Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Mike Brown said "there's no magic play [or] magic defense" that could rescue his team from looking completely overmatched for the second game in a row in the NBA Finals on Sunday.
But what about a magic arena?
On Tuesday the NBA Finals shift to Cleveland, where before each game at Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James summons the power of talcum powder, clapping his hands and lifting them toward the ceiling while a cloud of dust splashes over him. The scoreboard spits fire and sports "The Diff" -- a device that will alert the Cavaliers if they approach another 25-point halftime deficit against the San Antonio Spurs.
Cleveland needs something to restore hope in this best-of-seven series, because attempts to throttle Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio proved futile and made many question if the Cavaliers even belong on this stage.
But the Cavaliers are 7-1 at home this postseason and were last seen dismantling the Detroit Pistons and sending a championship-starved city into a car-honking and hugging celebration that lasted almost until sunrise.
When asked what the scene would be like for Game 3, James flashed a smile: "It's going to be something that hasn't been experienced in a long, long time for our city, for our fans. It's going to be electrifying. If you're not there, I expect you to try to get there."
The city of Cleveland hasn't experienced a championship since the Browns won an NFL title in 1964 and hasn't hosted a game with championship implications since the Indians were in the World Series 10 years ago. That explains why more than 14,000 fans showed up at a free 3D watch party at the arena for Game 2 on Sunday. No doubt, Cleveland fans will be in attendance, with standing room crowds expected to watch outside the building and tickets at such a premium that James joked that he had to shut out requests from some friends.
But the question is whether the Cavaliers will show up, too. Brown blasted his team after Game 2 for showing a "lack of poise" and "making mental errors that we haven't made all throughout the playoffs. . . . Our effort has to be better. Our aggression has to be higher, and we've got to be able to do it and still be poised in the same breath. We've got to bring the juice, and right now we're not."
Aside from a return to the comforts of home, the Cavaliers can look at their own recent history when facing 0-2 deficits in the playoffs. They defeated the Pistons in the conference finals in six games this season and forced a seventh game in the conference semifinals last season after losing the first two games.
And in the past two NBA Finals, the first two games were one-sided victories claimed by the home team, but the tone of the series switched with a change of venue. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks routed the Miami Heat by an average of 12 points and city officials began planning parades before the Heat won the next four games.
In 2005, the Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons by 25 points in Game 1 and 21 points in Game 2 before arriving at the Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Pistons soundly routed them by 17 points and 31 points, respectively, in Games 3 and 4.
The Spurs still won the series -- and their third NBA title -- in seven games, but they haven't forgotten. "It was really embarrassing," Ginobili said of the 2005 Finals. "So hopefully, especially the guys that were in that Finals, learn from that and we are more humble going into those games [in Cleveland] and play a better game. Every series that we won in the last five years, we won at least one game away. So we're going to look for it as soon as possible."
Unlike the 2005 Pistons, the Cavaliers are not the defending champions, but a team of playoff toddlers. Similar to the 2006 Heat, the Cavaliers advanced to the Finals through the heroics of a young superstar on the rise in James, but Dwyane Wade was supported by a future Hall of Fame Coach (Pat Riley) and a future Hall of Fame center (Shaquille O'Neal), who each had at least three championship rings entering the series. Mike Brown was an assistant on the Spurs' title team in 2003 and Eric Snow is the only Cavaliers player who had played in an NBA Finals before last Thursday.
The more apt comparison for the Cavaliers is to this season's Utah Jazz, which used meaningless fourth-quarter rallies to avoid embarrassing losses in the first two games of the conference finals against San Antonio. The Jazz experienced a carryover effect in Game 3, and it pounded the Spurs with one glorious, lopsided victory before losing the series in five games.
Brown said the goal for the Cavaliers in this series hasn't been simplified, but intensified. "Bottom line is one day, one game at a time," Brown said.