SAN FRANCISCO — Kevin Love held his arms out at his sides, a pained expression on his face. It was the universal symbol for, “What the hell?”
It was easy to empathize. Love had just chased Stephen Curry all over the court, had even harassed him into losing his dribble as the shot clock ticked down — and then Curry scooped up the loose ball, jumped awkwardly to his right and, almost 30 feet from the basket, threw up a rainbow that found nothing but twine.
I mean, honestly: what the hell.
“No matter where you are on the floor, especially past half court on their side, he always has a chance to make a miraculous shot,” Love said after the game about that particular play. “So I felt like it was well contested. We played 23 and a half good seconds of defence, and he turned around and hit a moon ball.”
He would hit a couple more in that fourth quarter of Game 2, part of a record-setting nine three pointers from Curry, on 17 attempts, as the Warriors salted away a win that felt assured from the opening moments, when they raced out to a quick lead.
But while the Cleveland Cavaliers struggled to contain the Warriors in a lot of ways on Sunday night — Golden State scored 50 points in the paint on 71 per cent shooting — it was the performance from Curry that underlined the embarrassment of riches that the Warriors have. They have won two titles in which the guy who is the face of the franchise hasn’t been at his best in the Finals. But if Golden State is going to get Stephen Curry in full? Look out.
It’s not that Curry, 30, has played poorly in his other Finals trips. He put up a 27-9-8 stat line against the Cavs last year — plus two steals a game — that would have earned him MVP honours in almost any other year, except Kevin Durant scored 35 points a game, many of them in the face of LeBron James. And three years ago, when the Warriors won their first title, Curry was their leading scorer, at 26 points per game, but he was somewhat a victim of his own standards. He didn’t shoot the ball as well as he had all season, and the Finals MVP went to Andre Iguodala for strong play at both ends of the floor.
This has led to an odd dichotomy. Curry is as beloved in the Bay Area as much as any athlete is in any city, and he’s the single player who is most associated with turning the Warriors from the 26-win team they were in his rookie season into the powerhouse they are today. He has two regular-season MVP awards; he’s at the fore of the revolution that has taken place in the NBA, where three-point shooting has become the new dunking. But he’s also never done that team-on-my-shoulders thing that usually happens for star players in the Finals.
Not that that has made him any less beloved here. The crowd at Oracle Arena seems to have an extra level of delirium that it saves for Curry’s circus threes, and the roar often starts before the ball even finds the mesh. Warriors fans are so confident in Curry that they will enthusiastically cheer his attempts.
The Cavaliers at least have the benefit now of two games at home, in which they can be sure the crowd will do no such thing. But they will need more than a different vibe to keep Curry from adding a Finals MVP to his resume. Golden State’s high-octane offence often starts with the ball in his hands, and some of his best shooting has come when he dishes to a teammate, races around an off-ball screen, and finds some open space. He does not need much of it.
“If he gives you the ball, make sure you give it back,” Draymond Green said after Game 2 with a laugh. “If you make a shot, they aren’t going to scream as loud anyway. So you just kind of give him the ball and get out of the way.”
And while the Cavaliers insisted that they weren’t rattled by those Curry bombs — James said they know it’s his business to make shots, so they can’t be deflated when he does — Green said he knows that isn’t true.
“You definitely notice the looks on their faces when he hit some of the shots. It was like dagger after dagger,” Green said. “You played great defence, and he pulled up and hit a three in your face. You definitely notice the effect that it has on the opposing team.”
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said they tried at times to switch a bigger man onto Curry, just to make sure their was a long arm in his face. It had a limited effect, considering Curry was 4-for-4 from three-point range in the fourth quarter.
“Once he releases it, he sees the basket, he usually makes it,” Lue said. “But he’s going to make tough shots, that’s what he does.”
He only makes them look routine.
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