OAKLAND, Calif. — Even when working at full capacity, the Golden State Warriors made basketball appear effortless in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, whipping the Cleveland Cavaliers132-113 to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
The Warriors are a team constructed to attack their opponents relentlessly in the open floor, and every time the Cavaliers looked up — off a miss, off a turnover, off a make or even a dead ball — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston or Klay Thompson was driving the ball down their throats. In a game that featured more than 100 possessions, the Warriors used pace as lighter fluid. At one point or another, each of Golden State’s principals functioned as a ball handler, shooter, slasher or drag screener, keeping a beleaguered Cavs’ defense on its heels.
The game started with pyrotechnics that lasted from player introductions to live play. The Warriors turned in a blistering first quarter in which they outscored the Cavaliers 40-34. Golden State got to the line for 11 attempts, found plenty of opportunities in transition with 16 fast-break points and posted a 71.8 true shooting percentage. Can you imagine if they hadn’t turned the ball over eight times in the period — more than a quarter of their possessions?
Much of the sloppiness can be laid at Curry’s feet, who was far too casual with the ball for a game of this magnitude, and racked up six turnovers alone in the first half against only four assists. Curry’s shot was similarly off in the first 24 minutes, though he found a saving grace at the free throw line, where he sank all 10 of his attempts before halftime.
But following intermission, Curry harnessed his control and discipline and delivered the game’s signature highlight three minutes into the third quarter. Matched up one-on-one against James, Curry danced forward and back, then spun in reverse to his right, then crossed him over en route to the rim. James tried to block the scooping layup with his left, but Curry eluded his reach. The roar of the crowd gave way to an official’s whistle — timeout Cleveland with Golden State up 10, its first double-digit lead in more than a full quarter.
“Honestly, I was rushing to begin with because I felt like there was an angle here, an angle there, and there wasn’t because a huge crowd around on that right side of the floor,” Curry said of the whirling dervish act. “Then I was able to kind of reset back behind the three-point line, and you kind of just give a little hesitation that you’re make them think you’re going to shoot and just try to go around him. And at that point I was a little bit more composed than earlier in that possession. I was just kind of like a chicken with my head cut off, just running circles.”
As they did Thursday night in Game 1, the Warriors torched the Cavs in the opening minutes of the second half. After Cleveland scored the first bucket of the quarter, the Warriors ripped off a 19-9 run and never trailed by less than 10 after the 4:28 mark of the third quarter.
By the time Curry pulled up and drained a 26-footer off a miss by Kyrie Irving on the other end with a little more than six minutes remaining, the Warriors led by 22. A few minutes later, Curry would check out with 32 points and a triple-double.
The Warriors rose to prominence as a team with all-purpose contributors who could do it all regardless of size or position. Through all the hysteria about moving to Oakland, Durant conforms to this template, and his Game 2 performance was another outstanding effort, at times seemingly not even breaking a sweat. He finished with a gaudy line: 33 points (13-for-22 shooting, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc), 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals. As a primary defender, Durant is also holding Cleveland to 37 percent field goal shooting.
“To just the way he played on the defensive end, the way he played on the offensive end, he’s been — he’s been doing it all playoff long,” Green said. “But in these Finals he’s really picked it up and it’s been huge for us.”
Green remarked that he’d never seen his new teammate more locked in, even when Durant scored 52 points against Green in January 2014.
“54,” said Durant to correct the record.
“My fault,” Green said. “Shortchanged him.”
Green battled foul trouble for much of the night but took advantage of some open looks afforded him from distance by a Cleveland defense that moved much of its attention inside Sunday. And Game 2 was a welcome offensive salve for Thompson. Though he has a claim as Golden State’s top perimeter defender since the start of the postseason, he has struggled to find his offensive footing. On Sunday night, he appeared at his most comfortable. He scored 22 points — his most since Game 3 of the first round against Portland — hitting eight of his 12 attempts from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
Cleveland spent much of Game 1 running Curry & Co. through a spiral of pick-and-rolls, but on Sunday, Cleveland challenged the Warriors by utilizing James at the high post and at the top of the floor as a playmaker. At times, Golden State allowed Cleveland’s cutters to sneak beneath its defense and didn’t fully account for weakside options. But as is usually the case, the flexibility of the Warriors’ second-ranked defense helped erase several mistakes and kept their scheme on track, with much of the credit due to Durant in particular.
For the second straight June, the Warriors will fly across the country to Cleveland on the Monday following a resounding Game 2 victory. They will do so with their head coach, Steve Kerr, back at the controls of a team whose fluid motion he helped unleash. He got to enjoy the game from the sideline in Game 2 for the first time in weeks. Kerr also cautioned that a series that, to the amateur eye looks over, is far from over, even if the Warriors are undefeated this postseason.
“None of that matters unless we can finish the job with this series,” Kerr said. “We know, trust me, we know. It was 2-0 last year and we lost.”
Similarly, Durant declined to zoom out and consider the Warriors’ historically unprecedented streak, not with half a series yet to play.
“I’m not going to take a step back,” Durant said. “We know this is far from over. We know how hard it is to be the best team in the league.”