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Five things we learned from Warriors' Finals-opening win

POSTED: Jun 3, 2016 2:14 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


2016 Finals Game 1 Mini Movie

Relive the best moments from Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals!

— Five things we learned from the Golden State Warriors' 104-89 Game 1 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals Thursday at Oracle Arena:

1. LeBron James likes to dip a King-sized toe into NBA Finals waters

Finally, the best overall player in the NBA for the past decade was getting some respect, not for how many championship rings he'd accumulated but how many times he had put himself and his teams in position to win one. James' streak of six consecutive Finals appearances is impressive. The fact that we have to reach back 50 years or more to find others who'd done it -- back to when the league had half as many teams, the postseason had half as many rounds and, even then, you had to be Bill Russell or one of his teammates -- made it doubly so.

Experience Intel: LeBron for Three

Take a 360 view as LeBron James hits the 3-pointer in Game 1.

But it's a good thing he's locked into that "King" nickname, because no one's going to be re-dubbing him "Opening Game James" anytime soon. James is 1-6 now in Finals openers. That seems more damning -- and avoidable -- than his 2-4 record in the championship round overall. He has lost the first game of other rounds, too, and that hasn't necessarily blocked his path to The Finals but this is starting to look like something different.

And these Warriors are not to be trifled with. They have strung together six consecutive victories over Cleveland -- the last three in the 2015 Finals, two regular-season beatings in 2015-16 and now this. In that time, the Cavaliers have come up short of 100 points each time.

And James has been turned into a high-volume scorer, messing with the efficiency in which he takes pride. He is shooting below 45 percent across the six-game skid.

2. Not even the Warriors fear Stephen Curry's defense, but ...

Remember how Russell Westbrook snidely snickered when essentially asked during the West finals to offer a bit of praise for the two-time Kia MVP as a defender? Even teammate Draymond Green had some fun at Curry's expense when talking about that side of the ball, sharing practice stories about "mouse in the house" moments when Curry gets posted up by bigger teammates. "Obviously defense isn't what Steph's going to hang his hat on," Green said, "nor does he need to hang his hat on that."

But Green quickly reminded his postgame audience that NBA defense is "five guys on the same page, moving with each other." And by that standard, Golden State has been fine. More than fine.

Defense Leads To Offense

Draymond Green creates the turnover and Stephen Curry nails the three-pointer to get the crowd on their feet.

The Cavaliers were stymied enough that they appeared to revert back to last year's Finals, when they tried to grind down the sleeker, faster Warriors in the halfcourt and rely on size down low. That Cavs 2.0 version that blitzed Atlanta and Toronto with waves of 3-point shots, deployed with pace and space, got lost somewhere on their drive across the Bay Bridge. And Golden State's flexible, handsy defense made them pay, creating 17 turnovers while delighting in the downward spiral once Kyrie Irving went into his isolation dribbling. An ESPN stat noted that the Cleveland point guard dribbled out entire possessions nine times and shot 1-of-9 when he did.

3. J.R. Smith: 3 points, 3 shots, 36 minutes

We just lauded Golden State for a solid defensive effort but let's get real: since when does J.R. Smith get stifled by opposing defenses? The Cavaliers' shooting guard might miss shots but at least he gets them off. In fact, the more Smith gets denied, the more zealously he often seeks out shots, frequently of the ill-advised variety.

In 14 previous appearances in these 2016 playoffs, Smith logged 469 minutes and squeezed off 123 field-goal attempts, an average of one shot every 3.8 minutes. In his playoff history, his rate had been one per 2.57 minutes. By those standards, Smith should have launched anywhere from 10 to 14 shots. And let's be honest, there's no other way to justify Smith logging 36 minutes if he's only going to take three shots, even if he's being guarded by a T-Rex. His defense -- despite some revisionist characterization in this postseason, mostly built off the Atlanta series and matchup with Kyle Korver -- is never going to be reason enough.

4. More groans over groins

Just when you might have thought we'd left the nether regions to the conference finals -- Green's wildly covered kick to Steven Adams' groin in Game 3 of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series, which followed by a day Cleveland's Dahntay Jones smacking Bismack Biyombo down there at Toronto -- the Finals offered up its first winceable moment. Matthew Dellavedova was chasing down Andre Iguodala when his arm swing "went there," hitting Iguodala in the groin and eliciting both the pain and the umbrage one would expect.

GameTime: Making the Call

Senior Vice President of Replay and Referee Operations Joe Borgia reviews a call from Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

It was an intentional foul but it wasn't intentionally aimed, despite a long replay review. In fact, it was noted on the official boxscore as "Review of a Hostile Act." A year ago, Dellavedova earned something of a bad reputation from physical, possibly clumsy, probably overly aggressive plays with the likes of Taj Gibson, Al Horford and Korver.

Even Iguodala had made peace with the blow and with Delly by the end Thursday. "There's a lot of emotions going out there," the Warriors' sixth man said. "I respect a lot of guys' hustle in this league. You've got guys who've got to get a little dirty and a little physical to make a life and feed a families. So I can only respect that."

The NBA has done a fine job of installing and following its concussion protocols in recent years. Given the frequency with which we're seeing trauma inflicted on guys' second-most important region, the league soon might have to shift its science southward.

5. Is it too late to seed this thing 1 through 16?

That was a quick reaction of some media types to the quality of the game and to its outcome. The idea of setting up the playoffs without regard for conferences, division tie-breakers or any other East-West recognition held some appeal late Thursday. Granted, it came from a knee-jerk place -- there's no reason to think that Cleveland won't be able to fire back with a better performance in Game 2 or, at least, to better represent itself in Games 3 and 4 back home. (Good luck holding Curry and Klay Thompson again to a combined 20 points, though, in this Finals or in their lifetimes.)

But what was nervously troubling was any sense that we'd already seen -- in the magnificent Warriors-Thunder clash over seven games -- the best playoff basketball we're going to get and the unofficial Finals. All season long, fans and insiders anticipated that we'd get that in a Golden State-San Antonio West showdown, but even with OKC crashing that party, the West championship felt worthy of a Larry O'Brien trophy.

The occasionally floated notion of simply seeding the top 16 teams and gritting out any bad early-round travel -- Portland and Miami, say, or Clippers vs. Celtics -- might be worth considering anew, in this age of luxury charter travel for the teams. But just one game in, we'll give the Cavaliers a chance to justify their continued presence in June.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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