Cavs hoping home crowd provides spark
CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers did it once, but no NBA team has ever done it twice in the same postseason.
Cleveland earned its first trip to the NBA Finals by winning four straight games after being down 2-0 to the Detroit Pistons, but now finds itself down by the same count to the San Antonio Spurs heading into Game 3 tonight at 9 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We’ve just got to figure out that we have to play harder than we’re playing right now,” said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who gave his team Monday off, as did San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. “The effort we’re bringing to the table, the aggression we’re bringing to the table, the lack of poise we’re having right now just isn’t good enough.”
Only three teams — Boston against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1969, Portland vs. Philadelphia in 1977 and Miami against Dallas last year — have come back to win a championship after being down 2-0 in the finals. On 25 other occasions, the team that went up 2-0 went on to win the title.
“This team has been through this before and we’ve fought back,” Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “I believe in these guys. We fight for each other. We just have to figure out a way to get back into this series.”
That’s not going to be easy. Point guard Larry Hughes is averaging 1.0 points and is 1-of-10 from the field. Ilgauskas is averaging 5.5 points and is 4-of-16 from the floor. LeBron James is averaging 19.5 points on 13-of-37 shooting and has 12 turnovers compared to 10 assists.
And to think the Cavaliers’ defense has been even worse.
San Antonio’s big three of Tim Duncan (23.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks), Tony Parker (28.5 points, 4.5 assists) and Manu Ginobili (20.5 points, 7 rebounds) is averaging a whopping 72.5 points a game in the series.
Worse still for the Cavaliers, those three players are shooting almost 55 percent from the field (54-of-99). They’ve had 27 field goals between them in each of the first two games.
“All the stuff we did so well that got us to this point has really gotten away from us,” Ilgauskas said. “They are rebounding better than us, they are getting all the hustle points, they are playing better defense than us and, on top of everything, they are executing a lot better on offense.”
Returning to The Q, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs this year, should help the Cavaliers, but having 20,562 screaming fans at their first NBA Finals game does not guarantee victory.
“We can play better,” James said. “We can play harder.”
The Cavaliers have to play better. They have to play harder. And they’ll need their fans to give them an emotional lift early in games, as they’ve yet to win a quarter in the first half of this series.
“It’s going to be electrifying,” James said.
That electricity could short-circuit if the Cavaliers have another slow start. They trailed by five after the first quarter of Game 1, were still down five at halftime, then fell behind by 15 after three periods. Game 2 was even worse, as the Spurs led by 11 after one, by 25 at halftime and by 27 after three.
The good news for the Cavaliers is they lost to Detroit 113-86 in Game 1 of the conference semifinals last year and also were way behind in what ended up being a 97-91 Game 2 defeat, but came back to win three straight.
The bad news is the Spurs know what it’s like to blow out a team, then get blown out.
“Two years ago we won by 20 in Game 2 against Detroit (97-76) and in Game 3 we got smashed,” Parker said. “We lost by 20 (96-79), and in Game 4 we lost by 30 (102-71). We need to remember that and learn from our mistakes. I think that’s enough to make us ready.”
If the Spurs are ready and the Cavaliers pick up their play, the Cleveland fans just might blow the roof off The Q.
“It’ll be a tremendous challenge for us,” Popovich said. “The place will be rocking, without a doubt.”
Rick Noland may be reached at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Game 3
WHO: San Antonio at Cleveland
TIME: 9 o’clock
WHERE: The Q
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM