CLEVELAND — LeBron James is stressed out.
Two years in a row, James’ Cavaliers have fallen into a big hole in the NBA Finals against the Warriors. Last year, it was a 3-1 deficit. This time, it was a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 hole. For the second year in a row, the Cavs must make an improbable comeback if it wants to hoist the trophy.
“It causes too much stress, man,” James said after a 137-116 victory in Game 4 to stave off a sweep. “I’m stressed out. Keep doing this every year.”
The win on Friday, though, may have done more than stress out LeBron. It might have pushed some stress to the other side. After all, “blowing a 3-1 lead” has become a widely circulated joke. And these two teams are in the same situation again, with the Cavaliers down 3-1, heading to Oakland for Game 5.
“Man, different team,” Stephen Curry said, shooting down a question about the familiarity of the situation.
He’s right. The Warriors suiting up on Monday will be much different from the team at the same point in 2016. For one, instead of Harrison Barnes, who averaged less than 10 points per game in last year’s Finals, the Warriors upgraded to Kevin Durant, whose 34.3 points per game average might have him in line for Finals MVP.
In addition, Draymond Green, who was suspended for Game 5 last year, will be playing. With all of the Warriors’ big guns healthy, the Cavaliers understand where they stand.
“They got us where they want us,” James said.
Kyrie Irving added: “We understand how special that team is down there. We don’t knock them off of taking one loss or us getting one win.”
A lot was said before these Finals about the non-competitiveness of the NBA playoffs – the Warriors became the first team in history to start the playoffs 15-0 and sport a point differential of 13.8 points, while the Cavaliers lost just once before the Finals. Before Game 4, there were grumbles as the Warriors breezed through Games 1 and 2 at home and stole Game 3 on the road to take a 3-0 lead.
Still, the series could easily be tied 2-2. The Cavaliers brought their A-game in Game 3, which they could have won if not for an open missed corner 3-pointer by Kyle Korver and Durant’s heroics. At the very least, the near-win gave Cleveland some life.
“We know we’re down 3-0, but we thought we gave a game away in Game 3,” head coach Tyronn Lue said. “So we knew this team was beatable, we knew we can play better, and [Game 4] is the result you get when we play at our best.”
Irving said that the Cavaliers “finally settled in.”
“It was about damn time, for all of us to really see what playing well as a group looks like against a great team like the Warriors,” he said.
But there’s no indication that the 3-1 talk is going to get to the Warriors. This is a different year, a different situation, and, as Curry said, a different team – one with more experience, and with Kevin Durant.
“I love the vibe we had in the locker room after the game, understanding what we need to do differently to play better,” he said.
And on the other side?
“We’re a resilient team,” Love said. “We have been in this situation before. We never count ourselves out.”
If the Cavaliers want to prove their resilience, they’ll have to win three more stress-induced games like the last one, starting Monday.