By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
The Warriors promised they’d be better.
In Game 1, the team’s superstars didn’t do what they do best for 48 minutes. They were a balloon slowly leaking air, with Draymond Green lacking passion, Stephen Curry losing steam, Klay Thompson showing waning aggression, and Jordan Poole becoming a flat-out liability.
They said it wouldn’t happen again.
The Warriors learned they couldn’t sleepwalk a moment in this series, not against a Boston Celtics team that has this type of depth and defensive prowess.
They kept their word in Game 2, gliding to a 107-88 win to tie the NBA Finals at 1-1.
It started with Green, the team’s motor. When he’s physical and barking and throwing his body around, he’s either going to get tossed or lead his team to victory. (The latter occurred, though he flirted dangerously close with the former.)
Green finished with nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and a technical foul. But that told only part of the story. There’s no measure for physicality in the stat sheets, but his imprint was everywhere, especially all over Jaylen Brown, whom Green held to just 17 points — and it took Brown 17 shots to get them.
When Curry was asked at what point he knew Green was going to be a dog in Game 2, he didn’t hesitate in his response.
“About five minutes after Game 1,” Curry said.
It continued with Curry, who had 14 of his 29 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored the Celtics 35-14 to turn a two-point halftime lead into a 23-point advantage.
Curry unleashed a flurry of 3-pointers. He wove past defenders for pull-up jumpers. He took over in the way that only he can, an awe-inspiring deluge that renders defenders as useless as if they were trying to stop a fire hydrant with their bare hands.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Curry “breathtaking” over that period — but not just for his offense. He pointed out that Curry was also a defensive force, something that often gets overlooked.
There was the time Curry suffocated Al Horford with 3:39 left in the third quarter, forcing him to turn over the ball. Or the time he locked down Payton Pritchard 40 seconds later, erasing his dribble and view of the basket so he had to dish the ball.
Green, the team’s best defender, agreed with Kerr’s assessment of Curry’s defense, pointing out that Curry is no longer a guy teams can target on that end. Not after he gained weight, added strength and dedicated himself to becoming a two-way player over the past eight years.
And especially not on Sunday, with the team’s championship hopes on the line.
“That doesn’t work anymore,” Green said. “He sits down, he guards and, you know, we all are there behind him if he does need help. But he hasn’t been needing that often.”
There was Poole, who struggled at the top of the game, but went on to make two big 3-pointers at the end of the third quarter, including a 39-footer with 1.5 seconds left from just inside the half-court line.
After he made that shot, Curry, who’s famous for shooting from outer space, stood behind Poole and flashed a giant smile. After the game, Curry revealed that following every practice and shootaround, he and Poole compete to see who can make more shots from that distance. Apparently that shot skewed the score in Poole’s favor.
“He took the lead tonight,” Curry quipped.
There was Kevon Looney, who was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field while grabbing seven rebounds and guarding the interior.
There was Gary Payton II, who, playing in his first game since suffering a fractured elbow in the second round of the playoffs, made all three of his shots while playing strong perimeter defense.
And there was Otto Porter Jr., who somehow was tied with Curry and Looney for the highest plus-minus (+24) on the court after affecting the game in ways that don’t show up in the stat sheets.
Basically, everyone did everything they could. No one took his foot off the gas.
After the Warriors were outscored 40-16 in the fourth quarter in Game 1, they came out with a completely different attitude on Sunday. They knew going down 0-2 against the Celtics would be the kiss of death for their hopes of winning a fourth title.
So, Green was fiery. Curry was fire. And everyone else did their part, holding the Celtics to 37.5% shooting, compared to the 50.6% clip they shot in Game 1.
“I thought everybody was more engaged,” Kerr said. “It was pretty obvious, just our level of force and physicality was ramped up quite a bit, and it had to be.”
For the Warriors, it was a crucial turnaround.
After the Celtics surprised them in Game 1, the narrative of the series was flipped upside down. The Warriors were supposed to have the upper hand with all of their experience. They’re three-time champions, while no one on the Celtics had ever been to the Finals before this series.
After Game 1, it was fair to question whether experience was not as big of a factor as everyone assumed. But on Sunday, the Warriors introduced another narrative into the fold: Thursday could’ve been a fluke, a cautionary tale of what happens when an overconfident team gets complacent.
Green made sure from the get-go that his team wouldn’t repeat the same mistake. In the first 11 seconds, he swarmed Horford and forced a jump ball.
It sent a message.
“Guys follow me on that side of the ball,” Green said. “If I’m not sending a message, who is sending that message?”
The answer is no one, a lesson the Warriors recently learned the hard way.
So, Green spent the past few days shouldering the blame for that loss. He vowed he’d do better. And in Game 2, he refused to make a liar out of himself.
“You got to be about what you talk about,” he said. “I take pride in that.”
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter at @melissarohlin.
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