revelation:
Some of this has to do with match-ups and schemes. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson are both offensive rebound factories, and the effort required to keep them off the glass can make it difficult for the Warriors to get out on the break. The loss of Kyrie Irving meant that the Cavs almost always had their best defensive lineup on the floor, and they had success giving Andre Iguodala the Tony Allen treatment, ignoring him in the perimeter in favor of packing the paint. But above all that, what will stick with me from last night’s game is just how hard the Cavs played on the defensive end. This game was about five guys busting their asses against an a tidal wave of an offense and punching that sucker right back into the sea.
The Warriors will certainly make some adjustments, and the various mental lapses that nearly lost the Cavaliers the game are proof that it’s nearly impossible to play defense at such a high level for an entire game let alone an entire series, but that’s exactly what the Cavs are going to have to do if they want to win. It feels like it will be impossible, and it probably will be, but goddamn if it won’t be fun to watch them try.