OAKLAND — In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, LeBron James was transcendent. He had to be. The 51 points he scored made up for a lack of talent around him. Between his personal-playoff-best point total, eight rebounds and eight assists, James did everything in his considerable power to play arguably the best game of his playoff career. He still lost.
With the Golden State Warriors finally finding a way to defend James without Andre Iguodala in Game 2, with Kevin Durant returning to his efficient shooting, and with Stephen Curry going crazy from beyond the three-point line, there wasn’t much else James could do that he hadn’t already done, especially with JaVale McGee in his face again.
Curry hit five of his NBA Finals single-game record nine three-point shots the fourth quarter, including four with a hand in his face, scoring 16 of his 33 points and accounting for half of Golden State’s fourth-quarter tally. James was held to 29 — seven points below his 2018 playoff average — as the Warriors took a 2-0 advantage in the series with a 122-103 win.
“He was tremendous,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “Nine threes and seemed to hit the big shot every time we needed one.”
With Curry’s barrage also came a return to form for Durant, who, three nights after going 8-of-22 from the field, went 10-of-14 for 26 points. Also joining in was Klay Thompson, who was limping heavily due to a left lateral leg contusion a day ago, but on Sunday scored 20 points.
Curry — who took four games to hit 13 three-pointers in the conference finals — went 9-of-17 from beyond the arc on Sunday, and now has 14 treys in two games against the Cavaliers.
“Amazing,” said Warriors guard Shaun Livingston. “Amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing.”
“I mean, he makes tough shots, that’s what he does,” said Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue. “Even switching the pick-and-roll, having a five-man guarding him, makes him move, you get a good contest. But, once he releases it, he sees the basket. He usually makes it.”
After the Cavaliers cut what was a 15-point Warriors lead to six in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, Curry stepped up and hit back-to-back threes to extend the lead to 13.
With 7:54 left in the game, after a tipped pass from Draymond Green, Curry nearly lost the handle, as Kevin Love pursued him in front of the Cavaliers bench. Curry crossed over, and then backpedaled, nearly losing the ball again before launching a 35-footer. It hit nothing but net.
“About seven seconds on the clock, and he just kept going backwards,” Thompson said. “I don’t know why, but he just threw it up, and I don’t think it had any chance of going in, but that was kind of like a dagger shot, and it gave us all the momentum back.”
With 5:44 to go, taking a swing pass in motion from Green and hitting a corner triple while falling onto his backside, with Love closing out. He then hit Durant with a bounce pass in the lane for a two-handed jam, giving Golden State an 18-point lead.
“You definitely notice the looks on their faces when he hit some of the shots,” Green said. “It was dagger after dagger.”
The Warriors started with arguably their best first quarter in the current playoff run. Over the last three games, the Warriors had averaged 23.3 points in the opening stanza, but on Sunday, they scored 32 — with 22 of those coming in the paint — and didn’t miss their first shot until the 7:44 mark.
“We watched the film,” Curry said. “Obviously, from Game 1, LeBron had an amazing night. A lot of it was just a lack of sense of urgency early in possessions to try to just be physical.”
Cleveland was so focused on Curry, Durant and Thompson defensively that they forgot about McGee, starting his first playoff game of 2018. He scored Golden State’s first four points on uncontested dunks.
With the Warriors up by 10 with 4:27 to go in the second quarter, the Cavaliers once again forgot about McGee, as he took a post entry pass from Green to the hole for a lay-up. He finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 from the field with two rebounds in 17:48.
McGee — who played stellar defense on James during six third-quarter minutes of Game 1 to earn the start in Game 2 — stayed glued to James, allowing just two shot attempts in that first quarter, and saving Durant from expending energy early. Durant finished with a personal playoff-high seven assists and pulled down nine rebounds.
“I just had to be patient, take my time and make the right basketball play,” Durant said.
Golden State was -3 in the third quarter, coming out on the wrong side of the third for the fourth time in 19 playoff games, in large part thanks to 13 points from Kevin Love. Thompson, though, kept them afloat, going 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc three nights after he suffered a left lateral leg contusion.
“We had a chance to cut it to, I think, four,” Lue said. “I think Larry [Nance, Jr.] missed two free throws, and we could have cut it to four, maybe, from six to four, and we don’t. He misses both, they come out and make a three, and it goes to nine. We kind of couldn’t catch up from there.”
After Nance’s two missed free throws, and a miss by Jeff Green, David West of all people hit a corner three. West had taken 24 playoff threes in his career, and just three over the past two seasons. With 4.6 seconds to go in the third, Durant took Nance, Jr., off the bounce, and kicked to West in the left corner to make it 90-79.
“David West’s three was the biggest three of the game,” Green said. “It was right in front of their bench. It was a gut-punch.”