ESPN – OAKLAND, Calif. — All we know for sure is that there was an oversized glove in Stephen Curry‘s locker after he drained an NBA Finals-record nine 3-pointers Sunday night in the Golden State Warriors‘ 122-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
It was much too big for his hand to ever wear. And it was a left-handed glove that made a silly noise when he accidentally knocked it over as he dressed quietly following the game. (Curry, of course, is right-handed.)
But damn if it didn’t seem like Curry had a little extra magic flowing Sunday night as he scored 16 of his game-high 33 points and made five of his nine 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put away the Cavs and move the Warriors to within two games of their third title in four years.
“I think it’s Thor’s,” Curry said with a shrug, referring to the Marvel Comics superhero.
“No, that’s Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet,” Golden State second-year center Damian Jones said. Jones is 22 years old and clearly more up on his Avengers than the 30-year-old Curry.
But after three average-by-his-standards NBA Finals appearances, Curry finally seems poised to win a Finals MVP award if the Warriors can close out Cleveland.
“It looks like he’s lining himself up for something great if we continue to win,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told ESPN.
Curry is averaging 31 points, 8.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds in the first two games of the 2018 Finals. Those are gaudy numbers compared to his pedestrian numbers in previous Finals, when Andre Iguodala (2015) and Kevin Durant(2017) were recognized as most valuable players despite Curry’s primacy as the Golden State leader during the regular season — not to mention Cleveland defeating Golden State in 2016.
But it’s how and when Curry has been scoring in these Finals that really has stood out.
According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Curry:
- Has scored or assisted on more points in transition (35) than the Cavaliers have scored as a team (33) in the first two games.
- Is hitting 45 percent on his 3-pointers after shooting 38.5 percent, 40 percent and 38.8 percent each of the past three years.
- Is averaging 31 points after averaging 26.0 in 2015, 22.6 in 2016 and 26.8 in 2017.
On Sunday, Curry hit a flurry of 3-pointers in the decisive fourth quarter, including a few impossible heaves over Cavs power forward Kevin Love that were as deflating for Cleveland as they were intoxicating for the Oracle Arena crowd.
“I’ve seen him make so many crazy shots,” said Warriors assistant Bruce Fraser, who works with Curry daily and has become something of a household character because of the number of times Curry’s infamous pregame warm-ups are filmed.
“The first 10 you’re like, ‘That was lucky.’ But when he was shooting that ball [over Love, as the shot clock expired], I thought there was a chance. I saw it leaving his hands and thought it was going in. Was it lucky? Yes. But was it really? How many people that know him were saying, ‘That’s missing?’ I wasn’t.”
Fraser works with Curry so much, he has come to believe the two-time regular-season MVP’s unique genetic gift is in his hand-eye coordination.
Give him any game — tennis, stickball, golf — and Curry would master it because of his hand-eye coordination, Fraser says.
“This is a genetic gift that he puts time into,” Fraser explained. “If you are right-handed and you start to work on your runners and stuff, over time you can get pretty good at it. But if you go to your left hand, it’s going to take you forever. Steph goes to his left and he can flip runners with his left better than anyone in the world can flip right-handed.
“Is that because he’s shot a million of them? No. He’s shot thousands of them, not a million. So why can he do that? It’s a genetic gift.”
Of course, the other side to Curry’s genetics are that he’s a slender 6-foot-3 in a game that’s often dominated by much taller, more physical men. The contrast is especially pronounced in this series in which the 6-foot-8, 250-pound LeBron James is dominating every facet of the game so far, but hasn’t gotten enough help from his teammates to earn a win yet.
After watching James in this series — and, really, these entire playoffs — there’s little doubt he’s the best player in the NBA. He should probably be considered a series MVP, no matter if Cleveland wins or loses. That’s how transcendent James has been so far, averaging 40 points a game and contributing to 65 points a game overall.
The Warriors have more talent across the board, anyway. But the Cavs’ self-inflicted mental mistakes, lapses and lack of shot-making to match or even complement James’ individual brilliance have cost them dearly and essentially wasted some of the best games of James’ career.
Compare, for example, Curry and James’ fellow starters in Game 2. Durant was a super-efficient 10-for-14 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Klay Thompson was 8-for-13 from the floor. JaVale McGee was 6-for-6, Shaun Livingston was 5-for-5, and Draymond Green was 2-for-4. Essentially all of them shot 50 percent or better, and while Curry made only 42.3 percent of his 26 field goals, Curry’s teammates made 64.3 percent of 56 field goal attempts.
For Cleveland, only James (10-for-20) and Tristan Thompson (5-for-8) shot better than 50 percent, omitting garbage-time participants. Love (7-for-18), JR Smith (2-for-9) and George Hill (5-for-12) were a combined 35.9 percent from the field.
“I mean, they’re a dangerous ballclub no matter what,” James said afterward. “It starts with those four guys, the four-All Stars.”
If watching Curry in these first two games has been like seeing a volcano erupt, then watching James has been like waiting for the volcano to erupt. It’s almost sad to see him constantly suppressing his frustration and disappointment at teammates who aren’t moving nearly enough without the ball when the Warriors double-team him, or missing open shot after open shot.
“It sucks to lose,” James said. “It sucks when you go out there and give it everything that you have and prep your mind and your body is in it and you come out on the losing end. But nothing would ever take the love of the game away from me.”