2017 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers
What went right, wrong for Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors in Game 1
Cavs lost opener in similar fashion in 2016 ... and came back to win series
OAKLAND — By late Thursday, the Cleveland Cavaliers had not reported any cases of food poisoning or their bus getting lost en route to the team hotel in the funeral convoy away from Oracle Arena or only cold water flowing from the showers in the visitor’s locker room. But enough about their good news.
Game 1 of The Finals, or Game 14 of the Warriors-Cavaliers championship-series trilogy, was that bad for Cleveland, and maybe worse. Check that. Definitely worse, considering Golden State could have left a bigger bruise than 113-91 if it hadn’t wasted numerous close-range scoring opportunities that easily could have pushed the margin of victory into the 30s.
The good news for the Cavs as their title defense reached the last stage is that they lost Game 1 a year ago, also in Oakland, also while struggling to score, and three of the first four and still climbed all the way back. This is nothing they haven’t seen before. The bad news is that Klay Thompson missed 13 of 16 shots as part of the Warriors at 42.5 percent in all and Golden State still rolled them in a night when a lot went right and wrong for both sides.
Right: Warriors’ ball handling
Thirty-one assists against four turnovers was one of the great displays of passing efficiency in Finals history, an insane number under ordinary circumstances but especially from a team that could have been rusty after a long layoff. The number was 20-to-1 the first half. By the end of the night, two Warriors had committed turnovers, Stephen Curry (two in 34 minutes, and with 10 assists) and Draymond Green (two in 36 minutes). That’s how to score 113 points while shooting 42.5 percent.
“After being around this group for a year, anything they do that’s out of the ordinary… doesn’t surprise me,” said Mike Brown, still subbing as coach for the ailing Steve Kerr. “Because they’re capable of doing some extraordinary things. But, yeah, 31 assists, four turnovers – who would’ve thought? I wouldn’t imagine it, especially going into Game 1 against that team, because that team is very good defensively. They switch a lot of stuff, they’re in the passing lanes, they’re physical, and so I give our guys a lot of credit for taking care of the ball. Steve has preached from Day 1, if we win the possession game we’ll have a chance to win the game.”
Wrong: Cavaliers’ defense
Train. Wreck. The Warriors scored 113 points and the Cavs were lucky it wasn’t a lot more. Only Golden State missing a lot of shots in the paint, many within a few feet of the basket, avoided greater embarrassment for Cleveland. One perspective: The Cavaliers shot 34.9 percent and committed 20 turnovers, and the offense wasn’t close to their biggest problem.
That was not just the usual Finals adrenaline at the start. Both teams charged out with an intensity that was anything but the sides feeling each other out after not seeing each other since Jan. 16. They played with great energy early and some precision, especially the Warriors at 50 percent from the field and one turnover in the first quarter of their first action since May 22. (Cleveland posted 40.9 percent and two turnovers the same opening 12 minutes in its first game since May 25.) After all the grumbling over lopsided series followed by lopsided series the three previous rounds, this was the payback. The Cavaliers just couldn’t make it last.
Wrong: Klay Thompson
He began the night shooting 38.3 percent during Golden State’s record 12-0 start to the playoffs, then went three of 16 overall in 36 minutes while missing all five from behind the arc. His defense still matters a lot, but some within the Warriors are noticing his frustration level on the rise, even as Thompson insists he is unfazed. They can win the series without his typical (regular-season typical) offense, as Thursday showed. But one or two games of regular-season Thompson would make it a lot easier.
Right: Kevin Durant’s attitude
Thirty-eight points, 14 baskets on 26 attempts, eight rebounds, eight assists, zero turnovers — obviously Durant was executing at a high level. His approach, though, topped all the numbers, or at least made all the numbers possible.
“We were talking about it before the game and Steve [Kerr] suggested we try to get the ball in his hands right away and put him in position where he can attack down hill,” Brown said. “We tried to do that early on, and KD didn’t settle. When he had an opportunity, he went down hill, and it worked out well.”
Durant had 10 points and five assists in the first quarter. The tone had been set, for him and all the Warriors.
Wrong: Cavaliers’ bench
There basically wasn’t one. The seven Cleveland reserves who played were a combined six of 24 from the field (25 percent) with 21 points, 16 rebounds and twice as many turnovers (four) as assists. Two Warriors, Durant and Curry, each single-handedly scored more. Three Warriors had more assists on their own and two others had as many. The Cavaliers had nothing in the way of depth.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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