OAKLAND — Game 1 of the NBA Finals was a punch to the gut for the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Or, pick another body part if you prefer.)
They got a historically amazing game out of LeBron James, who had 51 points, plus eight each of rebounds and assists. They executed a smart game plan where they slowed the pace down, crashed hard on the offensive glass, moved the ball on the offensive end, and isolated Kevon Looney and Stephen Curry, the two weakest defenders of the Warriors regular rotation. They did just about everything right.
And they still lost. In dramatic fashion.
Can the Cavaliers bounce back from that kind of brutal loss? Or are they going to go Toronto Raptors after their Game 1 loss to Cleveland a month ago?
“We’re not broken…” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “The guys’ confidence is not shaken. We have the blueprint, now we have to execute it at a high level.”
Lue was not alone in his confidence.
“If you look at Game 1, we can win this series if we play the right way,” said the Cavaliers’ point guard George Hill. “I think everyone in this locker room feels we gave one away… but we can win this series…
“I think you guys have us more demoralized than we have ourselves.”
That doesn’t mean Thursday’s loss sat well with the Cavs. Hill said he was up all night thinking about his missed free throw with 4.7 seconds left.
On that final possession, J.R. Smith‘s head-scratching decision has been America’s talking point, but Lue expects Smith to bounce back.
“JR can shake off anything,” Lue said, noting that he did grab a key offensive rebound and that got overlooked (if the Warriors got that rebound they would have had a shot to win in regulation.)
Even the Warriors don’t expect a flat Cavaliers team.
“I don’t expect them to be deflated by Sunday,” Klay Thompson said. “We know their goal was to come to Oracle and get one.”
That can still happen. However, coach Steve Kerr thinks the Warriors can do better. For one, they can force LeBron into some less efficient shots.
Then there are the offensive rebounds — Cleveland had 19, grabbing the offensive rebound on 35.7 percent of their missed shots. The Cavaliers had 21 second-chance points.
“That’s a glaring weakness in the film, our lack of aggression on the boards,” Kerr said. “That’s something we have to clean up.”
Expect the Warriors to be sharper in Game 2.
Cleveland? We’re going to learn a lot about how mentally tough this team is come Sunday night when they try to take one step forward from what happened Thursday.