The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Steph Curry comes off bench to vault Warriors to 2-0 lead; Raptors lost a game they had to win

Stephen Curry hits his first shot Tuesday in Game 2 and scores 28 points in 27 minutes off the bench. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

LeBron James and the Cavaliers continue their trudge back to the NBA Finals, winning Game 1 in Toronto. Meanwhile, Golden State receives a boost from Stephen Curry, who doesn’t miss a beat in his return from injury to lead the Warriors to a hard-fought Game 2 win over New Orleans. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on yesterday’s games here.

Maybe Stephen Curry should have started after all in Game 2 for the Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors had to win Game 1 to put their playoff demons to rest. Instead, they blew a late lead and then lost in overtime.

• The Cleveland Cavaliers managed to do something no LeBron James team had ever done Tuesday night.

Drake and Kendrick Perkins got into a heated exchange after the Cavs win. Kevin Garnett had advice for Drake: “Chill, chill, chill.”

At halftime of Golden State’s 121-116 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, Draymond Green and Rajon Rondo had some words heading into the halftime break. As the cameras cut back to TNT’s “Inside The NBA” halftime show, analyst Charles Barkley had a thought about what he just saw.

“I just want somebody to punch him in the face,” Barkley said of Green.

When asked about Barkley’s comments after the game, Green had a suggestion: If he wants someone to punch him in the face, then Barkley should do it.

“I heard what he said,” Green said. “A lot of people stand behind a microphone or a TV screen. Fact of the matter is, if you feel that strongly about something … he’s seen me a million times. If you feel that strongly about it, then punch me in my face when you see me.

“If you’re not going to punch me in my face when you see me, then shut up. It’s no different than somebody sitting behind a computer screen tweeting, ‘I’ll knock you out,’ and you’ll never see them in real life.

“Well, he’s seen me a bunch of times and he’ll see me again this year. Punch me in the face when you see me or, if not, no one cares what you would’ve done.

“You’re old, and it is what it is. If you’re not going to punch me when you see me, then stop talking about it. Period.”

Green then (jokingly) dropped the microphone, got up from the podium and left.

It seems safe to assume Barkley will have something else to say about this when TNT returns Wednesday night for Game 2 between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz.

The Golden State Warriors waited more than five weeks for Stephen Curry to make his return.

He didn’t disappoint.

Curry’s 28 points — including a celebration-inducing three-pointer with 1:47 left to put the game away — in 26 minutes off the bench in his first game since March 23 lifted the Warriors to a 121-116 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

The task of beating this team four times out of seven just got exponentially harder — not only for the Pelicans, but the rest of the NBA.

It came as a surprise when Curry didn’t start, as Warriors Coach Steve Kerr opted to leave Nick Young in the lineup. But when he checked in with 4:20 remaining in the first quarter – to a deafening standing ovation – he didn’t take long to make his presence felt.

Curry immediately hit his first shot — a three, of course — and things essentially picked up from there as though he hadn’t missed a day. Through everything, Curry has always been the engine that makes this team go, and his return brought a new sense of energy and excitement to Oracle Arena and the Warriors.

But it wasn’t just excitement that Curry brought — it was a victory.

Klay Thompson had one of his worst playoff games on offense, scoring 10 points on 4-for-20 shooting — including 2-for-11 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the Pelicans got big production across the board from its stars: Jrue Holiday bounced back from a rough opening game with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 46 minutes; Anthony Davis had 25 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks; Rajon Rondo had 22 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists; and Nikola Mirotic had 18 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.

But between Curry’s production, 29 points from Kevin Durant — including 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter alone — and 20 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists from Draymond Green — the Warriors had just enough to outlast the Pelicans and take a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.

It also didn’t hurt that Golden State’s bench outscored New Orleans’ bench, 44-13.

Now the series shifts to New Orleans for Game 3 on Friday night, where the Pelicans will hope to make this a series. And the debate for the next 72 hours will center on whether Curry will start for the Warriors.

In the end, though, it only mattered that he played.

Because he did, the Warriors won again.

Good thing for the Warriors that Stephen Curry came back. This series might be tied up if he hadn’t

Curry now has 25 points in 24 minutes, and is plus-28 in a game Golden State is only winning by seven with 3:29 remaining. It will be interesting to see why Warriors Coach Steve Kerr chose to have Curry come off the bench in this one — but it likely won’t matter.

That’s because Curry has been so good in his limited minutes that they’ll probably win anyway.

The biggest difference between Games 1 and 2 for the Pelicans? Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic showing up.

In Game 1, Holiday had 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and Mirotic had nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. In Game 2? Holiday has 20 points, along with seven rebounds and six assists, while Mirotic has 15 and eight rebounds.

For New Orleans to have a chance, it needs Holiday and Mirotic to give Anthony Davis some support. They’ve done that tonight, and as a result the Pelicans have a chance.

Your daily Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala shooting update: After making back-to-back threes early in the fourth quarter, Green and Iguodala are now a combined 3 for 7 from three-point range in this game.

The magic number for them for the Warriors is over 35 percent. If they combine to do that, Golden State is basically impossible to beat. Well, they are doing that tonight. And those last two threes from Green have pushed this lead from two points to eight early in the final quarter.

The Golden State Warriors brought Stephen Curry off the bench, starting Nick Young in his place. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant both are having off shooting nights.

And they still are leading after three quarters.

Golden State is up 88-86, despite Durant and Thompson going a combined 10 for 32 and Young being a minus-11 in 11 minutes. That’s because Curry has 25 points in 20 minutes off the bench for the Warriors, and because Draymond Green is having his typically brilliant all-around game (12 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 29 minutes).

New Orleans has done a nice job of hanging around in this one. But if it can’t beat Golden State in a game the Warriors are having this many struggles, their chances of making this a series feel pretty remote.

Something to monitor in the second half of Game 2: Draymond Green vs. Rajon Rondo.

At the end of the first half, the two men got into it, and eventually had to be separated by Warriors coaches. As the game cut to TNT’s halftime show, Charles Barkley had something to say.

“I just want somebody to punch him in the face,” Barkley said, referring to Green.

Well, then.

Expect Green, who had a long soliloquy after Game 5 of the first round when asked about Chris Webber saying he “may not start” for all 30 NBA teams, to be asked about this after the game.

Also expect him to have a colorful answer.

Stephen Curry is back — and Golden State needs even more of him.

The Warriors lead, 58-55, at halftime of Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Curry is a big reason. The superstar guard, making his return from more than five weeks being sidelined with a sprained MCL in his left knee, played 12 minutes in the first half and has 12 points, four rebounds and an assist.

More importantly, he is plus-15 in a game Golden State is only winning by three. Nick Young, meanwhile, was minus-five in six minutes in the starting lineup in Curry’s place  and never made it back into the game. That now makes Young minus-8 in 20 minutes on the court in this series. In the other 52 minutes, Golden State is plus-32.

Curry leads the Warriors with those 12 points, while Kevin Durant has 11, Draymond Green has 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Klay Thompson who gave Golden State that three-point lead with a buzzer-beater at halftime also has 10.

Jrue Holiday has 15 points to lead New Orleans after scoring just 11 points in the first game while Anthony Davis has 14 points and nine rebounds.

The fireworks in Toronto didn’t stop when the Cleveland Cavaliers emerged with a 113-112 overtime victory over the Raptors in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

After the game, Drake — the Raptors’ “Global Ambassador” who has a courtside seat right next to Toronto’s bench — got into a shouting match with Cavaliers reserve Kendrick Perkins, continuing some verbal gymnastics that took place during the game itself.

“Believe that,” Perkins could be heard yelling at Drake on his way off the court, courtesy of video from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I’m supersized!”

Drake, meanwhile, wasn’t deterred despite massive height and weight disadvantages (perhaps because he was confident he’d never actually have to square off with Perkins).

Also: “I’m here in real life” is something that could only be said in 2018.

As one might expect, this feud picked up some steam on the Internet — much to the benefit of everyone following along:

Perkins longtime teammate, Kevin Garnett, had his own thoughts about the situation while watching it play out on his “Area 21″ show for TNT.

“Drake might not want that one,” Garnett said. “Chill, chill, chill, chill.”

Drake, from that courtside seat of his, makes himself a conspicuous presence throughout Raptors games. Earlier Tuesday, he was jawing at LeBron James nonstop during one stoppage in play:

Given how the game played out, though, one has to think it was Perkins, James and the Cavaliers who had the last laugh this time around. This now becomes just another thing to pay attention to heading into Game 2 Thursday night.

