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2017 NBA Playoffs

For Cavs, this 0-2 is far worse than last year’s 0-2

Cleveland hasn’t figured out answers for Warriors + Durant

OAKLAND, California — These aren’t the 0-2 Cleveland Cavaliers from last year’s NBA Finals. No, this feels worse.

You knew early in the second half Sunday that the problems about how to match up with the Golden State Warriors are both deeper than before and less fixable.

Case in point: Partway through the third quarter Sunday night, Warrior Stephen Curry dribble-drove inside. Then he turned back and dribble-drove outside. The greatest long-distance marksman in pro basketball pretended to step back, square up and fire from behind the 3-point line — before stutter-stepping back toward the rack. He scored on an impossibly difficult layup as the outstretched arm of the man braving to check him swatted at nothing.

The Warriors’ two-time MVP guard could have been Curly Neal or Marques Haynes, and his sloth-footed defender could have been the Washington General paid expressly to follow a Globetrotter haplessly around the court.

Except the defender is rightly regarded as the pre-eminent player in the game, LeBron James. And Curry toyed with him on the perimeter the way the Warriors have toyed with the Cavaliers so far to take a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series heads to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4.

“I was just kind of like a chicken with my head cut off, just running circles,” Curry said afterward. “So that was kind of a microcosm of the game. We were rushing a lot. In those situations, you try to keep it simple and just make a play.”

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers attempts to run past Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half of Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 4, 2017 in Oakland, California.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

James can’t say this, but the truth is that the greatest regular-season team in NBA history (73-9 a year ago) went out and acquired the second-best player in the game, and the way Kevin Durant is going now it almost doesn’t seem fair. He, Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 77 points in the highest-scoring Finals game since the Boston Celtics’ Memorial Day massacre over the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985.

It is hard to fathom that just a year ago the visiting locker room at the Oracle Arena was the site of Cleveland’s most memorable postseason moment, a Game 7 victory after falling behind 3-1, with team employees and Clevelanders in general rejoicing amid the cigar smoke, champagne and various spicy delicacies.

On Sunday night, though, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sat in a corner looking disgusted. James bristled when a reporter asked whether the Cavs needed to defend their home court, asking the questioner if he was smart or not. When the man replied, “I think so,” James said, “Well, if we don’t defend home court, then what happens?”

Reporter: “Then you guys are looking at getting swept.”

James: “All right, so that answers your question.”

There’s an uncomfortable edginess around Cleveland right now, a concern that they simply don’t have enough firepower to overcome a supremely talented basketball team. Durant drops death stares at Rihanna sitting courtside in Game 1, then he drops daggers on the Cavs in both games.

The hardest reality for the Cavs to digest is that James played about as well as he could in Game 2, scoring 29 points, distributing 14 assists and snagging 11 rebounds. He, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 75 points, and the Cavs forced 20 turnovers.

And it still didn’t matter.

A year ago, parades were planned too soon in Oakland after the Warriors went up 3-1, only to lose in seven games in an epic finish for James, Irving and a championship-starved city.

But the aftermath of Sunday night’s Game 2 didn’t feel like that. This felt like a harbinger of worse things to come. About the only thing that can bail the Cavs out now is their own vociferous crowd and a better defensive effort.

Game 3 on Wednesday at the Quicken Loans Arena will be a last stand for the Cavaliers, given that no NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.

It’s almost unthinkable, but one year after a memorable seven-game saga between these two teams, everything could be over in less than a week for Cleveland.

Can it really be broom time for LeBron James?

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.