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Monday, June 03, 2019

Gritty Golden State Beats Toronto 109-104 in Game Two of the NBA Finals

Winning a championship is not always about things being orderly, aesthetically pleasing and smooth; sometimes, winning a championship is about things being chaotic, grimy and rough--and that was game two in a nutshell for the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, who survived a 12 point first half deficit to beat the Toronto Raptors 109-104, even the NBA Finals at 1-1, and claim home court advantage as the series shifts from Canada to California for the next two games.

Klay Thompson led Golden State with 25 points on 10-17 field goal shooting despite playing just 32 minutes; he suffered a hamstring injury late in the third quarter and did not play the rest of the game. The injury apparently happened when he did the splits during his follow through on a long jump shot, in an attempt to fool the referees into calling a foul. The referees did not fall for Thompson's stunt, Thompson landed awkwardly and he favored his left hamstring for the next few possessions before asking out of the game. I do not wish injury on any player, but I despise the way so many players try to cheat the game as opposed to just making plays. Thompson is one of the greatest shooters of all-time; he should concentrate on shooting the ball, not trying to trick the referees. If Thompson had done his normal follow through he almost certainly would not have been injured. Let's hope he recovers quickly--and learns his lesson.

Stephen Curry scored 23 points, dished four assists and had just one turnover but he only shot 6-17 from the field, including 3-10 from the three point line. It was odd to listen to ABC's broadcasting crew bend over backwards to make excuses for Curry, claiming early in the game that an undefined "something" was not right with Curry. There is an old quip among chess players about never beating a healthy opponent, and that seems to be the standard that is applied to Curry; if he is beaten, outplayed or anything less than the greatest thing since sliced bread the only possible explanation is that he is injured, sick or possibly near death. I love Curry's game--and I have never heard him make excuses--but the media coverage that he gets is very biased in his favor. Russell Westbrook played in the first round of the playoffs this season with multiple injuries that subsequently required surgery but no allowances were made in his favor while he played, or after he had those surgeries.

Golden State's best all-around player was Draymond Green, who was all over the court as the point of the spear defensively while also contributing 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

DeMarcus Cousins, who Coach Steve Kerr moved into the starting lineup in just his second game back after missing most of the playoffs due to injury, had a significant impact with 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Cousins' ability to grab a defensive rebound and then push the ball up the court was a major factor during the game-deciding third quarter run. Cousins' comeback from injury is impressive and his performance puts to shame anyone who suggested that the Warriors do not need him or that putting him in the lineup would cause more harm than good. It should be self-evident that inserting an All-Star caliber center into the lineup is a good thing, but then again there are many so-called experts who are convinced that Golden State is better off without Kevin Durant, so one should not assume that anything is self-evident!

Andre Iguodala has turned into this generation's Robert Horry; his eight points, eight rebounds and six assists do not jump out of the boxscore but he made numerous key plays, culminating in the three point shot that clinched Golden State's victory with seven seconds remaining.

Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with game-high totals in points (34) and rebounds (14) but he shot just 8-20 from the field and committed five turnovers. Despite the low shooting percentage and high turnovers, Leonard did enough as his team's best player for Toronto to win, but his supporting cast let him down.

While no one could have reasonably expected Pascal Siakam to match his game one performance of 32 points on 14-17 field goal shooting, the Raptors need more from him than 12 points on 5-18 field goal shooting. Siakam had a very good floor game (eight rebounds, five assists, no turnovers), but a team's second option must shoot better than Siakam did.

Fred VanVleet scored 17 points but his 7-17 field goal shooting--including 2-8 from three point range--is also not quite good enough. Marc Gasol (six points on 2-7 field goal shooting) was awful, and Kyle Lowry (13 points on 4-11 field goal shooting before fouling out) was not much better. Lowry's advocates claim that he does positive things that do not show up in the boxscore but, while that is true to some extent, he does not take enough charges and make enough savvy plays to compensate for his poor shooting, his excessive fouling and his poor decision making--which culminated in collecting his sixth foul on a reach in 90 feet away from the basket he was defending. The fifth Toronto starter, Danny Green, is appearing on milk cartons throughout Canada; if you see him, please let him know that the NBA Finals are taking place now, his team is participating, and any assistance that he can provide would be much appreciated. 

During the first quarter, the teams traded body blows. Thompson scored the Warriors' first nine points as they jumped out to a 9-7 lead but the Raptors were up 27-26 by the end of that stanza.

