The story of the Golden State Warriors’ 122-103 win in Sunday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals was Stephen Curry: A masterful 33-point performance that could help propel him to his first Finals MVP award. He hit nine threes, an NBA Finals record. And he hit one circus three-pointer in the third quarter – backpedaling out past 30 feet, fading away, with Kevin Love’s hand in his face, after a possession in which the Cavaliers had played 23 ½ seconds of great defense and the shot clock sounded as the ball fell through the hoop – that was absolutely demoralizing to the Cavs.
Yes, Steph was the story on Sunday night.
But Steph was not the key to the Warriors’ dominating win on Sunday night.
The key was Kevin Durant.
And going forward, if Durant can keep playing with the same sort of team-focused, keep-the-ball-moving mentality that he brought to Game 2, well, we might be in for a mighty short series.
“A lot of people are going to talk about Steph’s game and Klay [Thompson] having 20 as well, but I thought K.D. was the guy that really had it going tonight for them and was the difference maker,” Kevin Love said afterward. “Anytime that K.D. is really hitting shots at such a high clip — he was 10 of 14 tonight for 26 points, and he was at plus-24 plus/minus, so they’re very tough to stop when he’s hitting shots.”
By no means did Durant take over this game in the same emotional sense that Curry did. Durant scored a quiet 26 points on an efficient 14 shots. Instead of the iso ball that he’s reverted too all too often during these playoffs — he averaged 2.5 iso possessions per game during last year’s playoffs but is averaging more than seven iso possessions per game during this year’s playoffs — Durant relied on his teammates.
And the Warriors’ beautiful brand of team basketball returned. Curry was electric, Klay Thompson was solid with 20 points, JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston both scored in double figures with perfect shooting nights … all these things were able to happen because Durant did not dominate the ball.
“Isos are great, and we have guys that are capable of doing that all across the board,” Curry said after the game. “But when we keep the ball moving and keep bodies moving, good things usually happen. So I think that’s — when we’re dialed in offensively, we’re really efficient with getting into the paint, kicking it out, finding an open guy, whether it’s me relocating to the corner or Klay coming off a pin down or Draymond [Green] getting an open three. We’ve been pretty locked into that type of offense.”
Let’s look at one possession in particular that showed what an unselfish Durant can unlock for these Warriors. As the clock wound down on the third quarter, the Cavaliers found themselves in a pretty decent position. The Warriors hadn’t busted out with their patented third-quarter burst, and the Cavs had actually closed the Warriors 13-point halftime lead to eight points. Durant dribbled the ball at the top of the key, and it started to feel like all of these Durant iso possessions that have thrown a wrench in the Warriors’ style these playoffs. Durant put his head down, barreled toward the rim, drew a double team — then whipped a beautiful cross-court pass to David West, all by his lonesome in the corner. West swished the three, his first made three since November.
“David West’s three was probably the biggest three of the game,” Green said afterward. “They were kind of making a run, and they wouldn’t go away and then he hit that three from the corner right in front of their bench. It was a gut punch.”
And it all happened because Durant shied away from his worst ball-hogging instincts and made the smart pass.
Good things can come from a small amount of Durant isolation. He is, after all, one of the most talented scorers in NBA history. He can create all by himself. He can drain high-degree-of-difficulty shots that lesser players can’t even dream of making. But when that becomes the focus of the Warriors offense instead of a fallback plan when other things aren’t working, that creates a huge problem. We saw that in the Rockets series. And we saw it in Game 1 of the Finals, when Durant went an inefficient 8-for-22 and forced up way too many bad looks. That was Bad Durant. If the Warriors had lost that first game — and let’s be honest, the Warriors should have lost Game 1 — Durant would have shouldered the majority of the blame, and not just because he didn’t box out J.R. Smith.
If, for Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland, Kevin Durant keeps the “play within the system” mentality that he showed in Game 2, this series may not even make it back to Oakland.