5 Biggest Takeaways from Warriors' Performance vs. Cavs Entering Game 3
Behind an unparalleled superstar collection and a pair of monstrous third quarters, the Warriors have built a 2-0 series lead, pushing their playoff record to a historically significant 14-0. Just two of those contests have been decided by single digits. Golden State's postseason scoring differential of plus-237 is another unprecedented feat.
Best-of-seven series aren't decided in two games, of course, and no one needs to inform these teams of that. The Cleveland Cavaliers fell into an 2-0 hole just last year before becoming the first club ever to erase a 3-1 deficit in the championship round.
But this feels different. The Dubs seem more deadly, which is the primary link between the five biggest takeaways from this series' first two outings.
Kevin Durant Has Never Been Better
Kevin Durant brought all-time credentials with him to the Bay Area. He arrived on the heels of seven consecutive All-Star selections, with an MVP and four scoring titles already on his resume.
But the 28-year-old is finishing his first season with the Warriors as a more dominant player than ever. Two games into this series, he's been both the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
"Always a dominant individual scorer, KD is now one of the most effective defensive players in the NBA as well," The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks wrote. "The 7-foot, 240-pounder combines the size and reach of a center with the speed of a guard, and he can switch screens and lock up perimeter players as easily as he can protect the rim."
Durant, the front-runner for Finals MVP, leads all players in points (35.5 per game) and blocks (2.5). His 56.3 field-goal percentage paces all the non-center regulars. He's the Warriors' high man in rebounds (11.0) and three-point percentage (50.0), and second on the list in assists (7.0) and steals (1.5).
This is the elite evolution of a lethal point-producer into an all-around nightmare. In addition to torching Cleveland's defense from all angles, he has used his 7'5" wingspan to bother LeBron James—as much as any mortal can—block both a slippery point guard and a post-up bruiser and keep the Cavs from bum-rushing the boards.
Durant has played well enough for Paul Pierce to say, "He may be the best player in the world today." Even if that rings hyperbolic to some, this shouldn't—Durant has been the best player in this series so far.
Stephen Curry Keeping MVP Race Open
Go back and look at the series Durant is having. Now, realize it hasn't been enough to take a commanding Finals MVP lead.
Durant can thank Stephen Curry for that. The 6'3" point guard has, at times, made the championship round his personal playground—part Three-Point Contest, part Skills Challenge, part nap time. He has 60 points, 21 assists, 16 rebounds and 10 triples in two games.
He's also, statistically speaking, the player making the most impact. He has the highest plus/minus (plus-41 in 71 minutes) and the widest on/off split (plus-23.5 with him, minus-0.6 without).
"(Curry) just generates so much force to the game," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, per Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle. "Even when he's not making shots, he's bringing defenders all the way out to the perimeter, which opens up so much. He pushes the ball relentlessly. ... He changes the game, just by being himself."
Curry probably fared better in Game 1, when his field-goal and three-point percentages were up and his turnovers were down. But that also feels a bit asinine to say, since his second outing was a 32-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double—the first time he's ever triple-dipped in the postseason.
With both good health and Durant on his side, Curry is in MVP form on the game's biggest stage. It's silly to think that may not be enough to secure the actual hardware.
Dubs' Depth Is Overwhelming
If there's a remarkable aspect of the Dubs' dominance in this series, it's how simple they've made it all look.
They missed 20 shots in the restricted area and had just two double-digit scorers in Game 1, and they still erupted for 113 points. They somehow stuffed eight turnovers and 40 points into the first frame of Game 2, setting the stage for a 20-turnover, 132-point performance.
They don't have the best player on the planet; they do have a pair of victories by a combined 41 points over him. They haven't had the greatest consistency behind Durant and Curry, but they've found enough star power and support to never really sweat against the Association's second-best squad.
The Warriors appear as they often have throughout this unprecedented three-year run—like they aren't bound by the same rules as everyone else.
"If I had a nickel for every time the phrase, 'there's just too much' was uttered by my CBS Sports colleagues during Game 2, I'd be able to afford the chains that Von Miller was wearing at Oracle," CBS Sports' Colin Ward-Henninger wrote. "... It just seems, no matter how well the Cavs play, the Warriors just continue to have bigger and better weapons."
Golden State has steamrolled Cleveland whether playing big or small, outrunning a team that wants to run and outgunning what had been the postseason's most explosive offense. The Warriors look better at both ends, stronger at the top and deeper as a whole. While their rotation is working top to bottom, the Cavs' has sputtered outside of James and Kevin Love.
Defense Has Quietly Dominated
The free-flowing, highlight friendly Warriors offense typically monopolizes attention. When the team is setting a high mark for threes and scoring the most Finals points in 30 years, per ESPN Stats & Info, it's too easy to forget another end of the floor exists.
"We view [our defense] as important as our offense," Warriors general manager Bob Myers said, per Fred Kerber of the New York Post. "It's not as sexy but as important."
This kind of defense has an undeniable aesthetic appeal. Golden State has rendered Cleveland's attack—this season's third-most efficient—unrecognizable. When the Cavs strolled through the East, they did so while averaging 116.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting (43.5 outside). In this series, they're managing a meager 102.0 per night on just 40.3 percent shooting (31.7 from three).
Save for James doing James things, this offense looks lost. Kyrie Irving has more shots (45) than points (43). Kevin Love is averaging 10 misses in 32.2 minutes. Tristan Thompson has been a no-show (eight rebounds total, minus-31 in 44 minutes). None of the hired guns are hitting, as Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert and JR Smith are a combined 6-of-34 (17.6 percent) and 3-of-19 outside (15.8).
It's tempting to say Cleveland's others must play better, in large part because it's true. But there's a direct link between their struggles and the prowess of Golden State's second-ranked defense.
If Klay Is Awake, This Series Is Over
If the Cavs can't make this a series back in Cleveland, people might point to the jaw-droppers supplied by Durant and Curry as the knockout blows. But Klay Thompson's overdue return to form in Game 2 might have been the body shot that sucked all the air out of Northeast Ohio.
"It's tough enough on the Cavs when you have Kevin Durant and Curry coming at you at the top of their respective games," Bay Area News Group's Carl Steward wrote, "but when you have Thompson banging shots down from the wings ... your chances are pretty much slim and none, even with LeBron James on your side."
A breakout—or a bounce back, really—felt somewhat inevitable. As a career 41.9 percent three-point shooter and owner of arguably the league's smoothest stroke, Thompson could only masquerade as a defensive specialist for so long. Still, he was running out of recovery time, having averaged a paltry 13.8 points on 36.6 percent shooting through the Warriors' first 13 playoff outings.
It'll take more than a 22-point, 8-of-12 showing to declare this slump officially busted. But repeating that performance—which would only require matching his regular-season output—could bring the brooms back out for yet another playoff sweep.
The Cavs have proved they can't contain the Curry-Durant combo, but at times they've been able to keep up in a shootout. That isn't an option if Thompson has rejoined the Warriors' three-point brigade. If Golden State has three reliable All-Star scorers, it almost certainly also has its second world title in three years.