No team has played a longer season than the Golden State Warriors, in the sense of expectations and concentration. They started the season by breaking the record for consecutive wins, and ended it with a new record for wins in a season.
Every team played them every game to be the among the few that defeated them.
And the season has been longest for Steph Curry, the focus of so much attention. In the playoffs Curry has been injured, worked his way back, then got injured again more seriously, and worked his way back from that. The Warriors had to battle from a 3-1 deficit against the best team they've played this year, the Thunder at their peak.
So maybe Curry and his Splash Brother were a little numb for the first games of the Finals. They played well enough to win the first two at home, giving scoring opportunities to other players who made the best of them. As I suggested last time, the Dubs would need a big game from at least one of them to win on the road in Cleveland. In the third game of the series, neither had that game, and the Warriors got blown out.
In the days between games, most of the media focused on Curry--what's wrong with him? Is this the MVP? Is he done, is he going to be an epic fold? No. Actually, no. On Friday Steph Curry scored 38, Klay Thompson scored 25, the Warriors broke the record for made threes in a finals game with 17--11 of which the Splash Brothers made. The Warriors won their 88th game of the season--no NBA team has ever won more. They return to Oracle Arena up 3-1 in the series, ready to close it out at home and repeat as NBA champions.
But it wasn't just the Splash Brothers--again it was Strength in Numbers, including one player (James McAdoo) who hadn't played in the previous finals games. With defense and their fast paced runs in the third and fourth quarters, they wore out the Cavs. Credit Kerr again for game management. ESPN tells the story.
Update: Check out this account of a single fourth quarter play that the writer says won the game and essentially the series, while showing the Warriors' strengths and the Cavs' dilemmas dealing with them.
Watching the Golden State Warriors this season, you think you've seen everything. But the first two games of the Finals blew that out of the water. In neither game did either of the Splash Brothers score 20 points. The heroes of those victories over the Cleveland Cavs were other starters and especially players coming off the bench. In both games, the Dubs went on their devastating runs with at least three bench players on the floor.
In the second game however it was Draymond Green who was the decisive difference. I wish I could remember what commentator I read who noted before the series began that the Cavs have no answer for Green, and that's how it's turning out. To his playmaking, defense, passing and rebounding Green added high octane scoring. His first four shots were 3 pointers, and he missed them all. But due to Coach Kerr's encouragement, the often open Green kept shooting from distance--and the 5 threes he made shattered the Cavs. He wound up with the game high, 28 points.
Curry had timely threes, drives to the basket and at least one smart pull-up two pointer, but was hampered by foul trouble. He sat out much of the third quarter but came back early in the fourth to nail it down, which he did. Klay Thompson also had timely 3s and drives. LeBron didn't even play the fourth quarter, and several commentators at the game said that he and the Cavs looked defeated already in the third quarter. The final score was the highest point differential in Dubs playoff history, and the second highest in NBA Finals history, at 110-77.
The Cavs shot 38% in the first game, which at the time seemed like it could be partly rust from their longer layoff. But they came back in the second game--which LeBron teams have usually won, after losing the first--and shot 35%. So it's way mostly the Dubs defense. A healthy Bogut was blocking shots around the basket, Iguodala bedeviled James. The Dubs still had too many turnovers and not enough foul shots--dangers on the road--but so far as a team they are playing at a higher level than the Cavs can reach.
On every seat at Oracle Arena for the first game was a Dubs t-shirt proclaiming the team motto: Strength in Numbers. And that was the story of the first game, with the Warriors high scorer being Shaun Livingston, and big offensive moments belonging to Barbosa (who had some flashy defense in game 2 as well) and Harrison Barnes, etc.
The Cavs seemed to have worked hard to gang defend Curry in game one, and both Curry and Thompson in game 2. The Splash Brothers didn't shoot well in game 1, came around in game 2, but meanwhile the Dubs exploited the mis-matches elsewhere. The Warriors eventually won the first game by 15 points, and in that one the Cavs appeared to give up well before the fourth quarter was over.
Now the series moves to Cleveland. Since bench players typically don't do as well in away games as at home, it would seem that either Curry or Thompson or both will have to have big offensive games. But the Dubs are playing with assurance, and they've won big in Cleveland before---and they've got Green. They are prepared to play the game they need to play to win, if shots aren't falling or the Cavs--as is likely--attempt to muscle them. Game 3 may be quite ugly, but we are looking at a rare possibility to cap this incredible Warriors season: a sweep of the championship finals.
The temptation to catastrophize the Cavs is pretty large at the moment, and a NY Times writer places the blame on LeBron, not for his play but for his shaping of this team. Interesting, but we'll see. (Later: an analysis in detail that confirms my vague impressions of how the Warriors were dominating the Cavs defense.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants ran into the buzzsaw offense of the St. Louis Cardinals, and lost otherwise comfortable leads to lose their last two games of their road trip to come home 5-5. Actually, Sunday's loss wasn't from an offensive barrage as much as seeing-eye grounders and sloppy play at the end of this road show.
This was after learning that they've again lost Hunter Pence for a couple of months, and are again playing with only one starter in the outfield. Gregor Blanco has played this role capably before, and Bochy has been playing Jarrett Parker, who parked one on Sunday but hasn't otherwise been hitting. If he solves the low breaking ball he could be the next breakout rookie, but Mac Williamson is waiting on the bench for his shot. Pence is their RBI leading and they'll miss his bat. But their vulnerability remains the bullpen.