• Postgame reading: Finals fatigue? What Finals fatigue? Game 1 was riveting, and we have the TV ratings to prove it. (Read more)
OAKLAND, Calif. — At first, it looked like nothing more than a desperation heave.
After losing the ball late in the fourth quarter Sunday night, Stephen Curry regathered it about 30 feet from the basket, with Kevin Love closing in on him. Realizing the shot clock was about to expire, Curry barely squared his shoulders to the rim and let the ball fly in such a high arc, it looked as if it might hit the ceiling at Oracle Arena.
Only it didn’t hit the ceiling. Or the backboard. Or the rim.
Instead, it dropped through the net, causing a roar from the fans that nearly blew the roof off this old basketball barn.
“No matter where you are on the court, especially past half court on their side,” Love said, “he always has a chance to make a miraculous shot.”
That miraculous shot became the signature moment of Curry’s 16-point fourth-quarter eruption, one that ensured the Golden State Warriors would emerge with a 122-103 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, giving them a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
It also left Curry — who finished with 33 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and broke Ray Allen’s NBA Finals record with nine three-pointers — within striking distance of the one thing missing from his basketball résumé: MVP of the NBA Finals.
“It took to the second question of my first media availability, so I’m pretty sure that narrative’s going to take life, as it has since 2015,” Curry said with a smile of the honor during his series-opening media session Wednesday. “But it doesn’t make or break my career or whatever you want to say looking back. If we win this championship and I don’t win Finals MVP, I’m going to be smiling just as wide and just as big.”
Curry might have meant what he said, but his play in the opening two games has suggested otherwise. After finishing with 29 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Game 1, Curry followed it up with a huge Game 2, and he easily has been Golden State’s best and most important player.
And while there is still an awful lot of basketball left to be played — remember, it was only two years ago that the Cavaliers trailed the Warriors 3-1 in the Finals and won the last three games to claim the title — the path to a Golden State championship, with Curry at the forefront, has never looked clearer.
He shredded Cleveland in the fourth quarter, going 5 for 5 from three-point distance — including not only the heave from the wing that beat the shot clock but also a corner three that turned into a four-point play when he was fouled by Love.
Curry’s fourth-quarter performance put an exclamation point on a wire-to-wire victory for Golden State, which received 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from Kevin Durant and 20 points from Klay Thompson, who was officially made available for Game 2 only an hour before tip-off after he suffered an ankle injury in Game 1.
“Being on the training table for, it felt like, three straight days, that’s something I’m not used to,” Thompson said in describing how he was able to play. “But at this point in the season, any means necessary.”
LeBron James again was sensational, finishing with 29 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds while playing the first 43:51 before Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue pulled the plug with the Warriors leading by 18. But even with some help in this one — Love had 22 points and 10 rebounds and George Hill had 15 points — Golden State’s 57.3 percent shooting, including 15 for 36 on threes, was too much to overcome.
Game 2’s lopsided final score, though, doesn’t reflect the way Cleveland played. After the gut-wrenching loss in Game 1 — Hill missed a potential game-winning free throw with 4.7 seconds remaining, and teammate J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound but thought the Cavaliers were winning and dribbled out the clock — there were questions whether Cleveland would be able to recover.
The Cavaliers proved their doubters wrong. Though Golden State went up 15-6, Smith received a standing ovation during pregame introductions for his blunder and the Warriors led throughout the game, Cleveland hung around. Golden State’s lead fluctuated between five and 15 points most of the game, but the Cavaliers never allowed the Warriors to get away completely.
Neither did the Cavaliers get quite close enough to let anyone think they had a real chance of winning.
That left the game in an odd state of limbo — at least until Curry went crazy in the fourth, just as he has so many times before in this arena. The difference this time was that the Cavaliers were the opponent, and the stage was the sport’s biggest.
“It’s tough,” Lue said. “He makes tough shots. That’s what he does.”
That’s certainly what he did Sunday night, and it lifted Golden State within two wins of a second straight title, and a third in four years. Two more performances such as this one from Curry, and he will have closed that lone hole on his résumé.
A third NBA championship ring and an NBA Finals MVP award will be his.
It’s going to be impossible for the Cavaliers to win if Curry is shooting the way he is in this fourth quarter. They certainly aren’t going to win tonight.
Let’s just appreciate, for a second, the fact LeBron James has yet to check out of this game for a single second.
In nearly 40 minutes, he has scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out 13 assists. That will be seen by some as a disappointment after going for 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Cleveland’s narrow loss in Game 1, but only because that is the level of greatness James puts on display every single night.
It’s what makes him so compelling to watch — and what has given Cleveland a chance in these first two games of this series.
Still, the Warriors have so much firepower that, with a 100-89 lead, even James may not be enough to stop them.
In the final minute of the quarter, LeBron James hit Jeff Green in the corner for an open three that would’ve cut Golden State’s lead to five. Green, however, missed. Then, on the ensuing possession for the Warriors, David West — who had hit a total of seven three-pointers in his prior 115 playoff games — buried a corner three to put Golden State back up by 11, and the Warriors would end the quarter up 90-80.
For a team like Cleveland, that has admirably been clawing its way back into this game, back-to-back possessions like that are heartbreakers.
The third quarter is typically when Golden State puts the hammer down and takes over games.
But in the third quarter of Game 2, it is Cleveland that has been the better team so far, cutting Golden State’s lead from 13 to eight with 2:32 remaining. LeBron James is now up to 22 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists, having scored seven points and dished out for assists in the quarter alone as Cleveland has already eclipsed the 30-point mark.
It’s been a repetitive theme tonight, but it is another missed opportunity for Golden State to put this game away. Perhaps Cleveland won’t be good enough to take advantage of it, or Golden State is too good for it to matter.
But at some point, these failures could prove costly.
The Cavaliers just won’t go away.
Cleveland was supposed to lose this series in a rout. It should’ve won Game 1. Cleveland was supposed to be unable to bounce back in Game 2. It has hung around in the first half despite shooting less than 35 percent.
And now, midway through the third quarter, Cleveland is only down 72-66. Letting LeBron James linger is not smart. Golden State had its chance to create real separation, and it failed.
Now, maybe they’ll be in a dogfight for a second straight game because of it.
The Warriors have a 59-46 lead at halftime.
And while it could — and probably should — be a good 10 points more at this point, Golden State has taken its game to another level from where it was in Game 1.
Golden State’s defense, in particular, is far better. The Cavaliers are shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor, including only going 3 for 10 from three. It is the 10 attempts, in particular, that is notable.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are doing a decent job from a turnover standpoint — committing eight, compared to six for Cleveland — and are doing a much better job of fighting on the boards, only being outrebounded 24-21 in the first half after getting steamrolled on the glass in Game 1 by Cleveland.
Stephen Curry has 16 points, five rebounds and six assists to lead Golden State, while Kevin Durant has 13 points and four assists and Klay Thompson has 10 points. LeBron James may not get to 51 points again, but he does already nearly have a triple-double (15 points, seven rebounds, eight assists) and didn’t come out for one second of the first half.
The Cavaliers haven’t made a field goal in over five minutes of game action.
Still, Golden State has only managed to extend its lead from 39-33, when George Hill made a three with 8:14 remaining, to 51-40, after Hill made the second of two free throws with 3:13 remaining.
Yes, the Warriors are still in front, and should feel good about their chances. But this counts as a missed opportunity to potentially blow this game open.
And letting LeBron James hang around is never a good idea.
Every possession — particularly with these early second-quarter lineups featuring Shaun Livingston and David West, two savvy veterans, on the court alongside Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green — feature the ball pinging around the perimeter until someone, somewhere, on the opposing defense breaks.
And, the moment that happens, Golden State strikes, usually resulting in a clean look.
Cleveland has held up fairly well through the first five-and-a-half quarters of this series under that strain. But it’s beginning to take its toll. And, after Curry buried a transition three to put Golden State up 47-36 with 6:11 to go in the second quarter, the Warriors are — possibly — beginning to pull away.
The only person who seems to have faith in Jordan Clarkson (besides Jordan Clarkson) is Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue.
A quick scroll through the ol’ Twitter timeline early in the second quarter showed unanimous agreement that Clarkson’s minutes were an unmitigated disaster.
And, sure enough, George Hill is now back on the court at the 9:12 mark of the second quarter. Lue has completely lost confidence in Rodney Hood as these playoffs have gone along. Perhaps at some point he will try him?
