CLEVELAND — LeBron James doesn’t like being down 2-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals heading into Game 3 tonight at The Q, but he’s familiar with the scenario.
In 2016, the Cavs overcame that deficit — and a 3-1 hole — to win a championship over the Warriors in seven games. A year ago, they lost Game 3 at home to Golden State, won Game 4 at The Q and then were eliminated in Game 5 at Oracle Arena.
“I don’t know how I felt last year or the year before that,” the three-time NBA champion said Tuesday. “I’m not quite sure. I know it feels like we’re down 2-0, and I don’t like the way I feel. I don’t like the mood that I’m in right now. There’s no, like, ‘OK, you’re down 2-0 and you feel better than when you were down 2-0 before.’
“I mean, when you’re down like this, in a deficit like this, there’s no good feeling. So I don’t feel good about it.”
As the next question was starting to be asked, James stuck up his hand to pause that person because he wanted to clarify his previous statement.
“Give me one second, sorry,” James said with a wry smile. “I don’t feel good (about) how I feel right now, not (about) how I feel about the rest of the series. I know how clips can get broken up and somebody can clip that and be like, ‘Oh, LeBron said he doesn’t feel good.’
“I personally don’t feel good today of the deficit that we have. Not about (Game 3). I feel great about our opportunity.”
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound James is the biggest reason some fans still feel good about the Cavs’ chances. Through two games, he’s averaging 40.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists.
Included was a 51-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist performance in Game 1, which the Cavs lost 124-114 in overtime.
Cleveland had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but George Hill missed the second of two free throws with 4.7 seconds left. J.R. Smith got the rebound, but appeared to think the Cavs were ahead and dribbled full speed away from the basket so he wouldn’t get fouled.
James was initially open above the 3-point line, then wildly gestured at Smith to pass the ball to Hill in the right corner. James then briefly signaled for a timeout, but admitted Tuesday he wasn’t adamant about asking nearby official Ed Malloy for one because he wasn’t positive the Cavs had any left.
The game ended before Hill could get off a shot from the corner, and uncut video that showed the Cavs on the bench between the end of regulation and the start of OT — the Warriors scored the first nine points — eventually made its way to social media.
“It went viral?” asked a smiling James, who stays off social media during the playoffs. “Damn cameras.”
In the video, James is shown seated on the bench, with Smith one chair away from him and no one between them. Both are staring straight ahead and saying nothing.
When coach Tyronn Lue finally went to address his team after doing his customary meeting with his assistants, the first thing James asked was if the Cavs had owned a timeout. When Lue said yes, a disgusted James put a towel over his face and barely touched hands with the rest of the team as Cleveland prepared to break the huddle.
“I finally got Game 1 out of my head and you’re taking me back, huh?” a smiling James said Tuesday. “OK, OK, let me put myself back there.
“I was sitting on the bench and kind of contemplating the last couple seconds of what just happened ... from J.R. dribbling the ball out to G-Hill missing the free throw, actually seeing (Golden State’s) Draymond (Green) step in early on the lane violation.”
James went on to say he was thinking about whether he had room to drive prior to passing to Hill, and added he wasn’t 100 percent certain the Cavs had a timeout to use after Smith rebounded the missed free throw.
The 33-year-old said he hesitated to ask for one because he didn’t want to go down in infamy like Chris Weber, whose timeout request ultimately cost Michigan any chance of winning the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina.
“There were a lot of things playing through my head,” said James, who later added, “I was kind of a little bit still in shock of what was going on at that point in time.”
After going through all that, it was then that James asked Lue if the Cavs had a timeout.
“I guess y’all probably seen the reaction from that point on,” the four-time league MVP said.
One of the most cerebral players in the game and capable of recalling long stretches of action off the top of his head, James received some criticism for not attempting to pull the Cavs together before the start of OT.
“Me being criticized?” he asked rhetorically and sarcastically while smiling. “Noooo. You’re saying I got criticized for something, right? I don’t believe that. Not me.
“I don’t care,” he added. I don’t care at all. I mean, we’re in the NBA Finals. I mean, how much more picking up of my teammates do you want me to do? I’m in the NBA Finals, looking for a championship.”
James had the full backing of all teammates who spoke to the media Tuesday, including All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who is averaging 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the series.
“Mistakes are going to happen and you’re going to be frustrated,” Love said. “There are going to be times when your emotions are going to show. It’s the NBA Finals. Everything is heightened.
“He ended the game with 51 (points), eight (rebounds) and eight (assists), so he did a lot,” Love added. “He’s been leading us and been great not only this season, but seasons past. It’s natural for him to put out such a good effort and be frustrated.
“I think, as he mentioned, he didn’t want a situation where he could have called a timeout and we didn’t have any left.”
Why the Cleveland coaching staff didn’t make it clear to the players a timeout was available, especially considering there were several delays down the stretch, is a story for another day.
Right now, the main task is getting a win in Game 3, because no team has come back to win the NBA Finals after being down 3-0.
“We’ve been very persistent and very resilient throughout this whole season, no matter what has been going on,” James said. “We have an opportunity to come home and protect home, as Golden State has done.
“We look forward to the challenge. It’s a very tall task. (It’s) a very tough challenge, as I mentioned before the series even started, going against these guys, going against this team. But we have an opportunity to seize the opportunity, so I look forward to that.”
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