Curry missed his first six shots from the field, but then he made his next four attempts. The Raptors led 47-35 after Kawhi Leonard converted a three point play with 5:16 remaining in the first half. Up to that point, the Warriors' defense looked shaky, they were shooting less than .400 from the field and it seemed like they were heading into an 0-2 hole--but the Warriors closed the first half by outscoring the Raptors 19-12, including a 9-3 run in the last two minutes. The boxing cliche states that you have to knock out the champion, and the Raptors had just missed a golden opportunity to deliver a knockout punch. The Warriors blitzed the Raptors 18-0 to start the third quarter and never trailed the rest of the way. That 18-0 run is the longest such run in a Finals game since at least the ABA/NBA merger in 1976.

At halftime, Paul Pierce pointed out that for Golden State to win Curry must have the edge against VanVleet but in the first half those two players were basically a wash. There still are at least three games and possibly as many as five games left in this series, but the NBA Finals once again are heading in a direction away from Curry being the MVP. During his previous four Finals appearances, he has rarely been the best player on the court for any extended period of time--unlike Durant, who was dominant in his two Finals appearances with the Warriors, winning the Finals MVP both times--and that is noteworthy considering how much praise Curry receives and how favorably he is compared with some of the greatest players of all-time. While it is probably true that no Pantheon-level player was the best player in every ABA or NBA Finals in which he played, it must be noted that, other than Oscar Robertson--whose two NBA Finals appearances came late in his career, alongside a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--every Pantheon-level player was the best player in at least one ABA or NBA Finals. Curry's inability to be the best player on the sport's biggest stage is a factor that must be considered when comparing him to the best of the best; yes, he is a Top 50 player, but talk of him being the best point guard ever and/or one of the top 10 or 15 players of all-time is more than a little premature.

Redirecting our focus from historical context to the game at hand, much attention is given to plays that occur in the final two minutes or so of close games--and those plays may very well be significant--but the outcome of an NBA game is often determined by plays that take place much earlier; if you squander multiple possessions prior to the closing moments, you greatly magnify the likelihood that you will be trailing late in the game, which then puts a lot of pressure on you to be perfect or lucky--or both--in order to prevail. If the Raptors had been less careless with their second quarter lead and/or if they had been more focused at the start of the third quarter, then they would not have had to rely on last second plays to try to survive.

That being said, both teams committed some potentially fatal gaffes in the final moments. With 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Warriors led 106-98; I don't have one of those "win probability" spreadsheets handy but I would be willing to bet that a team leading by eight points with that amount of time left has a 99% chance of winning. Then, Cousins fouled Leonard on a drive to the hoop--and Curry threw the ball high in the air, drawing an automatic technical foul. Curry's foolish loss of focus could have proven costly--but since the Warriors won and the media loves Curry, do not expect to hear much about that play outside of this recap. Leonard made all three free throws, cutting the margin to 106-101.

Draymond Green then committed a turnover and the Raptors snared two offensive rebounds before Danny Green--he's alive!--made a three pointer with 26.9 seconds left. The Warriors only led 106-104 and with so little differential between shot clock and game clock the Raptors clearly needed to (1) foul quickly to extend the game and (2) avoid fouling Curry. The Raptors whiffed on opportunities to foul Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston before the ball found its way to a wide open Iguodala behind the three point line. Iguodala does many things well on a consistent basis, but outside shooting is not one of those things. The percentage play for the Warriors was to bleed as much clock as possible and then either force the Raptors to foul Curry or else launch a field goal attempt just before the shot clock expired, hoping either for a make or a scramble during which time ran out.

Instead, Iguodala took the shot and drained it with 7.0 seconds remaining. It was a bad, or at least questionable, shot and if he had missed it then the Raptors could have secured the defensive rebound, called timeout, advanced the ball and had a great opportunity to go for the tie or even the win. Iguodala's shot was not a good shot--much like Damian Lillard's long heave that eliminated Oklahoma City was not a good shot--but it was a gutsy, confident shot and by making it he sealed the win. Kudos to Iguodala for making the shot but shame on the Raptors for squandering so many early opportunities that they put themselves in a predicament such that they could be beaten by a bad, low percentage shot.

What have we learned about these teams collectively, and some of these players individually, after two NBA Finals games?

1) It is evident that Golden State is not better without Kevin Durant; the Warriors have transformed from a well-oiled machine to a jalopy that is leaking oil but is still able to barely cross the finish line ahead of everyone else. With Durant, the Warriors are one of the greatest teams of all-time; without Durant, they are a solid championship contender that has to grind out wins against other solid championship contenders (Portland was more pretender than contender, but Toronto is the real deal).

