CLEVELAND -- If the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to rescue these NBA Finals from their current course, they are going to have to do so behind superior effort and execution. The Golden State Warriors are not going to oblige them with any additional help.
The Warriors have been here before, up 2-0 with what looks like a superior team headed into a Game 3 in Cleveland. It's where they were last year. Yes, they have Kevin Durant now, both teams are different, but the Warriors are fully aware of what can happen if they get complacent.
"We've been up 3-1 before," Draymond Green said Tuesday, uttering that phrase the Warriors avoid like the plague. "There's no feeling of, 'we're almost there.' You have to play every game like you're down. To say we're up 2-0, we're good, we've still got two more games to win and they'll be way harder than the first two."
Complacency is dangerous for every team that dominates the beginning of a series the way the Warriors have this one. It's just natural for players to let up in their intensity. Yo see it all the time in the regular season, when a team goes up by a huge first-half margin, only to see the opponent respond in the second half and make games competitive again. Keeping the hammer down the entire way is difficult.
"I think that there's an understanding between our guys that we haven't performed well in Game 3 [in the past]," Green said. "And that [was] probably a sense of complacency.
"We put ourselves in a tremendous position, but they're down 2-0, coming home, crowd's going to be loud, they're going to give everything they have. And we definitely understand that and know that we got to come out ready to fight and just be ready for whatever, because they're going to throw everything."
Part of the battle for the Warriors is to find ways to improve, when they have played so well. Green said that in Game 1, the Warriors executed well, but missed shots. In Game 2, they struggled with execution, but made their shots. Still, when you beat a team as convincingly, in every aspect of the game, as the Warriors have the Cavs in the first two games, it's difficult to find areas to focus on. The Cavs have not posed a threat. LeBron James has been otherworldly. Kevin Love has played well. The Cavaliers fixed their turnover problems in Game 1. The Warriors turned the ball over more in Game 2. Didn't matter.
Green circled limiting the Warriors' turnovers (a constant for Golden State and an easy soundbite) and cleaning up some defensive mistakes as things Golden State can improve upon, but there's no desperate sense of urgency for the Warriors in those areas... because they didn't matter. Golden State has made this series a battle vs. their own complacency.
This is a brash, emotional team that lives on swagger, and yet their comments at media day Tuesday were low-key, nonabrasive, respectful of the Cavaliers and the threat they continue to pose. They're confident they won't lose that edge, because A) they've been here before, and B) no team ever believes they will be complacent. It's an unconscious element.
"I mean, there's always a chance," Klay Thompson said when asked about that complacency. "But we're not going to let it happen just because we're hungry to be here. It's the NBA Finals. You should not get complacent. It's not Game 58 of the regular season or something. So the way we avoid it is come in locked in from the jump, don't turn the ball over, try and get a shot down the floor every time, and stick to the game plan we have been doing on defense the last two games, and I think we'll be in a good position to win the game."
So that's the story of Game 3. Not what the Cavaliers can do to adjust to Golden State, because right now, it does not appear that there is any such possible adjustment. Not who can step up for the Cavaliers, because one player stepping up will not change how dominant the Warriors have been. It's about Golden State battling its propensity to coast in these situations. And yet a Game 3 win is important, because if Golden State loses, it opens the door for what we saw last year and brings ghosts to the surface.
Either way, the Warriors are plainly aware that no matter how easy Games 1 and 2 were, Game 3 will be, to at least some degree, different. Draymond Green put it simply.
"This is going to be the hardest game of the series."