Strength in Numbers: Warriors routing Cavaliers without usual star power



The Warriors have blown out the Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2 without much help from NBA MVP Stephen Curry. (TNS)

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

Last year’s NBA Finals was exciting. The rematch was supposed to be even better.

Instead, the defending champion Golden State Warriors have blown the visiting Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers off the court in the first two games, sending them back to Cleveland searching for answers.

Last year’s series started with a pair of heart-stopping finishes at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The Cavaliers stole Game 2 on the road, then won Game 3 at home to take a 2-1 series lead before Golden State won three in a row to clinch the title in six games.

This year’s contest has been nowhere near as dramatic — but it’s not over yet.

The Warriors were dominant as usual at home, where they went 39-2 during the regular season.

NBA MVP Stephen Curry was unusually quiet to start Game 1, but the Warriors still led at halftime, 52-43. Cleveland then put up an admirable fight in the third quarter, and the teams appeared to be heading for another classic battle.

But as soon as the Cavs took a 67-66 lead, Warriors backup point guard Shaun Livingston took control of the game.

Livingston made eight of 10 shots and scored a playoff career-high 20 points — with Curry mostly watching from the bench — to lead the Warriors to a 104-89 win.

Golden State cruised to victory even with Cleveland’s defense keeping the “Splash Brothers” — Golden State’s All-Star guards Curry and Klay Thompson — mostly in check. Curry finished with only 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting while Thompson shot 4-for-12 with nine points.

Having the luxury of backup guards like Livingston and Leandro “The Brazilian Blur” Barbosa — who scored 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just over 11 minutes — makes the Warriors tough to beat even when their stars aren’t on their game.

Livingston, Barbosa, sixth man Andre Iguodala and backup center Festus Ezeli could all start for plenty of other NBA teams, but instead choose to come off the bench with Golden State. It’s a huge reason the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games this season.

It’s also a huge reason they’re two games away from becoming repeat champions.

In Game 2 Sunday night, the Cavs ended the first half on a solid run but still trailed the Warriors, 52-45. This time, with Curry spending almost the entire third quarter on the bench, Golden State forward Draymond Green made sure the outcome was never in doubt.

While both “Splash Brothers” again finished under 20 points, Green proved any one of the defending champs can take over a game at any time. He drained five 3-pointers and finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the 110-77 demolition.

This is against the same Cleveland team that won its first 10 games of the postseason on its way back to the Finals. It’s the same Cleveland team that set an NBA-record-making 25 3-pointers in a second-round game against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Cavs felt things would be different this year after coming so close to bringing Cleveland its first NBA title a year ago. Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James would finally be joined by fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, giving the team a formidable “Big Three.”

Both Irving and Love went down with season-ending injuries in last year’s playoffs, forcing James to carry the load. He did his part, leading all players from both teams in points, rebounds and assists for the series — but it wasn’t enough to win it all.

So far in the rematch, the “Big Three” can’t seem to find their rhythm against Golden State’s suffocating defense. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s role players have been badly outplayed by the Warriors’ versatile bench.

Basketball fans expected to see a battle for the ages, with Golden State looking to repeat as champions against the Cavs and James, one of the greatest players of all time, seeking his third title.

What they’ve gotten is a historically great team looking to put a stamp on one of the best seasons ever.

There’s still time for Cleveland to turn things around, but right now a series sweep for Golden State might be more likely than a Cavs comeback. Of the 31 teams to fall into a 2-0 series deficit in the NBA Finals, only three have come back to win the series.

Many are already counting them out, but many also counted the Warriors out when they trailed 3-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Teams this good are never out of a series, especially before they have a chance to play at home.

If Cleveland defends its home court in all three games, the Cavs will simply have to win either Game 5 or Game 7 at Golden State to clinch the title and end the Warriors’ dream season.

Good luck with that.

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