Last year, the knock on the Warriors was that they faced a Cavaliers team that was missing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love—LeBron James nearly beat the Warriors by himself! No he didn’t. But the authors of the alternate history in which Kyrie and KLove dropped 25 points a game, helping King James bring a championship to Cleveland, waited lustily for this Finals series to “expose” the Warriors. So how did it go?
Well, in a reverse nod to last year, the Warriors played without two of their own top guys—no Steph, no Klay? No problem. The Warriors role players beat the full-squad Cavaliers, 104-89.
Steph was terrible last night. So was Klay. Combined, they shot 8 of 27, and 4 of 13 from the three, for a total of 20 points. In terms of pure shooting, they were both liabilities on offense. Good thing the NBA isn’t two-on-two; this is a team game and man, do the Dubs have a team. The Warriors bench, Iggy, Shaun, Leandro, and Festus, came out to play. They combined for 45 points. The Cavs bench? 10. And that was all she wrote.
Cleveland is not OKC. They do not have the physical assets that enabled OKC to shut the Warriors down on defense. Durant, Ibaka, and Adams gave the Warriors nightmares on defense, effectively shutting down the paint and mid-range jumpers. Those were the points that the Cavs were giving up so readily last night. Shaun Livingston spanked Cleveland’s defense, scoring a team-high 20 points, nearly all from mid-range with that shot that is pure butter. When that shot is on, no one can defend it because, well, everyone, including the defenders, is admiring one of the prettiest shots in the game. It unfolds so slowly; the whole motion takes place on a pillowy cloud. When Shaun’s knee exploded, he was told he might not walk again. Those doctors were right. Shaun floats.
Which brings us back to Steph and Klay. Even when they’re off, they’re on. The mere fact that they’re on the court alters the shape of the defense. Defenses are spread thin, never able to fully help on the inside for fear of the ball kicking back out to a semi-open Splash Brother. That creates a soft, mushy middle for Dray and Shaun and Harrison. And with Kevin Love on the court, that middle is extra soft, extra mushy.
And then there was the moment in the third quarter when the Warriors' 14-point lead was cut in half, and Coach Steve Kerr smashed his clipboard like Bruce Lee.
So Game 1 is in the books. What have we learned? Not much, really. Yes, the Warriors bench is deep, but probably over-performed last night. Steph and Klay were off, but c’mon. Kyrie wasn’t good, Kevin Love was not bad, and LeBron had an okay night. The whole game kinda felt that way, didn’t it? Kinda meh. I don’t know if it’s because both teams were just sizing each other up, but the game didn’t have an intensity that one normally expects from a Finals. Even the crowd didn’t seem up for it. One could kind of imagine a hangover for the Warriors from the insanity of the OKC series, but what was Cleveland’s deal?
The Over-Reaction: THIS SERIES IS DONE! CLEVELAND HAS A BETTER CHANCE WITH KYRIE AND LOVE ON THE BENCH! LEBRON 2 AND 5! WARRIORS IN 4! ON TO THE THREE-PEAT!!!
The Mild-Mannered Reaction: The Warriors took Game 1 as they should have, but the game itself didn’t expose anything from either team. Everyone knew the Cavaliers defense wouldn’t pose the same problems as the Thunder, but they will make their adjustments as the series progresses. Just as Steph and Klay had an off-night offensively, so did the Cavs. Do not expect them to bring only 89 points to the remaining games. Game 2 will tell us a helluva lot more than last night’s. Remember, last year, the Warriors won Game 1 but lost Games 2 and 3, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Still, it was a good win for the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors v. Cleveland Cavaliers
Warriors lead series, 1-0
Thursday, June 2: Warriors WON
Sunday, June 5: Warriors at home, 5 PM (ABC)
Wednesday, June 8: Warriors at Cleveland, 6 PM (ABC)
Friday, June 10: Warriors at Cleveland, 6 PM (ABC)
Monday, June 13: Warriors at home, 6 PM (ABC)
Thursday, June 16: Warriors at Cleveland, 6 PM (ABC)
Sunday, June 19: Warriors at home, 5 PM (ABC)