2) Kawhi Leonard is a beast but the amount of support that he receives from game to game varies widely and dictates how successful Toronto will be.

3) Stephen Curry is a great player but he is not a dominant NBA Finals performer in the mold of the Pantheon players.

4) Pascal Siakam may very well be a future All-Star but the Raptors will not win this series unless he plays like an All-Star more often than not for the remainder of this series.

5) We keep hearing that Golden State has no depth, but every time someone on that squad gets hurt the Warriors are able to put a former All-Star and/or former Lottery pick into the rotation. When DeMarcus Cousins is healthy he is a proven 25-10 player but the Warriors are so deep they survived for more than a month without him before pushing the "Break in case of emergency" button and starting him in game two of the Finals.

6) It is foolish to overreact to the vicissitudes of one game. Unless Durant comes back and is healthy enough to be his usual dominant self, these teams are pretty evenly matched and this figures to be a long series. Golden State has the edge in terms of championship experience and mental toughness, while Toronto has the best individual player (Kawhi Leonard). We will still likely see at least one more road win--and many more hot takes--before the 2019 champion is crowned.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:08 AM



At Monday, June 03, 2019 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is way more to the game than just comparing box score numbers but there is such a gap between the career Finals numbers of Curry and Durant that it is far from irrelevant. The absolute worst, least impactful game of Durant's Finals career was Game 1 2018: 26-9-6 on 8-22(.364). This type of performance would be slightly below average for Curry and his 2019 Game 2 performance, 23-3-4 on 6-17(.353), isn't even close to being the worst game of his Finals career. I don't think it is purely coincidental that the best Finals game of Durant's career, 43-13-7 on 15-23(.652), took place alongside Curry's worst performance, 11-5-6 on 3/16(.188), and I'm in no way suggesting that Durant's performance was due to Curry's "gravity".

I honestly don't have anything against Curry and I have always enjoyed watching him play. It is historically significant that he holds almost every single Finals 3-point record and he still has a chance to take over these Finals but he has been given a pass for some truly awful performances at the highest level while Durant's consistent greatness at this level seems to be an afterthought for many people.

At Monday, June 03, 2019 2:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going into last night's game the question I kept asking myself was: Would the Raptors really feel that they were worthy of beating the Warriors? Would they have the psychological composure to take a two games to none lead against the latest greatest NBA dynasty? In the end, a resounding NO was the answer.

This phenomenon, of athletes being psyched out because intimidated by their awesome opponents, seems more readily apparent in individual sports. Bobby Fischer, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams, at their peaks, intimidated their opponents so much that even when their opponents probably should have won, or at least had a fighting chance, they yet lost because of unforced errors invoked by their feelings of panic, e.g. the Tiger effect. Watching the game last night I got the sense that the Raptors suddenly realized that, holy shit! we actually have a chance of being up two games against the Warriors, so collectively, they freaked out.

The Raptors seemed like they were panicking, especially during the decisive third quarter and throughout the game when they were running and gunning jacking up threes. Here's a game where it seemed to me like the Raptors lost because, as a psychological whole, they just didn't really think they deserved to win.

Game Three will be a real test of Kawhi's leadership, whether he can instill in his teammates the swagger to beat this supposed dynasty. Can he establish a championship esprit de corp? Also, it'll be a test of the Raptors coaching staff to keep them composed.

Even if Klay doesn't play Game Three, the Warriors still have the advantage if the Raptors don't snap out of their shock and awe of the defending world champions.

At Monday, June 03, 2019 3:15:00 PM, Anonymous Cyber said...

Solid analysis as always, David. I was unable to watch the game live but saw the highlights and also read comments throughout. This was a very winnable game by the Raptors but this team has persevered throughout the playoffs so I think they'll respond well in game 3.

I'd like to hear your take on an often mentioned talking point regarding Curry's off-ball movement, that he's constantly fouled on every play. Refer to this somewhat outdated video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td7Z36BfU7U&t=125s

I've seen it a few times, sometimes he does get floored while running around and he doesn't get any beneficial calls from those, but it's rare. Seems like if there's any fouling being done is the amount of moving screens that GS gets away with, but that seems to be more of a league-wide problem than a GS problem anyway, GS just happens to be one of the biggest offenders.

