Cooked (Warriors 122, Cavaliers 103)


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The Golden State Warriors survived Game 1 of these NBA Finals in a contest that featured more twists and turns than a Dan Brown novel, as well as an indestructible opponent in LeBron James. On the heels of that thriller, Game 2 was ho-hum from a competitive perspective, but again featured no shortage of storylines. Behind an epic performance from Wardell Stephen Curry the Second, a vintage hyper-efficient Kevin Durant showing, and great performances from up and down the Warriors’ roster, the Dubs took down the Cavs 122-103 to seize control of the Finals as the series shifts to Cleveland.

For those who were looking for an iconic Stephen Curry performance in the NBA Finals, tonight might have been it. Curry was aggressive and energized, and despite less-than-stellar efficiency, he finished with a game-high 33 points and a Finals-record 9 threes made. For Steph, this game was an inversion of his play throughout this postseason. Steph’s long-range shot has come and gone as he has worked his way back from a long injury layoff, but the one constant has been his wizardry around the rim, where he was lethal against the Rockets down the stretch in the Western Conference Finals. In this game, Steph was constantly foiled on layup attempts, with hordes of Cavaliers (usually) converging on him as he entered the restricted area. Finding the path to the rim a little bumpy, Steph “settled” for his patented long-range sniping, with mind-blowing results: Curry was just 11-26 from the field, but 9-17 (52.9%) from beyond the arc, firing up a bevy of daggers down the stretch. None was more insane (and demoralizing for the Cavs) than a 30 foot heave, after several near-turnovers, as the shot clock expired over Kevin Love, who, to his credit, did a pretty decent job in not getting cooked by Steph when isolated against him. Unfortunately, “not getting cooked” is a relative term, and Chef Curry was at his culinary best regardless of who the Cavs tossed at him. Arguably more impressive than seeing Steph shoot the tar out of the basketball was how well he controlled the game in other areas. Curry piled up 7 boards (2 more than Tristan Thompson, who is only on the floor to get rebounds) and dished out 8 assists, to go with innumerable hockey assists and would-be assists that ended with a player getting fouled. Curry’s vision and floor gravity got teammates wide open looks, and his insistence on keeping the ball hopping around (when he wasn’t firing up 3 after 3) added “kinetic energy” to the Warriors offense, something which was totally absent in the conference finals. If we’re nitpicking, Steph did have 5 turnovers, but few (none?) were of the boneheaded variety, and their negative impact was drowned out by all the positives Curry brought to the table. To see Steph have such a high usage rate is surprising, particularly given the presence of the subject of the next paragraph on the Dubs, but the results are not at all surprising for us Steph believers. When Curry has the ball in his hands, good things happen.

With Steph holding the conch as the Warriors’ engine, Kevin Durant was relegated to a somewhat ancillary role, and he promptly broke out with the best game he has had since the beginning of the Rockets series. Durant was ruthlessly efficient offensively, locked in defensively, a monster on the boards, and an able creator from the high post, as he racked up 26 points on 10-14 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 blocks. KD played within himself and the overall flow of the offense, and the Dubs benefitted as a result. The somewhat strained interplay between Steph and KD that has plagued this postseason was nowhere to be seen, as both MVPs co-existed in total harmony, with Curry passing up shots to get Durant easy looks and vice versa. Pick-and-roll truthers even got to see the return of the fabled Steph-KD PnR, which promptly yielded a dunk to KD (and gave said truthers even more ammunition in their quest to get Steve Kerr to run it more often). I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: there is still more to unlock in the partnership between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, and when they figure out what the key is, the Dubs will get even better.

