Home Sports Five observations from the Warriors’ Game 2 win over the Cavaliers

Five observations from the Warriors’ Game 2 win over the Cavaliers

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Here are five observations from the Warriors’ 132-113 Game 2 win over the Cavaliers, pushing them within two wins of an NBA title.

1. Durant’s defensive outbreak

As this series neared, everyone spotlighted the Harrison Barnes to Kevin Durant upgrade and how much that would do for the Warrior offense. Which it has: Durant has 71 points on 27-of-48 shooting in TWO games, while Barnes only had 65 points on 25-of-71 combined in all SEVEN Finals games last year, including the nightmare last three. But how about the defensive end? The switch from Barnes to Durant may be just as massive an upgrade for the Warrior defense. And it has been all season.

Barnes is a decent small forward deterrent. He’s 6-foot-8, decently strong, decently athletic, decently versatile with decent instincts. But Durant’s a 7-foot pterodactyl who jumps higher, reaches further, slides quicker, disrupts more and rebounds better. This version of Durant is worthy of an All-Defensive team nod (I voted for him on the second team this season). And on Sunday night, when that defense was needed most (Draymond Green was saddled to the bench in foul trouble and the Warriors wanted to remain small), Durant delivered one of the most dominant defensive performances of his career.

This season, Durant had 99 blocked shots in 62 games (ninth in the entire NBA per game). The year before, Barnes had 10 blocks in 66 games for the Warriors out of that small forward spot. In last year’s postseason, he had four total in 24 playoff games. Durant? He had five blocks in Game 2.

His first came as part of a highlight sequence midway through the first quarter. This is truly one of the better 30-second stretches you’ll ever see in basketball. With 5:11 on the clock, when the video starts, Durant is hounding LeBron James in the backcourt, forcing him to uncomfortably get into the offense. LeBron does, eventually getting it over to Kyrie Irving in the corner when his move doesn’t get anywhere. Irving drives and knocks Klay Thompson aside with a strong fadeaway move. But Durant swoops in from the weak-side and erases the Irving jumper with his first block. Seven seconds later, he’s on the opposite wing planting a stepback 3. Then to top it off, Durant corners LeBron on the sidelines 12 seconds later and just rips away his dribble, saving it inbounds for a Warrior fastbreak.

The final stat-line is historic: 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and five blocks. No other player has put up that many in all of those categories in a playoff game in NBA history. But Durant’s defensive impact is deeper than the numbers. He was everywhere on Sunday, helping erase defensive mistakes even when it didn’t result in a block or steal. Watch this second quarter possession: Kyle Korver and Kevin Love run a nice little pindown, slip action that frees up Love in the corner after Ian Clark tumbles and David West is caught in no man’s land. This should result in a wide open corner 3 for Love. But keep your eyes on Durant for the duration of the possession. His man is in the opposite corner, but Durant reads the breakdown early, takes one giant step across the lane and then completely pounces right as Korver feeds Love. Durant flies from inside the restricted area all the way out to the corner with a quick, well-timed closeout, taking away the 3, which eventually results in a contested, missed Irving layup.

The most underrated part of Durant’s stat-line: 13 rebounds, 11 of them defensive. He has 22 rebounds in two Finals games and led the team with more than eight per game this season. Barnes averaged below five per game, didn’t have a double-digit rebounding game in The Finals last year and only had 10 or more three times all year. Durant’s already hit double-digits 29 times as a Warrior, including six in the playoffs. Here are three from Sunday, where he closes a possession with a huge in-traffic rebound.

More Durant defense: He holds his ground with LeBron, shows to slow a Kyle Korver curl and then recovers in time to slide with a LeBron drive and swat him out of bounds.

But Durant’s defensive punctuation point came in the fourth quarter. The Cavaliers were down 16, the game was slipping and, in need of a basket, a tired LeBron called for a clearout and Kevin Love post-up on Durant. Post defense has quietly become a Durant specialty the past few years, as he has continually gathered strength and guile to go along with his unique length. Durant holds his ground, stuffs a Love hook shot, trash-talks him afterward and then goes down and scores right over him to cap a demoralizing sequence for the Cavaliers.

2. Curry’s counter

Steph Curry busted this game (and this series) open with a massive third quarter. He played all 12 minutes, scored 12 points, sprayed around five assists and grabbed seven rebounds, as the Warriors won the quarter by 11, pushing the lead to 14. But one aspect of his first quarter felt just as important in this win.