The Cleveland Cavaliers managed to do something no LeBron James team had ever done Tuesday night.

Cleveland’s 113-112 victory over Toronto in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series was the first time in 138 career playoff games for James that his team managed to win without ever leading in regulation, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

It also was just the second time in the last 20 years a team had won that way. The first? Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in 2011, when Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points to lift the Dallas Mavericks to a 112-105 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and take a 3-1 lead in that series.

Ironically, that win helped push Dallas past Oklahoma City — and to the NBA Finals, where the Mavericks would beat James, then with the Miami Heat, in six games to win the title.

Maybe Stephen Curry should have started after all.

After Warriors Coach Steve Kerr made the odd decision not to start Curry in Game 2 of Golden State’s series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player made his entrance to a deafening roar with 4:20 to go in the first quarter, and with the Warriors trailing 19-11.

Curry, of course, promptly hit a three.

Golden State proceeded to score 16 points over the final minutes of the first — with Curry scoring eight of them. His return brought the sellout crowd here at Oracle Arena to its feet, and his shooting performance made it serenade its favorite son.

By early in the second quarter, the Warriors had come all the way back into the game, taking a 40-38 lead on a Klay Thompson jumper, and this game felt like it was threatening to get away from the Pelicans.

Through four quarters, the Toronto Raptors never trailed.

They still lost.

In a game Toronto absolutely had to win to prove it was past its previous playoff foibles, the Raptors did exactly what they could not: completely implode in the final minutes. The result was the Cleveland Cavaliers emerging with a 113-112 victory in what will become the latest chapter in an ever-growing book of ugly Raptors losses.

After not scoring a single basket over the final 4:19 of regulation — missing 11 straight shots, including four inside the final 10 seconds that would have given Toronto the lead — the Raptors still wound up with the ball again with 16 seconds to go in overtime, and with it a chance to salvage a win out of a game Toronto controlled the vast majority of.

But just as he did at the end of regulation, Fred VanVleet missed an open three pointer, and Cleveland secured the rebound to come away with the win.

This is a game that’s going to sting for a long time in Toronto. Cleveland just finished its brutal seven-game first-round series against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, while Toronto had four days to rest since beating the Washington Wizards on Friday. And, after spending months working to secure home court in this series, Toronto finally could start out a matchup with Cleveland in the friendly confines of Air Canada Centre.

All of that only adds up to make this loss all the more painful for a Raptors team that simply had to have — and now will have to spend two days thinking about how it blew it.

LeBron James finished with a triple-double — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists — to lead Cleveland, despite shooting just 12-for-30 from the floor. Meanwhile, Cleveland went 14 for 35 on three-pointers — including 13 for 27 after removing James’ 1-for-8 showing.

Toronto got 22 points from DeMar DeRozan and 18 and 10 assists from Kyle Lowry — but 19 of those points from Toronto’s backcourt came in the first quarter, when the Raptors raced out to a 33-19 lead. Jonas Valanciunas had 21 points and 21 rebounds, but went just 7 for 19 from the floor, with all but one of those shots coming in the paint, and all but one of those outside the immediate vicinity of the basket.

Stephen Curry — surprisingly — is coming off the bench for Golden State.

Despite not being on a minutes limit, Curry is starting Game 2 on the bench for the Warriors in their Western Conference semifinal against the New Orleans Pelicans, as Steve Kerr opted to stick with the same starting lineup he had in Game 1 — Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Nick Young.

Curry had been expected to start, but after waiting until the last possible second to reveal his starting lineup — about 15 minutes before tip — Warriors Coach Steve Kerr had Young in it instead.

The Toronto Raptors should have won this game going away.

Instead, Game 1 of their second-round series is going to overtime.

The Raptors have missed 11 straight shots over the final four-plus minutes of regulation — including four in the final 10 seconds that could’ve given them the lead — to give Cleveland a chance, and the Cavaliers took advantage with LeBron James making a fallaway jumper with 30 seconds left to tie the game at 105.

All of the momentum has to be in Cleveland’s corner right now, as the Raptors looked incredibly tight down the end of regulation.