Curry is an amazing player but his supporters have often overlooked his shortcomings while also claiming that no one gets fouled more or does more or is more unselfish, I don't know about any of those. Personally I think Giannis probably gets more "disrespected" than anyone, at least for superstars. He has to get hacked when he's near the rim because he's an instant bucket otherwise. I personally do not believe that Curry's style of play (running around screens to get open) should merit putting the opposing team in the penalty the same way that a truly dominant player such as Shaq or Giannis can but that may well be a very unpopular opinion

@Anonymous 1
I want to pre-face by saying I know you consider KD better but I still wanted to make an observation regarding KD's game 3. I ended up re-watching the highlight for Durant's game 3 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woXiW7J50pI) and while it's true that Durant doesn't face the defensive attention all-time great scorers such as Kobe and Jordan normally face at that stage, I also don't think Curry is the only one responsible for that. Durant almost always scored with someone tightly guarding him

There was one highlight in particular that was a product of Curry's gravity (2:34) where KD saw a wide open Green whose nearest defender had his eyes on Curry, but shortly after (2:45) KD and Green execute a very similar play and Curry is the furthest player away, guarded by one guy with no one else nearby. Even Curry's biggest shot (3:36) involved 2 defenders having to think about whether to guard Curry or Klay, giving him an open shot. Curry did fake out his defender which made it even more successful, but I've always believed Klay distorts defenses at a similar level to Curry and having those 2 in the lineup is what has made the Warriors such a dangerous team even before acquiring KD. You add in versatile point forwards in Green and Iguodala and it's hard to see anyone beat them in today's NBA

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 8:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct on both counts: accurately comparing players involves more than just citing box score numbers, and the difference between the numbers Durant and Curry have posted in the Finals is so large that it cannot be ignored or dismissed.

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 8:36:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is too soon to say that the Raptors were psyched out by the Warriors, and I suspect that you are wrong about this. During the 2019 playoffs, the Raptors have come back after trailing in multiple playoff series and they just beat the number one seed in the East four straight times. This does not seem like a mentally fragile team. Sometimes, you just miss shots.

If the Raptors were truly intimidated, I would have expected to see evidence of that in game one, not in game two after they controlled game one.

The more likely explanation for game two is that, without Durant, these teams are pretty evenly matched, and the Warriors played with more desperation than the Raptors because the Warriors knew that coming back from 0-2 against this team would be very difficult.

Thus, it may be that the Raptors were subconsciously a bit too satisfied or comfortable or relaxed, but I see no evidence that they were intimidated, certainly not in the way that the opponents of Fischer et. al. were intimidated.

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 8:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I do not think that Curry is victimized by an unusual amount of missed calls. One could put together a similar video about many players and, anyway, I am not sure that all of those alleged missed calls were even fouls.

I would say that Harden gets the benefit of certain calls, that are not fouls, that other players do not get, but I don't want to see those calls made more often for other players; I want the referees to stop giving Harden a break for flopping, and to stop letting him travel on his so-called step back move.

I agree that GS sets a lot of moving screens.

Regarding Curry's "gravity," his fans--and many of those fans are credential-carrying media members--act like Curry has just invented, and they have just discovered, a previously unknown concept: a great player attracts a lot of defensive attention! No, really, he does!

If you want to see "gravity" on the basketball court equivalent to the gravitational pull of a black hole, look at videos of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant; the term used back in the day was "tilt the court (or floor)" and the court/floor was tilted so much toward Jordan and Bryant that it is surprising that the players did not fall off to one side! It is true that Curry has more range than those guys but he also has less height, less explosiveness and less ability to dunk on three people in traffic. Jordan and Bryant scared defenses in a way that no other players have in the past 40 years; Shaquille O'Neal overpowered defenses during his prime, but he only had to be guarded in the paint, while Jordan had to be guarded out to at least 20 feet, and Bryant had to be guarded past the three point line.

People can twist numbers and splice video clips however they want, but Curry is not better than Durant, and he is not exercising a greater "gravitational" pull than Jordan or Bryant did. To suggest otherwise is nonsense, but it is nonsense that generates clicks and attracts attention, which is all that the purveyors of nonsense care about.

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Jordan said...


Just curious on your take of the Raptors defense. Been a lot of talk about the box-in-one as well as the fact they were picking Curry up at half-court and half the time were doubling him inside the circle or around that area. Kerr made the right adjustment of sending the screener all the way up there, but have you ever seen an NBA team employ this type of defense? The crazy thing is it actually seemed to work too, especially since no one on the Dubs could hit a shot in the fourth. Well, not until Iggy's bad shot went in.

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 1:28:00 PM, Anonymous Cyber said...

