He's changed the way basketball is played. He's forced defenders to scramble 30-feet away from the basket. He's turned basketball into a perimeter-oriented game, stretching the floor out instead of pulling in. He's already the greatest three-point shooter of all time.
And on Sunday, Stephen Curry added another signature moment to his shooting legacy. In his fourth-consecutive Finals appearance, Curry set a record in Game 2, making an NBA Finals high nine three-pointers. The Warriors followed his unstoppable lead and protected home court, winning the game 122-103 and taking a 2-0 lead in the series.
Game 1 was a contest of extremities, with the most-amazing individual performance (LeBron), the most-controversial referee call (the Durant-LeBron charge/block), and the most-heartbreaking mistakes (George Hill's free-throw miss; JR Smith's score-guffaw) that eventually decided an exciting overtime Warriors win.
In comparison, Game 2 was a more traditional fare. The Warriors found a little more discipline in their defence and flow in their offence. LeBron (29 points, 13 assists, 8 rebounds) was again great but had to do comparatively lesser individually with more of his teammates chipping in with valuable contributions. Golden State got just enough from their trio of sharpshooters — Curry (33), Durant (26), Thompson (20) — to keep a steady lead, but the Cavaliers stayed at arm's length until the final period.
The difference in the game, eventually, was Curry's shooting prowess. With every improbable shot, every quick release, and every fast-break stop-and-flick, he brought the home crowd to life and demoralised his opponents. He chipped in 8 assists and 7 rebounds with his 33 points, and whenever Cleveland made a run, he or Durant made timely shots to halt any momentum.
Before the game, the Warriors had concerns over Klay Thompson, who was playing with a high-left ankle sprain after a collision with Cleveland’s JR Smith in Game 1. Thompson battled through the pain to shoot an accurate 8-13 from the floor, ensuring that whenever Curry and Durant needed another option, he remained available.
On the other end, Smith was clearly still feeling the effects of his Game 1 mistake, where he failed to realise that his team wasn’t leading in the last few seconds of regulation. The Warriors’ home crowd further extended Smith’s memory, sarcastically cheering for him whenever he got into the action with “MVP!” chants.
Speaking of the MVP award, after two games, Curry’s first two games in two wins for the Warriors have made him the early favourite for this year’s Finals MVP. Despite two regular season MVP awards, two championships, and a career of the shooting dominance unlike anyone in NBA history has seen before, Curry hadn’t had a big Finals moment over the past four years until Game 2.
In 2014, Andre Iguodala won the MVP award after a more balanced Warriors’ attack and Iguodala’s defensive work on LeBron. In 2016, the award went to James for helping Cleveland overcome a 3-1 deficit and win the title in heroic fashion. Newcomer to the Warriors, Durant won the 2017 Finals MVP as the unquestionable best player in last year’s Finals. If proceedings continue the way they are, this year might finally belong to Curry.
But there is still a long way to go, and as we have seen numerous times in the past, it would be foolish to count out LeBron in a seven-game series. After his virtuosic 51-8-8 performance in Game 1, LeBron looked more human in Game 2, creating for his teammates with a game-high 13 assists while picking his spots more tentatively on offence. But even a subdued LeBron night produced a near 30-point triple-double.
The Warriors will be happy to see that Curry played at full-swagger and the rest of their offence clicked. Their aim will be to carry this momentum into Game 3 and hope their stars are healthy and unfazed with the hostile away environment. A 3-0 lead will put them an an almost-unassailable advantage.
The Cavaliers, down 0-2, will be happy to go back home, where they have only lost one game all playoffs (Game 1 of the Indiana series in the First Round). Besides LeBron, Love played well in both games on the road, and starters like Hill and Tristan Thompson played with confidence in Game 2. Their role-players are usually strong in front of the home-crowd, and they will need all their contributions to bring the series back to 2-1 in Game 3 on Wednesday night (Thursday morning IST).
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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 18:40:55 IST