Stephen Curry Sets NBA Finals Record; Warriors Demolish Cavaliers To Take 2-0 Series Lead

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Only three days after succumbing to “one of the toughest losses” of his 15-year career in the opening game of the 2018 NBA Finals, many questioned on how LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would respond in Game 2 of the series.

Let’s just say it didn’t turn out so well.

Guided with a masterful shooting display by Stephen Curry, as well as an explosive run in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach, the Golden State Warriors thoroughly dismantled their opposition in many facets of the game, ultimately overcoming the Cavaliers in a 122-103 win at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Sunday night.

What happened?

Despite adopting a reputation for slow starts and inconsistent performances early in games, Golden State really hit the ground running in the first quarter, hitting its opening seven shots and shooting 65 percent from the floor. 

Although the Warriors came out firing on all cylinders, the Cavaliers were keeping it close, only trailing by four by the end of the quarter. 

However, this small margin wouldn’t last long.

Golden State’s offense started to find its groove in the beginning of the second quarter—utilizing sharp ball movement to find cracks in Cleveland’s defense and exposing its weaknesses. Tallying 20 assists on 25 made field goals in just the first half alone, it was truly a thing of beauty to watch.

In addition to its clever offensive maneuverability, the Warriors really stepped up its defensive intensity as well. By forcing the Cavaliers into difficultly adjusted shots and untimely mistakes, it was tough for James and his team to keep pace with Golden State’s electrifying offense. 

Speaking of James, the Warriors did a solid job containing the three-time NBA Finals MVP. Considering the forward shot 19-for-32 and finished with 51 points just a few nights ago (only one of six players to accomplish this substantial feat), it was impressive to see Golden State limit James to almost 12 minutes without a made basket.

Resulting from this dynamic combination of offensive and defensive prowess, Golden State bursted into a quick 7-0 run that extended its lead into the double digits. This short sequence would eventually become the foundation for a 59-46 halftime lead.

Regardless of the deficit, Cleveland still kept things interesting for a little longer after the break.

Similar to a quarterback in the shotgun, James was initiating offense with his versatility. Being the primary ball handler, the 14-time All-Star found ways to make plays happen—both for himself and his teammates. 

Drawing attention in a variety of ways—beating his defender off the dribble, penetrating into the paint for easy points, and scoring off midrange and three-point shots—the inevitable help defense would allow James to exploit scoring opportunities for his teammates by spacing the floor and finding wide-open outside shooters on the perimeter. This became an imperative factor as the Cavaliers would drain five shots from behind-the-arc in the third quarter, helping cut the lead to a two-possession game on several occasions.

Staying within striking distance for the first three quarters, Cleveland failed to do so in the fourth, getting outscored by nine in the closing period.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant would all combine for 79 points on 29-for-53 (54.7 percent) shooting for the Warriors, including 14-for-28 (50 percent) from three. Credited as unlikely contributors, center JaVale McGee and guard Shaun Livingston both shot perfectly from the field (11-for-11) and collectively ended with 22 points.

James would finish with almost a triple double total of 29 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds, while hitting 50 percent of his shots.

Forward Kevin Love did what he could to aid his superstar teammate, winding up with 22 points and 10 rebounds on his own. 

Besides the two double-figure outings of George Hill (15 points) and Tristan Thompson (11 points), the rest of the team would conclude with 26 points.

As the series moves to Cleveland, James believes that everything about the Warriors starts with its big four of Curry, Thompson, Durant and Draymond Green.

"They're a dangerous ball club no matter what," James said. "It starts with those four guys, those four All-Stars. Everybody else just does their job and they don't miss a beat when they put someone in or they take someone out."

Who stood out?

Stephen Curry was definitely the star of the show for Golden State, finishing with 33 points on 11-for-26 shooting for the night (as well as totaling eight assists and seven rebounds in the process). Curry also broke the NBA Finals record for most three-pointers made in a single game with nine, which was previously set by former Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen during Game 2 of the 2010 series against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

"It means a lot," Curry said of breaking the record. “As I’ve gone through my career I’ve been blessed to play, Reggie (Miller) and Ray Allen are the two names that always pop up at the top of all the 3-point shooter lists, so any time you’re mentioned with those type of names is pretty special.”

Combined with his elite shooting ability and masterful craftiness with the basketball in his hands, Curry was a matchup nightmare for the Cavaliers. Burning Cleveland’s defense multiple times, the most notable play of the night occurred with 7:54 left in the game, when the two-time MVP threw a desperation heave over Kevin Love that gracefully hit the bottom of the net as the shot clock expired. 

"About seven seconds on the clock he just kept going backward, I don't know why, but he just threw it up and I didn't think it had any chance of going in," Thompson said. "That was kind of like a dagger shot. It just gave us all the momentum back.”

Another memorable shot involving Love again materialized only two minutes later, as Curry sank an off-balanced three from the baseline corner that resulted into a monumental four-point play. 

According to Warriors forward Draymond Green, Curry relishes these kinds of moments.

"He's a big shot taker, big shot maker," Green said. "Tough shot taker, tough shot maker.”

Why does it matter?

In the eyes of the Warriors, they are exactly where they want to be. Heading to Cleveland with a 2-0 series advantage was the goal from the start. Although for the Cavaliers, falling behind like this was not what they had in mind (especially after the close loss in Game 1).

One of the issues that Cleveland needs to try to correct is their defensive execution, especially after letting Golden State shoot 57.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from the three-point line, but this is a daunting task that is a lot easier said than done.

“I mean, when you’re trying to take away Klay, Steph and Durant, other guys are going to be open,” Lue said. “So, you’ve got to make those guys beat you, but they can’t get easy baskets and dunks and things like that.”

Without a doubt, Game 3 will be a must-win situation for James and his team. This isn’t a time to get complacent. This is win or go home.

"We want to continue to be uncomfortable," James said. "Just because we're going home doesn't mean we can relax.”

When do they play next?

After the first two games in Oakland, the 2018 NBA Finals will transition over to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on ABC.