OAKLAND — LeBron James had a career NBA Finals high of 44 points, posting up and overpowering every defender the Warriors threw at him (although Andre Iguodala did a solid job). Kyrie Irving, coming off eight days rest for his sore knee, was moving well and making plays. The Warriors started off ice cold shooting in the first quarter, opening the game 4-of-18 (1-of-5 from three).
In the end, the Cavaliers had a situation they will take every time — the ball in LeBron’s hands with a chance to win the game.
And still the Cavaliers lost.
Now — especially considering Irving’s knee injury — it feels like the Cavs best chance to earn a split of the first two games in Oracle Arena went skipping off the rim, like Iman Shumpert’s shot at the regulation buzzer.
“Realistically, we put ourselves in position to win that game the way we played it,” Cavs coach David Blatt said.
“It’s our game plan, and our game plan worked,” LeBron said. “ We put ourselves in a position to win, we just didn’t come through.”
LeBron, Blatt and the rest of the Cavaliers went into these NBA Finals knowing they were about to face their toughest test by far — their margin for error was nonexistent. They couldn’t miss out on opportunities.
That’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t for lack of effort, in fact Blatt said fatigue from that effort may have played a factor in Cleveland scoring just two points in overtime. Cleveland doesn’t have the depth of Golden State.
To open the game Cleveland was the more mature, focused team — they were the team that had guys that had been there before. The combination of rust and the bigger stage seemed to overwhelm the Warriors. Meanwhile LeBron and Irving were making shots, and when they missed Tristan Thompson seemed to get his hands on the rebound.
“We did start extremely well,” Blatt said. “We were prepared, and we had a game plan that we followed well early. But the NBA game is a long game. A 48-minute game is a long game, lot of stops, lot of changes in momentum. You know, a tough away game.
“Teams are going to make their runs. They did. We ran back. They did, we ran back. But still we were in a position to win that game in a very tough and hard fought game by both sides.”
What should worry the Cavaliers — outside of Irving’s potential knee injury — is that the Warriors can play a lot better. The combination of Cleveland’s athletic defense and some nerves/rust had the Warriors not looking like the Warriors early. As the game wore on the Warriors started to find and exploit the holes in the Cavs defense. That will only get worse with time to watch the film, plus a comfort level with the stage.
The same is true of the Cavaliers.
“We had a lot of miscues tonight. I think they would say the same,” LeBron said. “We had a lot of breakdowns, a couple of transition threes they made that we kind of pinpointed on saying we don’t want to give those up. But at the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance, man. I missed a tough one. But we had so many opportunities to win this game, and we didn’t. It’s up to us now to look at the film, watch and make some adjustments, what you need to do and be ready for Sunday.”
Adjustments as the series has gone on has been the purview of the Warriors this postseason — by the third or fourth game of every series they had figured out what they wanted to do, and the opponents couldn’t counter.
The Warriors are going to get better as this series goes on.
The Cavaliers may have just missed their best chance to steal a game. It certainly feels that way.