The Cavaliers spent the previous two off-days promising they were going to be more physical, bump cutters, take away air space, make it “a wrestling match,” as Tristan Thompson said. In some ways, it felt like a subtweet of Curry, who they’ve had success against in the past when they crank up the physicality and continually try to knock him off his spots. Curry heard that off-day chatter and seemed to enter with a counter, seeking the contact instead of avoiding it. He had 14 free throw attempts, the most he’s taken in a game — playoff or regular season — since 2015. Ten of those 14 free throws came in the first quarter. Three came on a J.R. Smith reach-in. Four came on some overzealous Deron Williams defense.

But maybe Curry’s craftiest ploy of the night came midway through the first quarter. After a steal, he pushed it upcourt and sensed Richard Jefferson, steaming toward him. Jefferson was one of the guys who’d mentioned the need for increased physicality in Game 2. He closed on Curry and reached for the midcourt foul, hoping to stop the fastbreak and send the ball out on the sideline. But Curry reacted a split-second before, knowing what was coming and timing it well enough so he was in a shooting motion when Jefferson hit him, gaining three cheap free throws.

Curry finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists — the first triple-double in his playoff life — plus a perfect 14-of-14 night from the free throw line.

3. LeBron’s burden

LeBron was unbelievable in the first half on Sunday night. He entered with an obvious gameplan to attack the rim at all opportunities, barreled downhill every time he got the rebound in the first quarter and set a powerful tone. The Warriors responded, Curry paraded to the line, Durant played well and others chipped in. But LeBron was controlling the game. When he left the court briefly at the end of the first quarter, the Cavaliers trailed 37-34. When he returned just two minutes into the second quarter, they were already down 12.

LeBron would inch them back, pulling within three by halftime — he had 18 points and 10 assists — but the burden proved too much. LeBron was on the floor for 21:33 in the first half and the Cavaliers were a plus-six. He was off the floor for a total of 2:27 and the Cavaliers were a minus-9. LeBron fatigued in the second half, his production slipped and his teammates did little to ease the load. Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert have been OK through two games, but every other Cavalier has been a disappointment.

-Tristan Thompson: only 8 combined points and 8 rebounds in 43 minutes. He’s a minus-31.
-J.R. Smith: 3 points, 1-of-6 shooting, 3 turnovers and five fouls (including two terrrrrrrrible fouls of 3-point shooters on Sunday) in 42 minutes. He’s a minus-30.
-Kyle Korver: 1-of-6 from 3, eight points in 43 minutes.
-Deron Williams: 0-of-9 shooting, scoreless in 33 minutes

But Kyrie Irving’s down performance, at least on Sunday, seemed the most detrimental. Irving, who has to score explosively and relatively efficiently for the Cavaliers to have a chance, needed 23 shots (eight makes) for his 19 quiet points in Game 2. But it wasn’t just the scoring. It was the aimless approach (like at the start of the clip below, when he weaves nowhere and then tosses a behind-the-back pass right into a Durant, Curry fastbreak) and the sluggish defense (like the end of the clip below, where he should’ve picked off a Curry pass but instead reacts too late and gives up a Klay three).

LeBron needs help. Kyrie hasn’t given him enough.


4. Klay’s mini breakout

Klay Thompson started this season in a massive shooting slump, making only 11 of his first 53 3s the first seven games, even missing 16 straight at one point. But right before he started to break out, Thompson started cutting and driving to the rim a bit more than usual and then hit an uncharacteristic amount of mid-range jumpers. Steve Kerr evenly jokingly referred to him as Rip Hamilton at the time. But through it, he seemed to slowly build a rhythm. Then he pushed it back out to three and exploded for another big season from deep.

In these playoffs, he’s suffered through one of the worst shooting stretches of his career. It extended into The Finals, where he bricked his way to a 3-of-16 Game 1, missing all five of his 3s. But at the start of Game 2, he opened his scoring with a mid-range jumper, a cutting layup and then a rare fastbreak dunk. Thompson suddenly had a flow and bounce to his step. Then he pushed it back to 3 and ended up hitting four out of seven from deep. This doesn’t qualify as an explosion for Thompson. Four isn’t a ton of 3s for him. But it’s his best in awhile. Thompson hadn’t hit four 3s in a game since early in the Blazers series. We’ll see if it carries over to Cleveland.

5. Stat of the night

Here is the Cavaliers’ offensive rating, by game, during their 12-1 playoff stroll through the East: 119.9, 119.2, 118.8, 106.1, 112.9, 125.1, 119.4, 114.7, 126.6, 132.5, 118.9, 121.1 and 134.2

Here is their offensive rating the first two games against the Warriors: 89.2 and 105.3

So the Warriors’ defense has delivered the Cavs their worst two offensive performances of the playoffs.

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