It’s not like we haven’t seen this before, just not this time of year. Game 2 was the Steph Curry NBA Finals moment Warriors fans have been waiting for since forever. His numbers were impressive—9-of-17 from downtown, passing Ray Allen’s mark for the most 3-pointers in an NBA Finals game as he finished with 33 points, eight assists, and seven boards with only a pair of turnovers—but it was how he took the air out of LeBron James and the Cavs in the final session that makes him the favorite to capture his first Finals MVP. It’s the last piece of hardware missing for the two-time champion and two-time MVP, and the last box left unchecked for all-time pantheon status.
Except, after the Warriors lost the third quarter matchup for what felt like the first time in years, LeBron—looking like Third Act Terminator—had an opening. The Warriors led by 10, but he doesn’t need much. Curry’s start to the fourth didn’t help matters. A missed layup was followed by another attempt getting blocked. After an offensive board led to a James 3-pointer to cut Golden State’s lead to seven, you could feel Oracle screams taper off into a murmur. Was this really happening?
But before Basketball Twitter could be roused from its mini-slumber, Steph danced a little with Larry Nance Jr, before matching LeBron’s triple. On Golden State’s next possession, he tossed it to Draymond, scampered to the corner like every rec coach in the world teaches (“Keep moving after the pass!”), got the return pass, pump-faked Nance past him, and calmly sank another three. Like that, it was a 13-point lead.
A couple minutes after that, LeBron hunted Steph out like a lion stalks a baby water buffalo. It’s by design, court tested in the 2016 Finals, and James still outweighs Curry by at least 50 pounds. After he finally got Curry isolated at the top of the key, the terminator rolled through the Warriors point guard for a dunk to cut the lead to 11 and force a Steve Kerr timeout.
But whatever play the Warriors coach drew up went out the window, and Curry was forced into an off-balance, turnaround 30-footer with the shot clock set to expire. Swish.
That’s what Steph Curry does. The ease just makes it that much more maddening for his opponents. James knows. Tristan Thompson knows. Kevin Love knows.
“It's tough, really tough to guard Steph anywhere out there on the floor," Love said. “But he’s just so good at finding himself open.”
Mock him for his grade-school physique, the brain fart turnovers, the shimmy, the sheepish smirk, and whatever else bugs you about him, but there’s a reason Kevin Love keeps getting fed into the meme machine for the angst on his face after seeing Curry alone behind the arc:
Look how scared Kevin Love of defending Steph Curry! pic.twitter.com/Ke3OjnZtrH— Scotty B (@Scotty_BU_King) June 4, 2018
Golden State’s lead never approached single digits again after Curry’s back-breaking three before the shot clock expired. He connected on his eighth, and then his record-breaking ninth 3-pointer a couple minutes later, but by then the game was already over.
“He was tremendous,” Steve Kerr said. “You know, nine 3s and seemed to hit a big shot every time we needed one.”
Yes, Kevin Durant is Golden State’s best all-around player, and his defense on LeBron in Game 2 was important. So were his hyper-efficient 26 points on just 14 shots. Klay Thompson toughed out a high-ankle sprain to add 20 more on only 13 shots. Draymond Green was Draymond Green with a box score that only hints at what he brings. But Steph ripped Cleveland’s heart out.
The first half of Game 2 felt like playing your Old Man in the driveway at 10 years old. Like Golden State, your pops is corny and thinks the Chef Curry Two lows are “super duper comfortable,” but he also played four years of college ball in the ACC and easily the most talented player you’ve ever gone against. In this extended simile, you’re the best 10-year-old basketball player in the world, and you’re able to score with such frequency, you force your old man to really buckle down and defend, rather than rest his crotchety knees.
In this scenario, Game 1 was when your Pops called a BS charge on your game-winning layup to steal a win. You’re so pissed, you immediately check him up again to get retribution. But Game 2 wasn’t about retribution, it was about the inexorable task of defending this star-studded Warriors team, and the engine that drives it: Steph Curry.