By Tim Reynolds
AP Basketball Writer
CLEVELAND — Under the long-used former NBA Finals format, Game 3 of this Golden State-Cleveland matchup would have been played Tuesday night.
Not this year, thanks to an extra rest day.
And the Cavaliers are probably celebrating that.
The Eastern Conference champions need as much time as they can get to try to figure out a way back into these finals. They’ve used LeBron James as a ballhandler and as a center, they’ve played at different speeds, they’ve tried different lineups.
There have been moments of success — just not enough to make this a series.
As such, the Warriors are two wins from back-to-back championships. Golden State will try to take a 3-0 lead in this finals rematch when the series resumes in Cleveland on Wednesday night.
“The next couple days, I won’t be reflecting,” James said. “I’ll figure out ways I can be better.”
That certainly sounds good, given that James at his best is probably still better than any player in the world. Problem is, James is already averaging close to a triple-double in this series — so he’s already plenty productive. And the Cavaliers are down 0-2 despite keeping Warriors’ sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in check so far.
Regardless, Golden State won Game 1 by 15, then rolled in Game 2 on Sunday night by 33. That plus-48 combined margin adds up to the most one-sided first two games of the finals, ever.
“They’re just a better team right now,” acknowledged Cleveland guard J.R. Smith, who managed a combined eight points in Games 1 and 2.
Adding to the tough spot the Cavaliers are in is the status of forward Kevin Love, who is now in the NBA’s concussion protocol after taking himself out of Game 2. Love caught an elbow from Harrison Barnes in the back of the head during the first half, and left in the third quarter when symptoms of a concussion started to present themselves.
If Love can’t go, the Cavaliers might have no choice but to reinvent themselves with their realistic title hopes hanging by a thread. Going to a bigger lineup — probably meaning giving all-but-forgotten center Timofey Mozgov some minutes that matter — could be the only real card Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has left to play.
“They’ll probably play with a little more energy,” Thompson said. “That’s natural when you go home. Probably with a sense of desperation. They might go big. You never know. But we’ll be prepared.”
James has faced 0-2 deficits four times before, all during his first stint in Cleveland. He and the Cavs lost in seven games to Detroit in the 2006 second round, rallied to beat Detroit in six games in the 2007 East finals, got swept by San Antonio in that season’s NBA Finals, and lost in seven games to Boston in the 2008 second round.
He knows the numbers, 28 of the 31 previous teams to lose the first two games of the finals did not recover. He didn’t need anyone to remind him that only one team in the last 39 years — the 2006 Miami Heat, with his close friend Dwyane Wade taking over — successfully rallied from an 0-2 hole in the title series.
“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James said. “We’re still here and we have a chance to turn this series around if we come in and do what we need to do both offensively and defensively.”
This was supposed to be their chance, after last season’s matchup with the Warriors saw Love sidelined for the entire series with a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving gone after Game 1 with knee issues.
Love might be gone again. And Irving seems befuddled by the Warriors’ defense, shooting 33 percent with a mere five assists in the first two games.
“They did what they were supposed to do at home,” Irving said. “They came out and took care of home court, and now they have to come to Cleveland.”
That’s almost an obligatory sentiment, though. The Cavs are supposed to say that all they need to do is take care of their home floor now to get back in this series. And the Warriors in turn also said all the things they were supposed to say as well, like knowing there’s a long way to go before they can think about a second consecutive title.
Fact is, they’ve won seven straight over the Cavaliers now, often in dominant fashion. And that title is looming.
“There’s no point in celebrating or jumping up and down and saying ‘Look at us,’” Curry said. “We’re two games away from winning a championship. We still have to go out and get the job done. It’s a trap to think that we’ve figured things out and that we have the perfect formula to beat Cleveland.”