OAKLAND — It was a night where the Splash Brothers barely made a ripple in the water.
And yet, the Warriors won. Convincingly.
Shaun Livingston had 20 points and three assists, Harrison Barnes started hot and finished with 13, Andre Iguodala had 12, and Draymond Green had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. The Warriors were balanced — and were the team playing vastly better defense.
Because of all that, Golden State now leads the NBA Finals 1-0, with Game 2 Sunday in Oakland.
“The one thing we’ve talked about all year is if we defend and take care of the ball, then we’re always going to have somebody score enough points for us, whether it’s the starters or the bench,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
“I missed some shots, and didn’t get a rhythm, but the way they defended I’ll be able to find some adjustments for Game 2,” Curry said.
This felt like a game the Cavaliers needed to win.
“I just thought in the second half we came back in that third quarter, really got physical, really got aggressive, and we were able to take a three-point lead,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “Like you said, their bench came in and did a great job. We took LeBron out towards the end of that third quarter, and a couple minutes in the fourth quarter, and the game kind of got away from us.”
With the Warriors’ best shooters cold, the Cavs were able to erase an eight-point halftime deficit, and take a lead couple times in the second half of the third quarter. They were attacking the paint (all night), getting to the free throw line, and getting offensive rebounds. This looked like a game Cleveland could win with that formula.
Then the Warriors bench came in.
Starting with a 15-0 run that went from late in the third through the middle of the fourth, the Warriors’ bench (with Green and Barnes) stretched the lead out to 20 at one point. They got stops, got buckets by moving the ball and moving off the ball, and generally played the way Golden State has through their last championship and 73-win season.
“We’ve talked about our depth for the last two years,” Kerr said. “We rely on a lot of people. We play a lot of people, and we feel like we have a lot of talent on the bench that can come in and score when we need it. So it’s a great sign, obviously, that we can win in The Finals without those two guys having big games, but it’s not really that surprising to us. This has been our team the last couple of years.”
The Warriors are not going to win a series with their best shooters unable to throw a pea in the ocean, but that’s not going to happen. The Cavs did everything they could to take the Warriors starting backcourt out of the game, but at some point those guys will get hot. Just ask Oklahoma City
Through three quarters the Splash Brothers had 14 points on 6-of-21 shooting, just 2-of-10 from three, and the Cavaliers were controlling the glass plus getting to the line more. Cleveland did a lot of things well, and still trailed 74-68.
“We missed 28 shots in the paint,” Lue said. “We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing. I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played. The outcome wasn’t great for us, the score, but to get to the basket missing 28 shots in the paint, that’s not us. So we’ll be better next game.”
The key reason the Cavaliers’ trailed most of the game was their defense struggled — they lacked the focus not to lose Warriors with their constant motion and crisp passing. Kevin Love got burned three times on Bogut back cuts, and Kyrie Irving lost track of his man off the ball numerous times. Also, as a team they did not help the helper enough — they made the first defensive rotation, but not the second. For most of the game the Warriors were shooting better than 50 percent (they finished at 49.4 percent), but even still the Warriors only hit 33.3 percent from three on the night.
In the first half Cleveland showed their game plan — switch nearly every pick, and show way out on Curry and Thompson, do not let those two get hot and beat them. It’s a good strategy — Curry and Thompson combined for just 10 first half points.
However, that strategy requires the Cavs to stop the Warriors ball movement and other players cutting to the rim and getting looks. They didn’t do that nearly as well, either in the first half or for the game. The result was balance — Harrison Barnes with nine first half points, Green and Bogut with eight each, and Leandro Barbosa with some highlight plays on his way to seven.
Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving was 3-of-12 in the first 24 minutes on his way to 13 points. For the game, Irving had 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting, while LeBron had 23 points on 21 shots, and Kevin Love had 17 points on 17 shots.
Propelled by their bench the Warriors led by as many as 14 in the second quarter, but they couldn’t put Cavaliers away. The Cavs grabbed the offensive rebound on a third of their missed shots in the first half, plus they got to the free throw line 11 times (compared to twice for the Warriors). That kept it relatively close, 52-43 at the half.
It got closer in the third. But inconsistent defense and the Warriors depth eventually changed everything.