As this game ticks into the final few minutes, the Cavaliers have gone to the lineup that started Game 7: LeBron James at point guard next to J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

The question remains: Why didn’t Tyronn Lue use this lineup to start the game? George Hill has largely been ineffective in this game, and this is Cleveland’s best lineup in this series, as it allows them to have someone to bang on Jonas Valanciunas and still has lots of shooting on the court.

Cleveland has been behind virtually this entire game. We’ll see if this group can get the Cavs over the top in the final minutes.

Cleveland is going to have a decision to make down the stretch.

Kevin Love came back in early in the fourth quarter and made a couple of quick shots to, once again, get the Cavaliers back to within five points. But when he’s been matched up with Jonas Valanciunas during this game, he’s gotten bested inside repeatedly.

Tristan Thompson has once again played well for the Cavaliers in the paint, and has the heft to body up the Lithuanian big man down low. If this game is close in the final minutes, Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue could have to choose which of his big men will be on the court. So far in this game, Thompson is the one who has earned the time.

Stephen Curry is ready to make his return …

The third quarter was a roller coaster for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But as the game shifts to the fourth quarter, Cleveland only trails by five — and after LeBron James got a breather at the end of the quarter, as he did at the end of the first.

That, in the end, feels like a win for the Cavaliers, who now will get James coming back for the entire fourth quarter having gotten six minutes of rest in this game — more than most of the games in the last series against the Indiana Pacers.

After Jeff Green kept Cleveland in the game early, Kyle Korver kept them in the game in the third, and now has 16 points in the game on 4-for-8 shooting from three. If the Cavaliers are going to win this game, though — and put a dagger in the Raptors in the process — they’ll need James to have his typical huge close to finish this off.

With Kyrie Irving gone, Kevin Love is supposed to be the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second star behind LeBron James.

So far in this game, he’s been getting destroyed by the Toronto Raptors instead.

Love is now 1 for 8 — including 0 for 3 from three — and is getting bested on the boards and in the paint time and again by Toronto whenever he is out there. For the game, Love is now minus-18 in a game Toronto leads by 11.

Given his struggles, and how well Cleveland played when Jeff Green was operating as the team’s center in a super-small lineup in the final minutes of the first half, there might be a need to consider going in that direction moving forward to try to draw Jonas Valanciunas and the other Raptors bigs out of the paint to life more difficult for Toronto.

Remember a little while ago, when everything was going well for the Toronto Raptors?

Yeah, about that …

The second quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers was a reminder of why Cleveland had so many people picking the Cavaliers to beat the Raptors despite their brutal showing against the Indiana Pacers and Toronto being both the top seed and having home court.

Toronto leads 60-57 at halftime, but all of the momentum is in Cleveland’s corner after the Cavaliers outscored the Raptors 38-27 in the second quarter, going 5-for-9 from three-point range and steamrolling back into the game as the Raptors failed to carry over their strong start.

The Raptors seemed intent on turning LeBron James into a distributor. While he did lead Cleveland with eight shots, three other players had at least six and three others had at least four.

Instead of that leaving Cleveland adrift, however, it allowed virtually everyone to get in on the act in the first half, as the Cavaliers had all nine players who took the court score in the first half, including J.R. Smith going for 14 points — including three three-pointers — while Jeff Green was a perfect 4 for 4 from the field and the foul line to score 13 points.

James, meanwhile, had 11 points, six rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one block and — most importantly — just one turnover. Not bad.

Toronto didn’t play badly in the first half, either. Kyle Lowry had 10 points and six assists, while DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 15 points and Jonas Valanciunas had six points and 11 rebounds.

But this is a game Toronto has to win — for a variety of reasons — and it had a chance to put it away after taking a 14-point lead after the first quarter. What did the Raptors do with it? Give it right back in the second.

It’s been a dream start for the Toronto Raptors.

For a team that has so much negative playoff history — particularly against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — ending the first quarter with a 16-5 fun and taking a 33-19 lead is exactly what Toronto needed to do.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have combined to match Cleveland’s scoring thus far, while LeBron James sat the final 3:30 of the first quarter, in a change to Cleveland’s rotation.

The thinking there presumably is to have James play the entire second quarter to mitigate some of the potency of Toronto’s excellent second unit. But the Cavaliers got outscored by five with James on the bench, and he’ll return down 14.

