The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t quit, they fought. But it didn’t matter because the Golden State Warriors have one of the greatest demoralizers in the game and he crushed them over and over again.
Stephen Curry took 17 three-point shots Sunday, and after a slow start they began to fall, each dagger cutting at Cleveland’s heart.
The Warriors beat the Cavaliers 122-103 in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, burying them with the best shooting performance they’ve had during their four-year run of dominance. The Warriors had made more than 60% percent of their shots before removing their starters late in the fourth quarter — they finished at 57.3% — and three players scored 20 points or more.
Curry was especially brilliant. After making only one of five three-point shots in the first quarter, he made eight of 12 in the next three quarters to set a Finals record for a game and led all scorers with 33 points, with eight assists and seven rebounds. Teammate Kevin Durant scored 26 points.
“He’s a big-shot taker, big-shot maker; tough-shot taker, tough-shot maker,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “He did that tonight. The one where he was falling away was, I wouldn’t necessarily say surprised about that, but it was like, oh, man, he’s really got it going.”
The series stands at 2-0 with the next game in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Although there was some concern about Klay Thompson’s availability for the Warriors because of a high-ankle sprain, Thompson played and didn’t appear bothered by it. He limped Saturday but was sure-footed Sunday, scoring 20 points on eight-for-13 shooting. His only misses came from three-point range.
LeBron James followed a 51-point performance with 29 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers. James, whose left eye remained blood red throughout the game after it was poked in Thursday’s opener, made half of his 20 field-goal attempts. Kevin Love had 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The crowd at Oracle Arena wouldn’t let JR Smith forget his Game 1 blunder that helped Golden State escape with a victory. Warriors fans gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced before the game. When he went to the line to shoot free throws, they chanted “M-V-P.”
While the Warriors didn’t have a nine-point lead until overtime of Game 1, they led by nine points in the first quarter of Game 2. Golden State made its first seven field-goal tries and 65.2% in the first quarter.
Still the Cavaliers hung around, trailing by only four heading into the second quarter.
Cleveland shot much worse in the second quarter, making only six of 23 shots while the Warriors finished the half making 59.5% for a 13-point lead. But Golden State, normally deadly in the third quarter, allowed Cleveland back into the game.
The Warriors were outscored 34-31 in the third quarter, a period during which they normally outscore opponents by nearly 20 points.
David West made a momentum shifting three-pointer for Golden State, giving them a double-digit lead at the end of three quarters, but Cleveland still had a glimmer of hope.
That changed in the fourth quarter, when Curry really took over.
“It came at a great time for us because [Cleveland] really had it going to start the second half,” Green said. “They had a really good third quarter.”
Curry made his five three-point shots in the fourth quarter.
“Four of them in that fourth quarter were contested,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
First a step-back three-pointer, then Curry pulled up for one on the next possession. With 7 minutes 54 seconds to play, Curry made a three-pointer that gave the Warriors a 14-point lead.
“Was about seven seconds on the clock and he just kept going backward,” 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 it was kind of like a dagger shot and it gave us all the momentum back.”
Afterward, Curry sat stone-faced in the locker room, his head cocked to the left while being asked why he does things such as going backward on shots.
He said that on the play Thompson mentioned, he was trying to create space after thinking he had room for a layup that didn’t materialize.
“I try all kinds of shots at some point or another,” he said.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli