For the Cavaliers, this can only go one of two ways now.
After enduring the most emotionally crushing loss imaginable in a championship series, one that included what has to be the most atrociously officiated 90 seconds in Finals history, a tragic, incomprehensible brain cramp by one of their teammates and the juvenile posturing, dancing, preening, smirking and taunting by the repugnant Golden State Warriors — basketball’s most arrogant and immature team — the Cavs are faced with two options tonight going into Game 2.
They can let the preposterous events of those 90 seconds from hell defeat them, in which case this series is over.
Or they can double down on the want-to and soldier on, secure in and fortified by the knowledge that for the first 46 minutes and 30 seconds of Game 1 they absolutely outplayed their spoiled little self-absorbed opponents.
Human nature being what it is, the former would be the path of least resistance.
Competitive spirit being what it should be, the latter would produce an NBA Finals for the ages.
So we’ll wait, we’ll watch and then we’ll know.
The key, of course, as always (thank goodness), is LeBron James, whose unquestioned mettle will be tested again after he became the first player in Finals history to score 50 points in a game and lose.
If he leaves Cleveland after the Finals, the enduring, defining image will be the pained look of desperate disbelief he gave J.R. Smith after J.R. Smith did his J.R. Smith thing at the end of regulation in Game 1.
Think about it. LeBron had just emptied his tank, done everything humanly possible — more than any human in the Finals has ever done — to put his team in a position to steal Game 1.
Then THAT happened.
It’s almost like the Cavs now have to win five games to win the Finals. They outplayed the Warriors for four quarters in Game 1, but still have to win four games to win it all.
LeBron has a huge fuel tank, but is it THAT huge?
When does his 33-year-old motor start to sputter?
It’s the central question to Game 2 because his teammates will take their cue from him. As unfair as it is, and has been throughout this Cavs playoff run, the Cavs will ask LeBron to do it again. To be LeBron again — and the rest of the Cavs will try to keep up with him as best they can.
Certainly, there should be nothing in Game 2 that could be even remotely as outlandish as Game 1, when the Cavs had their heads held underwater for 90 seconds, while their world went mad.
During those 90 seconds, the Warriors benefited from five consecutive enormous, game-deciding breaks, not a single one of which they earned. All of it was gifted to them:
- The reversal of the charge call on Kevin Durant.
- LeBron (according to the NBA’s Last Two-Minute Report) got fouled by Draymond Green, but it wasn’t called.
- George Hill missed a foul shot.
- A lane violation by Green on Hill’s miss (again, according to the NBA), which by rule would have given Hill another shot, went uncalled.
- J.R. doing his J.R. thing.
All five of those breaks went in favor of the Warriors, who did nothing to earn any of them. If any one of the five had gone in the Cavs’ favor, the Cavs probably would be going into Game 2 with a 1-0 lead.
Instead, the Cavs are where they are: 12-point underdogs in Game 2. Obviously the oddsmakers, who before Game 1 viewed the Cavs as a grossly overmatched team in this series, now view them as a grossly overmatched AND emotionally trampled team.
In 2016, a far-better Cavs team came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat a far-better Warriors team. In that series the Cavs lost the first two games, in Oakland.
But neither of those two losses packed the psychological wallop the Cavs absorbed from Game 1 this year.
Can they recover from that? Could any team? We’re about to find out.
After Game 1, Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted his team “Got lucky.”
That probably short-changed it.
In Game 1, the Warriors weren’t just lucky, they won the lottery.
If ever there was a game that would seemingly serve as a springboard in opposite directions for the teams that played it, Game 1 was it.
Losing Game 1 the way the Cavs lost it — or had it taken away — would bury most teams.
Perhaps it will bury the Cavs.
Or perhaps they’ll regroup, redeploy, refocus (J.R.!), and steal a win in what will probably be another street fight in Game 2.
This will be a referendum on the Cavs’ mental toughness.
The fallout from Game 1 could mean that the Finals are over.
Or that they’re just beginning.
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