Cavs no match for balanced Warriors in Game 1 of NBA Finals: Takeaways
Golden State outclassed the Cavaliers in the series opener
The Golden State Warriors cruised past the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 104-89 win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday. The Cavaliers erased a double-digit deficit to take a slim lead in the third quarter, but Golden State kept its cool and completely controlled the final frame.
Five things to know:
1. The Warriors dominated the battle of the benches
Golden State has used "Strength In Numbers" as a slogan since last season, and this game embodied that. Late in the third quarter, the Warriors went on a 15-0 run to break the game open, and only two of those points were scored by Stephen Curry, who scored only 11 points. It was entirely Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa.
Livingston was the biggest hero. In 27 minutes, he had 20 points, equaling the combined total of the Splash Brothers. He did that on 8-of-10 shooting. Iguodala was in Finals MVP form, pestering LeBron James and putting together a great all-around stat line: 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block. Halfway through the second quarter, he stripped the ball from James and Kyrie Irving on consecutive possessions.
"I can't remember the last time me and Steph combined for 20 points but it's not even about that," Klay Thompson said. "It's about guys staying ready."
Both Livingston and Iguodala are lengthy defenders with brilliant basketball minds and defensive versatility. The only person who fits that description on Cleveland's roster is James. It is an unbelievable luxury that these guys come off Golden State's bench.
Overall, the Warriors' reserves outscored the Cavaliers' reserves 45-10. Seven Golden State players scored in double figures, and five of them did so before Curry got there.
Barbosa made all five of his field goals and scored 11 points, the same number as the MVP. Curry made only 4 of 15 shots, but had six assists and five rebounds. Thompson added nine points on 4-of-12 shooting. Do you think that will happen again?
"We're not used to having both Steph and Klay off like that with their shooting," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, "but the one thing we talked about all year was if we defend and take care of the ball, then we're always going to have somebody score enough points for us."
The main difference between Cleveland's good regular season and its great postseason is that it has been more than the sum of its parts lately. The lineup with James and four reserves has dominated, and role players like J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson have punished teams who have left them open. This was not at all the case here.
"You don't win championships without your entire squad," Curry said.
James had 23 points on 9-of-21 shooting, and he had to work for those points. Irving had 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting. Kevin Love had 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. These relatively inefficient nights wouldn't kill the Cavs if they had more help, but barely anyone else even got a chance to get shots up. Which brings us to...
2. The Cavs' red-hot 3-point shooting didn't hold up
Cleveland entered shooting 43.4 percent from long range in the playoffs, and it was taking an average of 34.6 3-pointers per game. Both marks led the league. It's worth noting, though, that the Cavaliers shot 45.7 percent in their 12 wins and just 32.9 percent in their two conference-finals losses to the Toronto Raptors. It was somewhat troubling, then, that Cleveland only shot 24.5 percent from deep in its two meetings with Golden State in the regular season. And the Warriors effectively neutralized the Cavs' shooters again in Game 1.
Cleveland attempted only 21 3-pointers, making 7. Frye, an essential asset this entire playoff run, played only seven minutes and missed his only 3-pointer. Smith played 36 minutes and went 1 of 3 from downtown.
The funny thing is that Golden State didn't shoot well from the outside, either (9 of 27 from deep), and scored 54 points in the paint. These were the two top teams in 3-point shooting all season. Take that, everyone who tried to predict what would happen!
3. Let's check in on Steve Kerr's pet peeve
If the Warriors have a weakness, it's occasional careless ball-handling. This is Kerr's least favorite thing about his 73-win team, and opponents need to exploit it because Golden State's half-court defense is so good. Fortunately for the Warriors, they did not seem nervous and they did not try to get too cute. They had only nine turnovers, which led to 12 Cavaliers points. Curry, for the record, had five of them.
Cleveland, meanwhile, gifted Golden State a bunch of easy buckets. The Cavs coughed the ball up 17 times, and that led to 25 Warriors points. Cleveland does not have much room for error in this matchup, and it is going to have to be much more disciplined.
The tricky part about that is the Cavs also need to have better ball movement. Generally, one advantage of isolation basketball is that you can keep control of the ball and limit transition opportunities. In that respect, it was was the worst of both worlds for Cleveland.
4. Maybe Kerr should break a clipboard every game
With about eight minutes left in the third quarter, Tristan Thompson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the inside after appearing to push a couple of Warriors out of his way. This made it a four-point game, and Golden State called a timeout. Kerr let the officials know he wasn't pleased with the lack of a foul call, and he was also upset that his team came out of halftime without the same focus it had in the first half.
"Destruction tends to ease some of the anger," Kerr said. "So I try to take it out on a clipboard instead of a player. So it's better that way."
After that, Iguodala hit a 3-pointer and the Warriors started to get their rhythm back. Later in the quarter, they erupted.
"He got a little better," Draymond Green said. "He broke a clipboard in Madison Square Garden earlier this year and it didn't go so well. So congratulations to him on doing a better job tonight."
Perhaps it wasn't as clean a break at MSG, but it worked the same way back then. Golden State was down by two points at the time and it won that game by 21 points.
5. Draymond Green, unsung hero
In last year's NBA Finals, Green took a few games to get going. This series already looks much different, as he started things off with 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and a block. It's not just the numbers, though. It's that he played a team-high 40 minutes and was going all-out the entire time.
On defense, he was everywhere, guarding guys on the perimeter, challenging shots in the paint and competing for every rebound. No one had more than Green's six deflections or 15 contests, per NBA.com's hustle stats, and there just aren't many guys in the league who can defend all of the Cavs' Big 3 at certain times.
"It's physical, but it's even more mental than physical because ... they all do completely different things. Switching on all those guys at different points in the game, you gotta know, all right, Kevin Love I gotta stay home, LeBron whatever he's trying to do, you gotta be ready to body up with him or whatever it is, and then Kyrie's so shifty that you gotta be ready to slide, slide, make a second effort, third effort because he usually gets a step and you gotta try to recover. So it's really fun embracing that challenge of taking on all three sometimes."
Green was also the hub of the Warriors' offense. The only player who touched the ball more often than him was James, per NBA.com's player tracking data. He had 86 touches and passed 69 times, helping Golden State keep the ball moving. He won't be the story of this game, but the Warriors wouldn't have won without him.
CBS Sports HQ Daily Newsletter
Get the best highlights and stories - yeah, just the good stuff handpicked by our team to start your day.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
There are six games on tap on the NBA schedule on Thursday
Rookie Allonzo Trier believed he had recorded the game-saving block
SportsLine's advanced computer model simulated Thursday's Pacers vs. 76ers game 10,000 tim...
Popovich is currently in his 22nd season as the Spurs head coach
SportsLine's advanced computer model simulated Thursday's Lakers vs. Thunder game 10,000 t...
SportsLine's advanced computer model simulated Thursday's Wizards vs. Knicks game 10,000 t...