A lot of people billed this series as LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry, and if that was the case then the Cavs were the clear victors — even though Curry was hardly disappointing with 26 points, eight assists and four rebounds, as well as several key free throws in overtime after not getting to the line in the first four quarters. That’s just how good James was.
But as we saw in the Western Conference Finals against the James Harden and his Houston Rockets, the Warriors’ depth keeps them in games where they start poorly, don’t shoot well or need to weather an otherworldly performance from a superstar. And much like the team’s plan against Harden, the Warriors wanted to let James try to do everything himself. They’d clearly much rather James score 40-plus with an assist total under double-digits (he had six tonight).
“Our slogan is ‘Strength in Numbers,'” said Festus Ezeli, who had five points and five rebounds in 12 minutes. “Our depth has been huge for us all year. That’s our biggest strength.”
There was a sense after the game that the Cavs lost when those shots by James and Iman Shumpert didn’t fall, since James looked exhausted in overtime (especially when Curry came up from behind and picked his pocket). But the Warriors felt that they had the advantage when the horn sounded that signaled the end of the fourth quarter.
“That shot by Shump, that had me nervous. I was right behind him. I’m like, ‘C’mon man, not that,’ said Shaun Livingston. “So then from there, I told guys, ‘We’re supposed to win. It’s our game now. We’re supposed to win, because that’s their best shot.’ With what we got, our options, our weapons, going into overtime against theirs, we were confident.”
Cavaliers bench (61 minutes from three players): 9 points, 3-of-14 (3-of-13 for Smith, who played 34 minutes), 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Warriors bench (77 minutes from five players): 34 points, 14-of-27, 19 rebounds, 8 assists
— Kyrie Irving left the locker room on crutches. He’ll get an MRI on his left knee, which kept him out of Games 2 and 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It’s something I hate to see,” Steve Kerr said. “I hope he can play. I mean that. You probably don’t believe me, but I mean that.”
— The Warriors may want to see James shoot, and his percentages on long jumpers weren’t good in previous playoff series (he’s been dealing with a painful wrist injury throughout the season), he did shoot pretty danged well from the outside. However, he definitely tired as the game went on (1-for-4, 0-for-2 on threes in overtime).
— Curry started looking like his MVP self when Matthew Dellavedova came in for Irving midway through the second quarter. This was right after Irving made a jumper to give the Cavs a 34-27 lead.
Curry made a midrange jumper on the ensuing possession, assisted on a Mo Speights jumper and made a three. Irving came back in shortly thereafter, but Curry was on a roll by that point, scoring the next five points to give the Warriors a 41-36 advantage.
— Speights seemed impervious to Finals pressure in his first game back after missing the Conference Finals, but I guess we all should’ve known that going in.
— One could look at the Cavs’ offense (lots of isos and pick-and-rolls) in one of two ways: either it’s a good counter to the Warriors’ tendency to switch extremely frequently on defense, or it’s going to be very, very easy for Ron Adams to pick apart in the coming days.
— His shot wasn’t there early, but I thought this was one of Klay Thompson’s best games of the playoffs. The Warriors out-rebounded the Cavs without anyone grabbing more than seven. The Warriors’ Thompson had six rebounds, a pretty large number for him.
— This was far from Green’s best game, and while some of the five fouls he picked up were questionable, he didn’t have to foul James intentionally at the end of the second quarter, either. But there was Green in overtime with three rebounds and a steal. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays in Game 2.
— I can’t finish these notes without dishing out some respect to Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. In some ways, those two are as difficult to deal with as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. I’m not sure how Thompson had five offensive rebounds and just two points, but the Warriors couldn’t keep him off the glass in the first quarter. Mozgov was the only Cavalier who shot more than one free throw (he made 6-for-8 and scored 15 points) other than James (who went 6-for-10 from the line).
— Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala (who I focused on more heavily in my “official” game recap) were a combined 5-of-8 on threes while the Splash Bros went 5-of-15 on threes. Barnes’ corner three with two minutes left in overtime was the dagger, and Iguodala’s one-shoed three in the fourth quarter was humongous as well.
“When you get into a flow, as a kid, you play in socks. You play in socks all the time in your room, so you go back to those days and just playing ball,” said Iguodala.
— I took a bunch of photos before the game. Lots of great people-watching opportunities at the NBA Finals.
— E-40 played at halftime, which was entertaining. They showed Rihanna on the scoreboard next to Joe Lacob, and they also showed Marshawn Lynch (who got booed mercilessly … lots of Niners fans at the game, apparently).
— I got a kick out of two things after this game. First, Dikembe Mutombo came into the Warriors locker room and made me laugh simply by being Dikembe Mutombo.
Second, the always-honest Iguodala:
— I have to thank the NBA and the Warriors. I was worried that I might not get a seat, and I got a pretty decent one behind the basket closest to the Warriors bench in the second level, second row, next to my buddy Jordan Ramirez from Warriorsworld. The Warriors were the first team to grant access, and the NBA is the first league to grant access to its championship. I feel very lucky to have been able to cover such a great game between two exciting teams.