Once the names of the two teams that would contest the 2015 NBA Finals emerged, it was clear this was going to be defined as a slugging match between two of the best players in the NBA. After two games, its proved just that, and much more.
With Lebron James – four-times NBA MVP and already one of the legends of the game – leading the Cleveland Cavaliers on one side, and this season’s MVP, Steph Curry, the pick of the Golden State Warriors on the other, this NBA Finals was always going to be couched in terms of their shooting stats. But both defenses have also played a role in what is turning out to be a tension-filled, closely contested series.
Both of the first two games this NBA Finals – played at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena in Oakland – have been settled after overtime, with both teams still level and retaining cause for optimism as the series now shift to Cleveland for the next two games. Cleveland, as always led by James’ incredible scoring and all round play, have had strong late leads in both games, only to see a combination of Golden State stifling defense and clutch shooting peg them back each time to force an extra period.
James scored 44 points in Game 1– 42 of them in regulation – but Curry, with 26 points, took the plaudits, leading the Warriors’ fourth quarter rally and overtime domination as the Golden State defense kept Cleveland scoreless till the last seconds of overtime.
Both stars were important factors in Game 2 as well, albeit in different ways. Cleveland, quickly adjusting to life without the injured Kyrie Irving (out of the NBA Finals after getting injured in Game 1), led by 11 points with five minutes of regulation left. James was at the fore again, this time with an impressive triple double. Curry, on the other hand, endured a miserable night for the Warriors – making just 5 of 23 attempted shots and finishing on 19 points – yet it was his late lay-up that tied the game and forced another overtime. This time, it was the home team that struggled to finish, Curry ending a forgettable night with a missed jumper that would have given his side the lead with nine seconds left on the clock.
But this NBA Finals hasn’t been only about shooting. While the two stars have played key roles on offense, both teams have also put up crucial defensive performances at crucial times in both games. If the Warriors’ defense had proved the difference in Game 1 overtime, in Game 2 it was Cleveland’s defensive work – especially Matthew Dellevedova’s suffocating efforts on Curry – that proved key in tying up the series and making this a truly dramatic NBA finals.
Steph Curry when guarded by Matthew Dellavedova in Game 2: • 0 Pts • 0-for-8 from the floor • 0-for-5 from 3-Pt range • 4 turnovers— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 8, 2015
The first game proved quite the heartbreak for Cleveland, losing a big lead and a key player for the rest of the NBA Finals, yet they return to their home court with hopes renewed, still on level pegging and, as long as James keeps performing, with every chance of edging ahead of the Warriors.
Golden State have spent huge chunks of the first two games playing catch up, but they’ll know they haven’t played their best basketball yet, and after also stumbling early in earlier series against both Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, they’ll believe they have the experience and ability to bounce back on the road and keep these NBA Finals interesting.
It’s early days yet, but two overtime games have set the tone and TV viewership is already through the roof. If Lebron James can keep producing and Steph Curry rediscovers his mojo, this could yet pan out as one NBA Finals for the ages.
Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Quicken Loans Arena.
[Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]