The Golden State Warriors were in the fight of their lives against the Oklahoma City Thunder, barely clinging to some sense that things would eventually go back to normal from the first game of the Western Conference Finals until the final minute of Game 7. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, for the first time in quite a while, we got a familiar looking Warriors game.
As in, the Warriors were in control for the entire game.
Don’t get it twisted — Game 1 was weird. It started with Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut leading the Warriors in scoring. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played poorly throughout, and shooting was only part of that lousy equation. Shaun Livingston was Golden State’s leading scorer with 20, and Leandro Barbosa could do no wrong. Steve Kerr referenced Bob Fitzgerald during his postgame press conference in talking about Andre Iguodala’s maturity, a little while after explaining why he smashed his clipboard.
“Destruction helps to ease some of the anger,” he said.
Kerr wasn’t angry after the game, because after a few shaky moments in the middle of the third quarter, the Warriors destroyed the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. It was their sixth straight win over Cleveland, and now we’re left to wonder if that streak might hit nine. If the Cavs can’t beat the Warriors when Curry shoots 4-for-15 and turns it over five times, in the same game that Klay Thompson goes 4-for-12 and never got into a rhythm after early foul trouble, what’s it going to take?
Warriors turn back the clock
The question before this game wasn’t whether Golden State could score on Cleveland, since a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love means a weaker defensive unit for the Cavaliers. Hell, Barnes and Bogut abused Irving and Love multiple times. The question was whether the Warriors could stop Cleveland’s new high-octane offense that rained threes on their Eastern Conference foes with ease.
And that was only a question because the Warriors’ defensive intensity has dipped at times over the course of the regular season and the playoffs, and there were times in the Western Conference Finals that Oklahoma City made the Warriors look like the Lakers. Tonight was a completely different story.
The Cavs went 7-for-21 on threes, and their offense looked less dynamic as the game wore on. Sure, Cleveland took the lead briefly in the third quarter, but the Warriors always had an answer. Always seemed a step ahead. The Warriors switched everything, and the result was Love getting chased off the 3-point line, an endless loop of isolation plays for Kyrie Irving, and a very frustrated LeBron James.
James started the game with a bang, making 4-of-5 to start the game and getting to the paint at will. In came Andre Iguodala, who along with Draymond Green defended James extremely well. Iguodala was everywhere, as per usual in the playoffs, stripping opponents like a master pickpocket and settling his teammates down. Green had a game to make everyone forget his disappointing series against the Thunder: 16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals. For the first time in a while, Green looked joyful on the court instead of frustrated.
“Yeah, it’s fun. I truly enjoy it, the challenge (of defending multiple players). I mean, obviously it’s physical, but it’s more — it’s even more mental than physical because switching those guys, they all do completely different things,” Green said.
Kerr wins Round One over Lue
Kerr pulled his cards back and hid them against his chest from the beginning, opting to move Barnes back to the starting lineup and use Iguodala as a reserve once again. Iguodala is the better player, and easily the better choice to defend James, but that’s a lineup adjustment Kerr would rather make only if necessary.
“Well, Harrison has started for two years, and it’s been a pretty good two years for us,” as Kerr tried his hardest to understate the obvious with a straight face.
“Last series was very unique. We felt like we needed to get Andre on the floor right away against Durant. This series we want to get a feel for how everything’s going. I thought Harrison played great, but we’re not going to change our starting lineup in Game 1 of the series because we’ve been successful doing what we’ve done.”
Meanwhile, Lue sounded almost delusional, or oblivious at the very least.
“We missed 28 shots in the paint. We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing,” said the Cavs head coach. “I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played.”
- Cleveland shot 38.1% from the floor.
- Other than Curry and Thompson, the Warriors made 58.3% of their shots.
- They finished with just 17 assists.
- They only forced the Warriors into nine turnovers (eight combined from Curry and Green, and most of those were unforced errors).
- J.R. Smith, a pivotal player in this series (which should frighten every Cavs fan), was invisible for 36 minutes.
- The Warriors were out-rebounded (47-41, 15-9 on the offensive glass) but still finished with 15 second chance points compared to 13 for Cleveland.
“For the most part I’m pleased with what we did defensively against Steph and Klay,” Lue said. “The bench came in and did a good job for them.”
Hey, Lue came through with an understatement of his own.
S-Dot and the Bench Mob
Livingston started the playoffs with a tremendous series against Houston when they needed him to fill Curry’s shoes as the starting point guard. His production dipped a little against Portland, but he still played well. He was almost unplayable against the Thunder: 36% shooting, 3.9 points per game, not much impact anywhere else.
Either he was tired against Oklahoma City after playing about 25 minutes per game in the first two series, or the Thunder’s roster (lots of length, no backup point guard) presented few openings for Livingston’s unconventional offensive game. Those problems vanished tonight, as Livingston went 8-for-10 and earned the “game ball,” according to James.
