BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
In a contest that provided a stark contrast to the opening game of the series, the Golden State Warriors set the tone early and controlled the game throughout, leading wire to wire on the way to a 121-103 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night at Oracle.
The win gives the Warriors a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series, moving them two wins away from defending their NBA title and earning their third championship in four seasons.
Unlike Thursday’s overtime thriller that saw 15 lead changes, Golden State came out smoking, making their first seven field goals to jump out to a 15-6 lead, and never looked back, leading from the opening tip and never allowing the Cavs to get any closer than four points.
Down 59-46 at halftime, Cleveland was actually able to outscore the Warriors 34-31 during the third quarter, a stretch where Golden State is often able to distance themselves from their opponents. But the Cavaliers pedestrian 41.1 percent shooting from the field wasn’t nearly enough to keep them in the game beyond the opening minute of the final stanza. The Warriors stretched their lead to as many as 23 points late in the game before both teams emptied their benches.
The Warriors shot a blistering 57.3 percent from the field (47-of-82), a new franchise record for the team in the Finals. Stephen Curry scored a game-high 33 points to go along with seven rebounds and eight assists, and set a new single-game NBA Finals record with nine three pointers, breaking Ray Allen’s 2010 standard in the process. 16 of Curry’s points came in the fourth quarter as a result of shooting a perfect 5-5 from three point range.
The nine three pointers were as many as the entire Cleveland team was able to convert. Curry also passed Cleveland’s LeBron James for the most career three’s in the NBA Finals (90-85) in 26 less games, and extended his streak of a three-point basket to 88 consecutive playoff games, the NBA’s all-time playoff record.
In a game that saw the Warriors restrict the Cavaliers James to 29 points (to go along with nine rebounds and 13 assists), well below the 51 he poured in during Game 1, Golden State also received significant contributions off the bench.
JaVale McGee, starting in placed of the injured Andre Iguodala, missing his sixth consecutive game, was a perfect 6-6 from the field, scoring 12 points in 17 minutes of action. Shaun Livingston was also perfect from the field, going 5-5 on the way to 10 points and five rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing time.
After the game, speaking about the Warriors solid effort from the bench, coach Steve Kerr was asked about his decision to start McGee. “Just to get more scoring at that position. JaVale is so explosive, and just with the way he runs, it gives us some pace, it gives us some energy. He did a great job. The pace that he brings and the energy that he brings is important for us. He helped us get off to a good start”.
As for Livingston, Kerr added, “This is his fourth Finals, and he just looks comfortable out there. He’s been great. He’s been rock solid at both ends, and he’s just taking what’s there for him. I thought just the scoring that he gave us off the bench and the defensive toughness and rebounding and everything, he’s a guy who gets it. He understands how to play”.
Bouncing back from a subpar opener, Kevin Durant was highly efficient scoring 26 points on 10-14 shooting from the field to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists. Klay Thompson, showing no signs of the hard hit that he absorbed early in Game 1 that forced him into the locker room, added 20 points in 33 minutes.
James was once again left to bear the brunt of Cleveland’s offense. Kevin Love was solid again with 22 points and 10 boards, but other than George Hill’s 15 points, James supporting cast wasn’t a factor.
James did manage to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for 2nd place in NBA Finals history with 1,318 points, in 10 less games. Only Jerry West has scored more. West scored 1,679 points in 55 career Finals games, nine more than James has now played. James is averaging 28.7 points per game in the Finals. West averaged 30.5.
Asked about the Warriors focus from the outset, as opposed to many games down the stretch of the season where the team got off to slow starts, Curry responded, “We watched the film, and obviously in Game 1 LeBron had an amazing night. But a lot of it was just a lack of a kind of sense of urgency early in possessions to try to just be physical. Klay, Draymond and K.D.(Durant) , especially, were huge in that transformation to Game 2 with just putting up a little bit of resistance, and just trying to make them work. The energy and effort and physicality and all of that from the jump was pretty dialled in, and it gave us a lot of momentum and confidence to have a better start to the game and then sustain that over 48 minutes”.
Thompson added, “We’re extremely focused. This team (Cleveland) has been down 2-0 in the last series and came back to win it. It’s nothing to feel happy about being up 2-0. This team plays great at home, and we expect their other guys to play even better at home, too, not just LeBron. So we’re not going to relax at all because this team has been down and out before and counted out by the media, and we’re not going to focus on that. We’re just going to focus on what we can do to win Game 3”.
The teams now get an extra days rest for a travel day as the series shifts to Cleveland for two games. Game 3 is scheduled to tip off at 6PM Wednesday night from Quicken Loans Arena.