Clarkson is more of a traditional ball-handler than Hill, who is a true wing. But he’s a better shooter and, frankly, just a better player (even with his own quirks to deal with).
The Warriors shot 65 percent from the field in the first quarter and bagged seven fast break points. Yet, at the end of the quarter, Golden State only leads 32-28.
So what gives?
Well, four second chance points for the Cavaliers, four Warriors turnovers that became four more Cavaliers points and a six-point difference at the foul line, where Golden State didn’t take a shot but Cleveland went 6 for 8.
Given the quarter began with Golden State up 15-6 and had the crowd humming, the opening 12 minutes of this game were a significant win for Cleveland.
So far, though, he looks pretty darn good.
Thompson leads all scorers with seven points here in the early going, hitting an early three and hitting his first three shots before missing a corner three just before the last stoppage in play, helping Golden State to a 21-17 lead with 4:34 to go in the first.
If Thompson was hampered by the injuries he suffered in his collision with J.R. Smith in Game 1, Golden State would be vulnerable to this series being evened up. If this version of Thompson sticks around, though, the Warriors like their chances.
J.R. Smith received a standing ovation before Game 2 and now is getting an MVP chant from the crowd at Oracle Arena.
Smith, of course, played a significant roll in the Warriors’ Game 1 victory Thursday night. The home crowd isn’t letting him forget that.
Klay Thompson is playing for the Warriors …
… and JaVale McGee is starting.
After Golden State was hammered on the glass in Game 1, it chose to switch to McGee, as opposed to Kevon Looney, to open Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday night — a decision that will certainly throw a wrinkle into the proceedings.
Golden State’s all-stars enjoy playing with McGee and hitting him with lobs for dunks. There’s little doubt McGee, a legit 7-footer with crazy leaping ability, can execute those as well as anyone in the league.
The problem, though, is that it is hard to trust McGee to lock in on much of anything else consistently. He also isn’t much of a rebounder — which makes it hard to see how him playing will help in that regard.
Still, if Golden State can get off to a good start in the first and third quarters (like the Warriors did in the opening minutes of the third quarter of Game 1 when McGee started in place of Looney), that will be seen as a win.
Will Klay Thompson play? It’s still unclear.
With two hours until tipoff of Game 2 of the NBA Finals here at Oracle Arena, there still is some level of uncertainty about the status of Klay Thompson.
The fact there is any doubt at all Thompson will play shows just how painful the injuries he suffered midway through the first quarter of Game 1, when J.R. Smith barreled into his legs while attempting to make a steal, really are. Thompson is known for his shooting, but ask anyone around the Warriors and they’ll tell you he’s as old-school a player as there is from a toughness standpoint.
If Thompson can walk, he will play.
The question, though, is if he can walk. Seeing him walk into his media availability Saturday with a very obvious limp was a sign of how much he is hurting. The fact Thompson then — by his standards — lashed out at Smith in his ensuing interview was another one.
“It’s not good,” Thompson said of his injuries. “From watching that replay, it pissed me off.
“That’s a tough play on the ball, and then just to tumble into somebody’s legs like that. You’ve got to move past it. It’s just life, and I’m going to be better from it. It’s just a minor setback. But I don’t think it was intentional.
“He was remorseful, so I don’t think he meant to do it. It just sucks. It’s a part of the game. It just sucks for the timing, during the Finals. But no one is going to feel sorry for us or me. I’ve just got to do everything I possibly can these next 24 hours to be right for tomorrow.”
But even if Thompson does play, as he’s still likely to, the question becomes just how effective can he be if he’s essentially playing on one leg? Sure, having Thompson in some capacity is undoubtedly better than options like Nick Young and Quinn Cook at full capacity, but it further reduces the margins Golden State has to work with.
The Warriors are already without Andre Iguodala, who seems likely to miss the entire series at this point with a bone bruise he suffered late in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets, and not having the fifth member of their famed Death Lineup, a.k.a. the Hamptons 5, has left the Warriors looking vulnerable — even with four healthy all-stars available.
Cut that number by one — or, at minimum, having a compromised Thompson playing — and the chances of Cleveland evening this series tonight take a sizable jump up.
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