CLEVELAND -- The TV ratings for the first two games of the NBA Finals were the highest since 1998, the year that Michael Jordan and the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz for the last of their six championships.
That's no surprise. For one thing, the Warriors and Cavaliers are the first teams in history to meet in three consecutive Finals. They're also playing the most fast-paced, skillful and entertaining basketball that the sport has seen in many a year.
The Warriors and Cavs averaged a combined 195 field-goal attempts per game through the first two. Back in those '98 Finals, an era of plodding, isolation ball, the Bulls and Jazz averaged only 147 shots a game. This series is more reminiscent of those epic Celtics-Lakers clashes of the Eighties, when the league's top rivals engaged each other in high-scoring, uptempo contests.
Pace was a major topic of conversation during the off-day press conferences Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs host Game Three on Wednesday night. Most hoop observers feel the pace favors the Warriors, being labeled by some as the best offensive team of all time.
The prevailing sentiment says the Cavs can't possibly keep up with theWarriors at such a breakneck pace. They need to be more methodical, take time off the clock, keep the Warriors from running wild. Guess who doesn't accept the conventional wisdom:
"That's not our game," said LeBron James, who spoke in the interview room after taking a pass after Game Two. "We don't play slowdown basketball."
I pressed James on the subject, asking him if he really felt the first two games had not been played at the Warriors' pace, and in any event, if he believed the Cavs could afford to keep playing that way.
"We play at our pace," James said, shaking his head and uttering a little laugh. "We play our game. We got to this point playing our way. We have won a lot of games playing the way we play, so we're not going to change."
There's something to be said for sticking with the plan. The Cavaliers went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They pushed the pace, attacking from inside and outside and making 43 percent of the three-point attempts.
But the Warriors are an entirely different animal. They thrive on a fast pace, sprinting downcourt after missed shots and turnovers and destroying their opponents in transition. They're a great passing team and a lethal three-point shooting squad. They're also the best in the NBA at defending three-pointers, which leads to long rebounds and triggers their fastbreak.
Steph Curry is a cold-blooded, three-point shooting assassin on the break. So is Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant is the best open-court guy at his size (6-10) that I've ever seen. So why would the Cavs believe the could get back in this series by continuing to engage them in a shootout?
"Because that's who we are," said power forward Kevin Love. "We're not a slow-it-down team. We have the locomotive" James "out there. You give him the ball, he can barrel his way through and get to the rim. We have Kyrie Irving, who's arguably the best ballhandler in the world.
"So I don't think it's really what we're made of, to slow down the ball and make it a half-court game," Love said. "I understand numbers; I understand getting a great shot every single time. That's held into account, but when we have opportunities to push, whether it's a miss or make, more often that not, we're going to look to push."
It's easy to overreact after two games. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who has seen more than his share of Finals, reminded everyone that you haven't really done anything until you win a road game. Kerr also downplayed the idea that the Cavs were playing into their hands at a swift pace.
"Well, they're really good when they play fast," said Kerr, who said he feels fine after returning to the bench in Game Two after missing six weeks with back issues. "Obviously, LeBron coming downhill at you, all those shooters, that's kind of what we expect.
"We feel like we can play any pace, and we're ready to do so. Whatever comes, we'll play that way."
Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said his team needs to play fast. He suggested that the whole pace discussion was a bit overblown.
"That's our game," Lue said. "You saw early in the first half" of Game Two "when LeBron's able to attack and get downhill with the floor open, that's when we're at our best. If they help, he kicks it out for threes. So we want to play with a pace, but to play with pace, we've got to get stops."
It's a tall order to stop the Warriors, who averaged 122.5 points in the first two games, making more threes (30) than turnovers (24). Durant (35.5) and Curry (30.0) are averaging 65.5 points a game. They've combined for 17 threes and 35 assists, while shooting 96 percent (24 of 25) from the line.
Back at the Olympics, I recall seeing Durant run wild in the gold-medal game and thinking, "My lord, he and Curry will be on the same team!" What do you do when the two best offensive players in the NBA are teammates?
OK, so the Cavaliers fell behind, two games to none, and came back to win the series in seven a year ago. James averaged 36.3 points to lead them to victory in the last three after falling down, 3-1. They played at their preferred pace and Cleveland had a parade shortly thereafter.
But the Warriors are more devastating with Durant. If the Cavs play fast, will James wear down? He plays big minutes, guards the top players, runs the offense at times. The Cavs would be wise to at least slow the pace a bit, maybe have James initiate the offense a little later in the clock.
James has heard it all. Be more aggressive. Slow it down. He said he doesn't understand the questions. His mindset never wavers.
"I play my game and I don't change it no matter what the series is, or what the score is," James said. "My game is being aggressive. My game is getting my guys involved. My game is getting into the paint, shooting outside shots when they're available.
"My game is what it is. So it's not going to change whether I'm down 2-0 or up 2-0. It's going to be the same."