OAKLAND, Calif. -- At halftime of Game 2 of the NBA Finals, head coach Steve Kerr - who had just returned to the sidelines after missing the entire postseason with issues related to back surgery -- approached Stephen Curry. The guard had 15 points but six turnovers in the first two quarters, so Kerr talked about his body language and asked him to play with more joy and passion. With the Warriors leading by five at the half, Curry came out of the locker room and had 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the third quarter, and on the most memorable possession of the night, the two-time Most Valuable Player put LeBron James through a series of dribble moves on the perimeter before finishing at the rim for a layup, pounding his chest afterwards in jubilation to capture the moment.
Don't hurt him, Steph pic.twitter.com/kU69TK49Op- The Ringer (@ringer) June 5, 2017
The Warriors outscored the Cavs by 11 points in the third, opening up a double-digit lead heading into the final period and won Game 2 handily, 132-113, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series as the Finals shifts to Cleveland on Wednesday. Curry led the way, finishing with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, and making all 14 of his free throw attempts. It was his first career postseason triple-double and the best Finals game of his career. A year ago, Curry suffered a sprained MCL in the first round against Houston, returning in the next round against Portland, but never looking quite the same.
In the 2016 Finals against the Cavs, Curry shot just 40.3 percent from the field, while going 6-for-19 from the field and just 4-for-14 from beyond the arc in a Game 7 loss. As the series went on, and a 3-1 lead slipped away, Curry grew more frustrated. He was ejected in Game 6, and wasn't himself in Game 7. That joy and the hop in his step that defined him was gone.
A year later, Curry returns to the Finals stage with a clean bill of health and with a much better team. These Finals are about many things -- Kevin Durant's coronation as a champion in this league, Draymond Green looking to atone for last year's Finals suspension -- but it's also about Curry and Klay Thompson redeeming themselves for last year's Finals performance.
Heading into Game 2, Thompson was mired in an extended playoff shooting slump. In Golden State's four-game sweep of San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals, Thompson averaged just 11.0 points and shot 32.7 percent from the field. In the team's Game 1 win over Cleveland last Thursday, Thompson shot 3-for-16 from the field. Kerr praised his shooting guard for his defense, ball handling and passing in Game 1, and compared Thompson to a baseball player who had gone 0-for-4, but was hitting line drives and starting to come out of a slump.
Those words were prophetic on Sunday. Thompson continued to look for his shot, and made four three-pointers, scoring 22 points and going 8-for-12 overall from the field. It was his highest point total in these playoffs since the first round. "Klay played so well in Game 1, without shooting well," Kerr said. "And to me that usually indicates that the ball's going to go in."
For Thompson, the key was to not get deterred even as the shooting slump continued in these playoffs. "I feel like that every night," Thompson said about his approach of anticipating the next shot to go in regardless of the stats. "As a shooter, you have to. You have no choice but to feel that way. For me, it did feel good to see the ball go in. I think tonight I was just in a good rhythm. It started with getting to the basket early and taking good shots. If I do that, it'll all even out."
With Curry and Thompson getting on track in Game 2, the Warriors look increasingly unstoppable. They're now 14-0 in these playoffs. And even though memories of last year's Finals comeback by the Cavs are still fresh on Golden State's mind, this is a different series, and there's a different Curry on the floor, with a rejuvenated Thompson joining him. Green, who has been Curry's teammate for five seasons, says this is the most locked in he's ever seen his point guard.
"That's the look that I see in him throughout this Finals," Green said.
The scariest part for the Cavs? After Game 2, both Curry and Thompson talked about having another level the team can get to. Curry scanned the box score after the game, skipped past his triple-double, and pointed out his eight turnovers as an area he needs to shore up. "There's an eight on the stat sheet that I need to correct when we go to Cleveland, because the points that I gave up off turnovers in their building will electrify the crowd and their team and the things that we have to eliminate," Curry said. "So I'm obviously hard on myself and my own biggest critic at times, and that's something that I can control, just being smarter."
In the meantime, the Warriors head to Cleveland looking to potentially finish off a clean sweep of these playoffs and win their second championship in three seasons. They'll do so knowing that the Splash Brothers are living up to their name.