In 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a 2-0 NBA Finals deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors and win their first championship in franchise history.
Well, 2017 is a different story. Yes, the Cavs are once again down 2-0, but a comeback in this series seems less likely.
“The difference between this year and last year is No. 35,” former NBA player and current Thunder analyst Antonio Daniels said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show, referring to Kevin Durant. “(The Warriors) did not have the second-best player on the planet on their team a year ago. So now what you have is Klay Thompson can struggle (and) Draymond Green can struggle because Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are enough to get it done. Kevin Durant’s offensive ability can offset Draymond Green and Klay Thompson’s struggles. A year ago, Harrison Barnes’ offensive skill set wasn’t enough to offset the struggles of those two guys.
“So now you have the second-best player on the planet,” Daniels continued, “and possibly the most difficult matchup in this league today: 6-11, can shoot it, can handle it, has a high shot release. There’s not a guy in this league that can guard Kevin Durant. There’s not one guy in this league to guard Kevin Durant. I don’t care what anybody says. Kawhi Leonard is a great defender. LeBron James is a heck of a defender. But Kevin Durant being 6-11 with the ability to shoot, post, handle the ball the way he does – he can get his shot off at anytime on anyone. So that means the moment he steps on the floor, he is a walking mismatch.”
The stats certainly support that. Durant is averaging 35.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.5 blocks, and 1.5 steals in the Finals.
Perhaps this is why James lobbied for another playmaker during the regular season.
“People (killed) him for (that),” Daniels said. “(They said), ‘What do you need another playmaker for? You’re supposed to be the best player on the planet. What do you need another playmaker for?’ Because he wasn’t thinking about February; he was thinking about June. So when you look at and understand what Kevin Durant has around him in Golden State with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry and Draymond Green – look how easy the game looks for Kevin Durant.”
Durant is shooting 56.3 percent from the floor (27-of-48) in the Finals, including 50 percent from three (7-of-14).
“It makes it look easy because of the guys that are around him,” Daniels said. “If you look at LeBron James and how difficult it is for him to do what he’s doing – and he’s still dominant and still losing by 20 points. He (saw) the monster that he was going to eventually have to face in Golden State. Now when you go back to February and he says ‘I need another playmaker,’ now it all makes sense.”
Either way, the Cavs will have to find an answer for the Warriors in Game 3 on Wednesday. Even if they do, though, they remain a long-shot to win the series. Golden State is 14-0 in the playoffs and has won 29 of 30 overall.
“What Golden State has going right now, you are watching greatness,” Daniels said. “But on the flip side, I would be foolish not to recognize the fact that Kevin Durant leaving Oklahoma City and going to Golden State completely changed the landscape of the entire National Basketball Association – any way you look at it, any way you break it down. Because I think what this really shows is Golden State is head and shoulders above the other 29 teams in this league.”