The time for excuses for the Toronto Raptors is over.

Everything is working in their favor heading into Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are healthy. They are rested. They are the top seed in the East. They have home court advantage. They have implemented a style of play specifically to succeed in these moments, after years of failure.

And yet, here they are, at the start of a series where few seem to think the Raptors can actually pull this off. Why? Because of the presence of LeBron James and the past of the Raptors.

This, once and for all, is the chance for this group to make the deep playoff run it has spent the past few years dreaming of. The Cavaliers are a walking M.A.S.H. unit, and James had to expend the kind of energy he normally does in the NBA Finals just to advance past the Indiana Pacers in seven games — a series that ended about 50 hours ago.

Toronto needs to come out in Game 1 and get a victory, setting the tone for what’s to come and not allowing doubt to set in — from the fan base to the front office to the players and coaches themselves — that this isn’t going to be their year.

A loss tonight, with everything tipping in Toronto’s favor, would only reinforce those doubts — not to mention lose the home court advantage the Raptors spent six months working their tails off to get. And all of the talk about how James has completely dominated this Toronto team will all come flooding back with it.

That’s what is at stake for Toronto tonight. We’ll see if the Raptors can — finally — fully live up to the moment.

The Golden State Warriors confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Stephen Curry would make his return from a sprained MCL in his left knee after more than five weeks in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the New Orleans Pelicans.

But that doesn’t mean all of the questions about Curry’s return have been answered.

For starters: Will Curry start? The last time he came back from injury during the postseason — Game 3 of this same stage of the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers two years ago — he came off the bench. This time, however, it would seem likely that he will be in the starting lineup.

Why? Two reasons. First, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr started Nick Young on Saturday in Game 1 of this series (a game Golden State won by 21 points without Curry, remember). It would seem unlikely the Warriors would go out of their way to start small in that game, knowing Curry was almost certain to return in Game 2, without planning to have him replace Young tonight.

Second, Kerr said during his post-practice media session Monday that Curry won’t have any minutes restrictions when he returns. One reason to have Curry play would be to ensure he didn’t get overextended from a minutes standpoint. If that’s not an issue, then why not start with your best lineup?

So expect Curry to play, and expect him to play a good number of minutes. That will make an already tough task for the Pelicans to make a series of this even more so. Game 1 saw Golden State lock in on Nikola Mirotic and Jrue Holiday, shutting down both of them and leaving Anthony Davis to have to try to outscore the Warriors by himself.

Davis is playing as well as anyone in the playoffs right now. But no one can outscore the Warriors by themselves. It was already important for New Orleans to get more from Holiday and Mirotic in Game 2. Now that Curry’s back, it’s their only chance of being competitive.

Tuesday’s schedule:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers 113, Toronto Raptors 112 (OT) (Cavaliers lead series, 1-0)
  • Golden State Warriors 121, New Orleans Pelicans 116 (Warriors lead series, 2-0)

Additional reading:

The banged-up Celtics aren’t as talented as the Sixers. They didn’t need to be in Game 1.

Why is there a snake on the Philadelphia 76ers’ court?

‘A leader should say that’: Paul Pierce loved John Wall’s comments about Wizards teammates

Impressive as it was, the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo isn’t satisfied with his breakout season

For once, LeBron James’s supporting cast makes all the difference for Cavaliers

John Wall wants the Wizards to overhaul their roster. They likely won’t be able to.

Friday’s loss is likely just the beginning of a painful summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder

The Miami Heat bet big on Hassan Whiteside. It appears they made a mistake. Now what?

The one-and-done rule is on the way out — because of NBA money, not NCAA morals

It feels like the end of an era for the San Antonio Spurs

After first-round sweep, Blazers’ next steps could include trading away their stars

‘All my best games I was medicated’: Matt Barnes on his game-day use of marijuana

Adam Silver: One of the WNBA’s problems is that not enough young women pay attention to it

‘Get off her back’: LeBron James defends TNT reporter who asked him about Erin Popovich’s death

NBA, Twitch reach deal on 2K League streaming rights

Comment Q&A

Hop into the comments section below to chat with The Post’s Tim Bontemps about all of your NBA questions.