Supporting Steph and KD in the scoring department was Klay Thompson, whose mystique grows day by day. Klay’s rep as a basketball ironman was enhanced by his excellent performance despite continuing to battle what is announced on the injury report as a leg contusion but looks to be a high ankle sprain. Thompson announced his arrival early by stepping into (and splashing) a deep three, and seemed to suffer no ill-effects to his shooting, as he was 8-13 from the field (although he was “just” 3-8 from behind the arc, with some misses coming on wide open looks). His timely buckets whenever the Cavs went on a run were vital, and he even showed off some new moves, particularly at the rim and under the basket. Thompson continued his dogged defense, whether matched up against George Hill, JR Smith, or even LeBron James, and while he still appears to be walking with a limp, his play on the court is unimpeachable. Sans Kyrie Irving, these Cavs just don’t have a lot of weapons that require Klay bracketing them, and so, even if he is hobbled, the Warriors as a team aren’t suffering for it.

The great mystery of these playoffs has been why the Warriors insist on starting games so slowly, and how they manage to explode in the third quarter. Both tropes were trashed this game, as the Warriors started JaVale McGee (as I had hoped for) at center and exploded out of the gates, taking a 15-6 lead before I could even get settled into my sofa. While the hot shooting cooled off and the Cavaliers trimmed the lead to four before the end of the quarter, the tone had been set, and the Dubs led this one wire-to-wire. JaVale was an 18 minute dose of caffeine, and his energy and verticality earned him 12 points on perfect 6-6 shooting, to go with 2 boards and a block. However, the Cavaliers started picking on him a bit defensively during the third quarter, and he ended up neutral in +/-, reflecting his productivity on offense and his limitations when forced to defend the pick and roll on defense. Excellent off the bench was Shaun Livingston, who has yet to miss a shot in the Finals (he finished with 10 points on 5-5 shooting). As a rangy point guard who the Cavs have no counter for (he can shoot over just about everyone), and as a candidate to defend LeBron when the Warriors switch on defense, Livingston was as steady as they come, initiating the offense and delivering when he was needed. Both vets gave at least some credence to the Warriors’ somewhat false motto of “Strength in Numbers.”

For the Cavs, this was a disheartening loss that confirmed what most pundits suspected: it is going to take a superhuman performance from LeBron to even keep this series close, given the talent differential between the two teams. James looked exhausted with his workload (he didn’t rest until he checked out of the game for good with a few minutes left in the fourth), and while he was brilliant (29 points on 10-20 shooting, 9 rebounds, 13 assists), against the Dubs, brilliant isn’t quite enough. Other than George Hill and Kevin Love, who both provided timely shooting, rebounding, and defense, no other Cavalier was notable in defeat. Kyle Korver played 17 minutes and was -18, finishing with just a single made technical free throw. Jeff Green was the recipient of countless perfect passes on the perimeter and managed to butcher most of his opportunities, bricking both of his attempted 3s and showing hesitancy on numerous other possessions. For all of his chatter, Tristan Thompson was (as mentioned above) outrebounded by Curry and offered little-to-no resistance in the paint when driven at, particularly in the first half. As a team, the Cavs shot just 41.1%; the Warriors clocked in at 57.3%. The reason for this game being close through three quarters was again offensive rebounding and free throw shooting; the Dubs conceded 16 offensive boards, although their performance on the defensive glass improved as the game progressed, and let the Cavs attempt 26 free throws, committing 25 team fouls as compared to the Cavs’ 15. At the end of the day, however, the Warriors offered way more resistance when defending LeBron as compared to Game 1, and continued their newfound focus on turnover avoidance (just 12 for the game). When both of those factors are coupled with a Curry flurry, it is hard for anyone, much less a team as defensively-challenged as the Cavs, to beat the Warriors.

Adam posed this as a question, but I’ll make it an assertion: this was the most complete performance the Warriors have had this postseason, and the hope is that they build on this when going on the road to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4. Knowing the Dubs, they’ll turn in a clunker at some point in the future…whether it comes this season or next will determine how long this series goes. I expect the Q to be raucous on Wednesday, and I expect LeBron to come out firing, especially since he played “only” 44 minutes tonight. If the Warriors continue to execute at their current level, however, none of that will matter.

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