Thanks for the response, David. I definitely agree with your response especially regarding Curry's gravity. I do not know of an elite player who doesn't generate open looks for his teammates just by their presence alone but Curry is always defended by that perception, the same people will probably never admit that the Celtics swarming Kobe is what made his teammates shoot at a slighly more efficient rate than him despite a much lower usage. Oh well

Considering the amount of wide open looks the Warriors generate even without Curry (as I mentioned in my original post) I still think the secret to GS's success is talent, ball movement, and mastering the art of setting (and getting away with :) ) screens, but Curry does make it easier

@Jordan the Nets actually implemented the same strategy vs Kemba Walker which may have contributed to their OT victory vs Hornets

Johm Wall also experienced a box and one vs the Lakers this season. A guy not even known for his shooting prowess or off ball movement...

The Rators only employed it because Thompson was out and Curry was the only above average shooter in the lineup, I personally don't see the fuss even if it happened in the Finals

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 6:06:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not sure how often a box and one has been used in the NBA but it makes sense to have one defender on Curry at all times and zone everyone else, particularly with Durant not on the court to exercise the enormous gravitational effect that he has. The fact that Toronto can play a gimmicky defense versus an NBA team--let alone a two-time defending champion--and hold them scoreless for nearly half a quarter is yet another example of how foolish it is to suggest that the Warriors are better without Durant. The Warriors are scraping to find ways to win without Durant but the Warriors are very talented and gritty.

In previous eras, Pat Riley's Lakers employed a very effective--and illegal--zone defense to combat Julius Erving during the NBA Finals. Rules and tactics have changed over the years but I do not recall many examples of the specific tactic that the Raptors used in the fourth quarter.

At Tuesday, June 04, 2019 6:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Splicing together video clips out of context has replaced well written, in depth basketball analysis but anyone who watched the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2009 should know that there were many occasions when the Celtics tilted three or even four defenders toward Kobe. The Celtics preferred that anyone other than Kobe shoot. Now, one can interpret that to mean that Kobe is great, his supporting cast was trash or some combination of those two but Kobe was distorting defenses more than Curry is or has been. Curry is Reggie Miller with better handles but Kobe was the closest thing to Jordan that we have seen or are likely to see for the foreseeable future. I would take "almost Jordan" over "vastly improved Reggie Miller" any day. Jordan and Kobe impacted the game in multiple ways at both ends of the court to a greater extent than Miller and also than Curry, though of course I would take Curry over Miller for a variety of reasons.

At Wednesday, June 05, 2019 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"anyone who watched the Lakers-Celtics Finals in 2008 and 2009" --> they played in 2008 and 2010. Lakers v Magic in 2009.

At Wednesday, June 05, 2019 11:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are right.

Orlando tilted the floor toward Kobe as well in the 2009 Finals but that sentence in my comment did not come out the way that it should have. Let me clarify: "Anyone who watched teams defend against Kobe Bryant in the playoffs--particularly when he faced Boston in the 2008 and 2010 Finals--saw that there were many occasions when the defense tilted three or even four defenders toward Kobe."

Thank you for your alertness and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify.

At Wednesday, June 05, 2019 1:39:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...


You've obviously watched the game longer than I have but James Harden is actually the player I would have pegged as kind of a version of Reggie Miller. Very streaky and annoying and very referee dependent but obviously Miller was a much better clutch player and competitor than Harden is, though Harden is stockier and grabs more rebounds and assists.

I always figured Curry as kind of a more elite version of early 90s guards like Mark Price and Drazen Petrovic with his flaws masked by his team/the modern rule set than those guys were.

At Thursday, June 06, 2019 1:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Before Harden became the king of flopping and traveling--thus earning a unique and dubious spot in NBA history--I viewed him as a Manu Ginobili caliber bench scorer with Stephon Marbury level delusions of grandeur (Marbury had to leave Garnett to prove himself as the number one guy, much like Harden felt compelled to leave OKC). Harden does not remind me much of Miller at all in terms of playing style or body type.

As a ballhandler, Curry is a bit like Price and his shooting stroke is reminiscent of both Price and Petrovic but the comparison I was making here strictly has to do with moving without the ball, though perhaps I did not make that as clear as I should have. Curry moves without the ball better than just about anyone in basketball history other than Miller, Rip Hamilton and John Havlicek. Other than this one trait and their shared pure shooting strokes, Curry is not very similar to Miller. Hence, I suggested that Curry is somewhat like Miller but with better handles. Curry creates shots for himself and others by moving without the ball but he also has a ballhandling skill that Miller did not.

At Thursday, June 06, 2019 4:30:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...


Thanks for clarifying! I have not watched a ton of Reggie Miller but his skill at off-ball movement makes sense considering it was central to his famous shot in the 1998 ECF.


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