The Golden State Warriors won the opening game of the 2017 Finals with strong performances on both ends of the floor. Their 113 points could easily have been 120 or more if they had not missed some easy shots in the first half. On the other end, they held Cleveland to 91 points and just 39 after halftime.
The Warriors were not as impressive on the defensive end in Game 2, although they once again held Cleveland's role players in check. However, they exploded on the offensive end for a 133-112 marked by incredible performances from their star players.
The Cavaliers are once again faced with an uphill battle as they look to repeat as champions. They enter Game 3 with a 2-0 deficit for the second straight year. Given their remarkable run to close out that series, it might still be too early to count them out in 2017. However, the Warriors at least looked mortal during last year's playoffs as they recovered from their own 3-1 deficit against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. This year, the Warriors carry a 14-0 record into Game 3 that still seems impossible even in the face of their postseason dominance. Although Game 2 differed from Game 1 in some rather dramatic ways, the takeaways from the second game are just as favorable for Golden State as the results of the first contest.
1. The Return of Klay Thompson
It would be an understatement to say that Klay Thompson has struggled during the 2017 playoffs. Before Game 2, he averaged 13.8 points per game on abysmal 37/34/81 shooting splits. After posting numbers during the regular season that were nearly identical to his 2016 numbers and maintaining his excellent defense, Thompson kept up his elite defensive play but fell off a cliff offensively.
However, Thompson came back to life with a strong Game 2 performance. He scored 22 points on just 12 shots, including four of seven shooting from deep. His confidence certainly seemed to be back in full force:
The Cavaliers will not defend Thompson any differently in Game 3 after his outburst in the previous game. They never could afford to leave him alone on the perimeter, and he would have been tightly covered even if he had put up another dud of a performance. That being said, the Cavaliers will have to hope that this was a one-time outburst from Klay. Cleveland already has their hands full on the defensive end, and their chances of winning at home will shrink significantly if Golden State's two former MVP's get some offensive help from their fellow All-Star.
2. The Steph/KD MVP tag team
It seems almost quaint now, but there were times early on in the 2017 season when fans wondered whether Steph Curry and Kevin Durant could fit together on offense. The two would occasionally run to their usual spots on offense--only to find the other one there. Could two high-volume offensive stars really thrive together if neither one was a Magic/LeBron/Bird level passer?
The answer has never been as emphatically affirmative as it was in Game 2. Steph Curry might not be as preternaturally gifted of a passer as the Magic/LeBron/Bird trio, but his passing skills were on full display on Sunday night. He finished with 11 assists as well as 32 points and 10 rebounds for his first playoff triple-double.
However, Curry's performance was somehow still not the best outing from a former MVP on the Warriors. Kevin Durant finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, five blocks, and three steals. While his offensive performance was not significantly better than Curry's, his defense was stellar across all three frontcourt positions. The Warriors even tried Durant out at center for a few minutes, and he responded by blocking Kevin Love at the rim.
Durant went from solid defender to elite defender in last year's playoffs and reached new heights against the 2016 edition of the Warriors. He has taken that defensive excellence to yet another level in this series, alternating between hounding LeBron and Kevin Love and taking full advantage of his 7' frame (or 6'9" if you're the last person on Earth to believe his listed height is true). KD's offensive game is damaging enough, but his growth on the defensive end might be even more difficult for Cleveland to deal with in the upcoming games.
3. LeBron James, Tragic Hero
LeBron James has been blessed with arguably his best supporting cast yet. David Griffin surrounded him with shooters to take advantage of his unparalleled ability to drive to the rim and break down opposing defenses. Additionally, Kevin Love's best two games against Golden State may have been the first two games of these Finals. He put up 27 points on Sunday night in addition to grabbing seven rebounds and two steals.
Love had a solid game, but LeBron was fantastic in Game 2. He finished with 29 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds--leading the Cavs in all three categories. He was also Cleveland's best defensive player, which flew under the radar since Kevin Durant still had an incredible outing.
LeBron was amazing in Game 2, but it just wasn't enough. The oft-repeated trope says that no series is over until each team has played a home game. Additionally, the Warriors have traditionally struggled in Game 3's of playoff series. Their two worst games in each of their first two playoff series came in the third game after departing the friendly confines of Oracle Arena. However, the Golden State Warriors have dominated the first two games of this series. While the same could be said about their start to the 2016 Finals, awarding the 2017 trophy to the Warriors seems more and more like a foregone conclusion.