SAN ANTONIO – The Cleveland Cavaliers will try to arm themselves with the fool's gold of the final minutes, selling themselves a false prophecy that they solved something late on Sunday night. Eventually, the Hawks would've made a run on the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs are going down in four games, and they're going down as one of the worst teams to ever reach the NBA finals.
That final, frantic spree of this 103-92 Game 2 loss was a mirage at the AT&T Center. Cleveland turned a 29-point gulf into an eight-point deficit late in the fourth, but no one bought its legitimacy as progress. That was merely human nature taking over for the Spurs.
"The one thing, our guys … didn't quit," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "They didn't quit in Game 1. They didn't quit in Game 2."
Well, you'd kind of hope so, because, you know, this is the NBA finals and all.
Do the Cavs want credit for that?
To be as out-talented and out-manned and still come with such little mental toughness and tenacity? Cleveland was beaten to every rebound and loose ball and made lousy decision after lousy decision.
The Cavaliers owe the sport a complete performance in Game 3. Right now, they are so bad, there's no interest in these NBA finals. If Game 1 was the worst rated in NBA finals television history, how do you think it turned out for Game 2? When "The Sopranos" series finale had ended at 10 p.m. EDT, America would've presumably turned to find the Spurs winning 45-26 with 5½ minutes left in the second quarter.
So far, LeBron James has been completely overmatched. For him to go slapping at Tim Duncan on a double team, swinging wildly for the ball to get his second foul three minutes into the game, was beyond foolish. Yes, he's 22 years old, but he should've been smarter. Once he went to the bench for the rest of the quarter, Cleveland was reduced to mid-major talent on the floor. The Cavs would be lucky to win the Missouri Valley Conference without him.
The Cavaliers are talking about how they were down 2-0 to the Pistons in the conference finals, and everything changed when they returned home. Well, these aren't the Pistons. These are the Spurs, who probably did themselves a favor with a sluggish fourth quarter in Game 2. Now, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich can wag that finger and remind his players that they aren't nearly as invincible against the Cavs as they would've believed.
"I do remember what happened in Games 3 and 4 (of the 2005 finals against Detroit), and it was really embarrassing," Manu Ginobili said of the Pistons' back-to-back blowouts in Auburn Hills.
In a historical context, the Spurs' legacy will pay a price for the incompetence of the Eastern Conference, and by extension, these Cavaliers. When you win championships, you want to give history unforgettable moments on the game's biggest stage. Through the years, the Spurs' championship runs included a Knicks frontline of Chris Dudley and Herb Williams, the history-less Nets, and now, these Cavaliers. Yes, the Spurs are great, but they're a June Ali without a Frazier, a Jack without an Arnie. They're kind of the NBA's Larry Holmes.
For all the great Western Conference teams and players San Antonio has had to go through to reach the finals, it is still left without epic title tests to mark it for the ages. That's not the Spurs' fault, but that's their lot. Even this season, they have been cut break after break in these playoffs.
San Antonio is trying to convince itself that it should fear these Cavs returning to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 and maybe Game 5. Everyone else is trying to decide which of these realities is most responsible for the Cavaliers reaching the NBA finals:
Is LeBron James that good, or is the Eastern Conference that bad?
So the Cavs made a late run because that's what happens in the NBA, but they threatened nothing in Game 2. They threatened no one. Tim Duncan had it right about those final minutes, when he said, "Nothing went wrong. We won the game, right? Isn't that the point of the whole thing?"
Just two more for the Spurs, just a little longer.