Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the Warriors are in the driver’s seat after taking a 2-0 series lead on the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
USA TODAY Sports
OAKLAND – There is no revenge to be had for the Golden State Warriors in these Finals.
By adding Kevin Durant to the NBA’s best rivalry last summer, everything changed about these annual clashes with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Now it’s about finishing the job everyone expects them to, a super team reigning supreme. Now it’s about avoiding the infamy that would come with having just one ring after three years of historic domination in the regular season.
But when Steph Curry toyed with James in the third quarter of the 132-113 win on Sunday at Oracle Arena, pulling him from the perimeter to the paint and sneaking that right-handed layup into the net before James’ paw swung behind his head, it was as close as he’ll ever come to a dose of retribution. Fourteen dribbles. Four hand changes. A 10-point lead. And one step closer to the goal they simply must reach.
“It was a big moment,” Curry said. “It was a momentum swing. Coach got on me at halftime about my body language and just trying to play with passion and play with joy. The turnovers kind of got underneath my skin a little bit and I was letting it affect … my mannerisms too much. And in that moment, big momentum swing, us trying to separate us from – or continue to get a lead. And going into the timeout, you want to have some fun and enjoy that moment.”
The Cavs put up a better fight this time around, cutting the lead to as little as four midway through the third quarter in large part because James (29 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds) looked like the best player on the planet again after a subpar Game 1. But Curry, who surely remembers the way James gave him the little brother treatment in those 2016 Finals where he struggled so mightily, was the one smiling and smirking this time around.
The back-to-back MVP had a triple-double in the playoffs for the first time in 72 tries, finishing with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. His capper came midway through the fourth quarter, when he buried a deep three-pointer from the left wing that pushed the lead to 22 points and inspired Curry to pull out his twin six-shooters – finger style – that he double holstered on his hips as the locals reveled.
It was quite a way for the Warriors to welcome back coach Steve Kerr, who returned to the sideline after missing the previous 11 games due to symptoms from his botched back surgery two summers ago. The high-powered Warriors received another strong showing from Durant, too, as he had 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks and three steals. Game 3 is in Cleveland on Wednesday.
“The talent on the floor in this series is just unbelievable,” Kerr said. “Obviously with Steph and K.D. and Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green), but trying to stop LeBron and Kyrie (Irving), Kevin Love was tremendous tonight. It really is a series that’s just loaded with high-powered weapons all over the floor. The game changed quite a bit tonight from Game 1. They made a lot of adjustments. They put us on our heels, and we were able to respond.”
For six weeks, ever since that April 22 day when he decided he couldn’t coach in Game 3 of the first-round series against Portland, all Kerr had wanted was to get back to work. But when even the little things are tough to do, simple pleasures like walking a golf course on an off day rather than holding up in the hotel room, the prospect of standing amid all that ear-splitting arena noise for two hours while managing an NBA playoff game just wasn’t realistic.
But when he was finally back – everything but the missing tie, that is, as he went for business casual – the Warriors fans gave him the warm reception that you would expect. The Cavs, however, weren’t so kind as they stayed close early and trailed 67-64 at halftime.
James was aggressive early, ignoring the outside game that comes with so much uncertainty and attacking the rim in the kind of way that made his intentions clear. He drove through them all at different points, with running back style drives through Durant, Green, Thompson and others to score 18 points on eight-of-12 shooting before the break. Late in the first quarter, Warriors big man JaVale McGee – who stands seven feet tall and weighs 270 pounds – grabbed James from behind by both shoulders and still saw his layup go through the net.
James was in that kind of desperate groove, and he had his quarterback hat on, too. By dishing out 10 assists in the first half, James became (according to ESPN Stats) the only player over the last 20 years with 10 assists in the first half of a Finals game.
Yet still, the Warriors had opened this window of opportunity because of their sloppiness. After having just four turnovers in Game 1, they had 13 in the first half and finished the game with 20. Curry, who had 15 points in the first quarter (10-of-10 from the free throw line), had six turnovers in the first half and finished the game with eight.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick