Game 1 of the NBA Finals went into overtime last night, and the Golden State Warriors stepped on the gas while the Cleveland Cavaliers looked gassed. The result was a lopsided 10-2 Warriors advantage in the overtime period and a 108-100 Golden State win that gave Golden State a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals. The Warriors defense was magnificent during the extra period, somehow turning overtime into garbage time as Cleveland did not score a single OT point until LeBron James hit a meaningless layup with only 9 seconds left.
The Warriors could not prevent LeBron James from going bananas, but the rest of the Cavaliers had no bananas. James finished with 44 points, his career-high for an NBA Finals game. But the Cavaliers’ bench was invisible (9 points), and their star point guard Kyrie Irving was left limping from the court (again!) in hobbly and defeated-looking fashion when he re-aggravated his knee during Cleveland’s overtime brickfest.
Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 26 points and 8 assists, and he and LeBron delivered a fantastic duel in a wild final four minutes of regulation that saw four ties and lead changes. But the Warriors’ real star may have been Andre Iguodala, who defended James superbly for most of the second half. Iggs recorded four massively important steals, and successfully challenged LeBron on James’ unsuccessful attempt at a game-winner with 3.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
James missed that shot. The Cavaliers’ Iman Shumpert missed as time expired. Cleveland would miss their next 7 shots in the overtime period, while Curry, Iguodala and Draymond Green patiently hit their free throws and Harrison Barnes nailed a 3-point dagger.
The Warriors showed rust after our long, national nightmare of an 8-day playoff layoff. The Roaracle Arena crowd was uncharacteristically shushed as Cleveland went up by as many as 13 in the first half and held a 3-point halftime lead. But the second half provided a magnificent back-and-forth in which the Warriors reestablished themselves, the Roaracle rocked and Golden State took what appears to be a critical 1-0 NBA Finals lead.
It appears critical because Cleveland appears to be at risk of losing Kyrie Irving. The Warriors can reduce Cleveland to a one-dimensional, one-man-gang without Irving, who will have an MRI today. “You can hear in the tone of my voice that I'm a little worried,” Irving told assembled media after the game, sounding a little worried. His status for Game 2 (Sunday, 5 p.m. ABC) is uncertain.
This should give Warriors fans tremendous reason for optimism, as Golden State is at full strength and ahead in the Finals. Yet we should remember that both times LeBron James has won the NBA Championship (2012, 2013) his team lost Game 1 of The Finals.
Warriors Most Valuable Toddler Riley Curry did not make her typical postgame appearance at the press conference podium (though she was seen dancing after the victory). The Warriors may have another little girl hero in 10-year-old Nayah Damasen, who sang last night’s national anthem. The Warriors have won every playoff game at which she has sang the national anthem, and they did so again last night. Ms. Damasen’s status for Game 2 is also uncertain.