“I think I took the same shots last series but it’s just staying confident in my shot, understanding my game, where the shots are going to come from and trusting it,” Livingston said.
With Iguodala pitching in with 12 points, and Barbosa going 5-for-5 (including some crazy runners while careening in toward the cup from angles only he would feel comfortable taking), Golden State’s bench outscored Cleveland’s by a comical margin: 45-10.
— It seemed like both teams knew Game 1 was critical, based on how they fought through the first few quarters before the Warriors went on a 15-0 run that included just two points from a starter to put the game out of reach. (Most of that took place with James on the bench, which underscores Cleveland’s uncomfortable reality: a guy who has played 46,000 minutes in his career probably needs to play 46 minutes per night from now on.)
— After the Warriors tasted their own blood against the Thunder, they seem to have realized that they need to bring it every game.
“This is the same team who we had down 1-0 last year and they hit us twice,” Green said. “It’s not like we have any control over them or anything … (Cleveland is) going to battle, they’re going to compete, and they’re super talented. So you can’t come out saying, oh, we beat them six in a row, we’re good. Absolutely not. As soon as you do that and let your guard down, it’s a wrap.”
— Awkward moment: a reporter asked Green about the “extra scrutiny” that’s on him after he kicked Steven Adams. Apparently there was a situation that caught a little fire online based on a video of Green flailing and kicking Irving. Check out how much Green wanted to tackle this reporter.
— Oh, and Matthew Dellavedova went after Iguodala’s package during this game. Iguodala hit a 3-pointer 12 seconds later, then made a 19-foot jumper less than a minute later. This was during the Warriors’ big run, so Dellavedova’s attempt to either retaliate for whatever he thought Iguodala did to him earlier, or get into Iguodala’s head, totally backfired.
— “With Coach Kerr and the clipboard, he got a little better. He broke a clipboard in Madison Square Garden earlier this year, and it didn’t go well. So congratulations to him on doing a better job tonight,” said Green.
Maybe porcelain clipboards aren’t the best idea.
— Andrew Bogut on Iguodala:
“He’s like a coach out there. He’s on e of the best teammates I’ve played with as far as knowing the game; his basketball IQ is out of this world. People don’t appreciate it because there are games where he doesn’t shoot the ball as much as he should sometimes and we get frustrated with that, but he’s still affecting the game.”
— What adjustments will Cleveland make? Since Lue offered no insight (I miss David Blatt’s press conferences, just because they were a lot more interesting), let’s hear from Coach LeBron.
“Offensively, we’ve got to be much better. We’ve got to be much better moving the ball, moving bodies. They’re a great team when you just hold the ball and pound the ball. So we’ve got to do a better job with that, which Coach Lue and the coaching staff will make sure we do in Game 2.”
— No “I’m the best player in the world” proclamations from James today, however.
— As for Curry, he didn’t seem too worried about his off night.
“I missed some shots and didn’t get a rhythm, but the way that they defended, we’ll be able to find some adjustments for Game 2 … Nothing I haven’t seen (from Cleveland’s defense). It’s something when I go back and look at the film I kind of rush in certain spots. I was a little indecisive, but the Xs and Os were pretty much kind of standard with how they guard the pick-and-roll. The way we play there’s going to be a lot of cross-matching, and that’s what we want in those situations where you take the defensive aggression and kind of work it against them, get a shot or somebody else gets a shot.”
That’s why this whole idea that someone has to be the “Face of the Franchise” or the “Face of the NBA” is dumb. It’s a team sport, and the Warriors are a team that can win by 15 on a night when Curry shoots under 30% and turns it over constantly.
— My favorite moment from after the game was when Curry was asked about guarding Livingston in practice, mostly because what Curry said about Green.
“Sometimes there’s really nothing you can do about it. You try to just contest his shot, but sometimes he won’t even see you. For me in practice it’s the loneliest feeling in the world because Draymond needs somebody to talk to and to talk trash to. And if he’s on the other team — sometimes even if he’s on my team, he’ll “mouse in the house” or whatever kind of phrase you want to talk about when [Livingston] gets in the post. And I’ll play the best defense of my life, and he’ll knock down a shot, and you’ve just got to live with the chatter. So it’s not fun.”
The part about Draymond needing somebody to talk trash to, to the point where he’ll trash-talk his own teammate during practices, killed me. Don’t you wish they’d allow the public to see just one of these practices during training camp or the regular season?
— It’s the height of arrogance, a character trait that’s been assigned to these Warriors for months, to think about how long it’ll take for Golden State to end this. But unless they take a breath and think they can cruise to their second straight title, I’m starting to think my prediction (Warriors in 6) might be a little generous … to the Cavs. We’ll see in Game 2 if Coach LueBron can cook up something that makes this series a little more interesting that it appeared in the fourth quarter tonight.