OAKLAND — Cleveland hadn’t seen a defense with this kind of length and aggressiveness all playoffs. It showed.
More importantly, they hadn’t seen a player like Kevin Durant all playoffs. They had no answer.
“Steve (Kerr) suggested we get the ball in his hands early on so he could be aggressive…” Warriors coach Mike Brown said. “KD didn’t settle.”
Durant had 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting, hitting 3-of-6 from three and having some monster dunks, plus he had eight each of assists and rebounds. Then on the other end, he guarded LeBron James for long stretches and held his own there. Stephen Curry pitched in 28 points and 10 assists, and with that you end up with a rout — the Warriors won 113-90 to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals.
Game 2 is Sunday night at Oracle. That gives Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers a couple days to come up with answers.
The Warriors moved the ball — 31 assists and just four turnovers for the game — and with that got the shots they wanted. Cleveland hung around for the first 24 minutes only because the Warriors missed a lot of shots they normally make.
How complete was the Golden State domination? Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson had just four total rebounds, one on the offensive glass. The Warriors held their own on the boards, an area Cleveland has to dominate to win.
Golden State’s offense will draw the headlines, but it was their defense that seemed to overwhelm the Cavaliers. Cleveland got the isolations they wanted at times, only to find a Warriors defense that was up to the task and hung with them. Golden State also did a great job of having Durant, or Draymond Green, or Zaza Pachulia, stay near the rim and help on the drives of LeBron and Kyrie Irving.
LeBron finished with 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting, while Kyrie Irving had 22 points on 24 shots. Between them the Cavs two primary ball handlers had 12 turnovers, and as a team the Cavaliers had 20. That let the Warriors get out and run, where they are comfortable.
“We talked about it before we come into this series, like our best defense is going to be our offense, of taking care of the basketball, not a lot of turnovers,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And tonight we had 20, and that’s way too many against this team.”The game started less with rust and more with both teams looking like they felt the pressure of the moment — there were bad passes, hesitations, and it looked like a Saturday morning rec league game for a few minutes.
The game started less with rust and more with both teams looking like they felt the pressure of the moment — there were bad passes, hesitations, and it looked like a Saturday morning rec league game for a few minutes.
However, a clear pattern emerged. The Cavaliers were selling out to take away threes and the Warriors — unlike the last couple games of last year’s Finals — were willing to take advantage of that and drive to the rim, or use back cuts to get looks. After the game, Lue said “our game plan was kind of backwards” with the focus on the three allowing Durant to get open. Also, LeBron struggled to defend Durant.
On the other end, it was LeBron who kept the Cavaliers in it with 13 first-quarter points on 3-of-5 shooting — he was the best player on the floor early, and he embarrassed JaVale McGee.
At the end of one, it was 35-30 Golden State, with the game at a pace that better suited the Warriors’ style.
While LeBron kept scoring, it was Durant that was the difference — he was getting to the rim for dunks and attacking in ways the Cavaliers could not stop. And that was with LeBron on him much of the time.
Golden State was up 60-52 at the half, and that was despite shooting 19-of-34 at the rim in the first half and being 3-of-13 from three. It felt like they could break the game open with some good looks. They did.
The Warriors started the second half on 13-0 run, complete with a ridiculous Zaza Pachulia three-point play, and the Warriors started to break the game open getting up by 20. The Cavs cut that to 12 when they took advantage of Pachulia’s defense vs. a small lineup, but the Warriors were 6-of-10 from three in the third, were getting stops at the rim (Cavs 5-of-14 in the restricted area in the third), and the Warriors led 93-72 after three. It felt over.
Turns out it basically was. The Warriors pushed the lead and ran away with the game.