OAKLAND — Game 1 this year was a blowout Golden State win Yes, that is what we saw a year ago (and Cleveland came back to win that series), but the Game 1 Cleveland loss picked at some of the big questions about them coming into the playoffs, and it should be cause for concern in Ohio.
Here are the three big takeaways from Game 1.
1) Cleveland’s defense has to be a lot sharper, they can’t just outscore the Warriors. Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue has said it before this postseason — Cleveland’s offense would be a key part of their defense. Meaning opponents can’t get easy buckets if they are taking the ball out of the basket, and the Cleveland offense will put pressure on other offenses to keep up and force them into mistakes or poor shots.
None of that applied to the Warriors — Cleveland’s defense will have to be its best defense now. And it certainly wasn’t in Game 1.
Led by Kevin Durant, the Warriors attacked the rim — they had 34 shots at the rim in the first half alone (which is more than most teams average in a game). Golden State is talented, but their attacks exposed the Cleveland defense that finished 22nd in the NBA during the regular season — the Warriors forced matchups with poor individual defenders, and the Cavaliers help defense was nonexistent. Golden State ran simple pin-down actions all game that forced Kevin Love into a switch on Durant or Curry, and then Love was torched. (Curry seemed out to erase the memory of the end of Game 7 a year ago and went right at Love). The same is all true of Tristan Thompson, a better defender but not someone who can guard Curry in space.
The Warriors were getting buckets by simply attacking in transition when they could, blowing by their man on closeouts, and making backdoor cuts. Or, Curry just had the space to pull up.
Cleveland’s defense needs to be much better if they are going to start winning games in this series. For example, Cavaliers had zero steals in this game — zero — and they pressured the Warriors into just four turnovers.
“We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really needs to be said,” LeBron James said. “We know we’re capable of playing a lot better. We didn’t play as well as we know we’re capable of.”
The Cavaliers did a much better job of taking away the rim in the second half, but that’s when the Warriors had more space and started hitting their threes. Cleveland has to find a better balance.
Lue is right that part of it is offensive: The Cavaliers have to do a better job slowing the game down and keeping the Warriors out of transition, which brings us to…
2) The Cavaliers have to take much better care of the ball. Cleveland had 20 turnovers in the game (and the Warriors had 21 points off them). As a team, they turned the ball over 19.6 percent of their possessions — one in five trips down the court.
LeBron was the biggest culprit, he had eight turnovers and coughed it up on 19.4 percent of the possessions he used.
This isn’t rocket science — turn the ball over and the Warriors are off to the races in transition. Golden State had 27 fast break points. Also part of the problem was Cleveland did a poor job getting back on defense all game.
But it starts with turnovers.
3) Kevin Durant may indeed be the difference in this series. It was obvious the to say this coming into this series: These teams went seven games and down to the final minute a year ago, adding Durant changes the balance of power.
Well, chalk up one for the obvious.
Durant had 38 points on 53.8 percent shooting and hitting 3-of-6 from three, added eight rebounds and eight assists, plus zero turnovers. And that was just the offensive end — for large swaths of the game he guarded LeBron James and did a solid job.
What mattered is how Durant got those buckets — he attacked the rim. Half of his 26 shots came in the restricted area, he was throwing it down — six dunks in the first half alone. This is what the Warriors missed a year ago, when the Cavaliers pressured them at the arc late in the Finals the Warriors kept jacking up tough shots — pressure Durant and he blows past his man for the dunk.
When asked what the difference was in Game 1 LeBron said Durant.
“I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the post-season, and then in the off-season you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” LeBron said.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers must make things much more difficult for KD in the rest of this series. Which is true, but they already had LeBron on him for much of the game. If they dedicate more resources to stopping Durant other things will open up for Golden State.