OAKLAND, United States: Golden State’s Kevin Durant scored 38 points and sparked a smothering defense that powered the unbeaten Warriors over defending champion Cleveland 113-91 in Thursday’s (Friday in Manila) opening game of the NBA Finals.
The Warriors juggernaut matched the longest playoff win streak in NBA history at 13-0 and seized a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series with game two Sunday at Oakland.
Durant, seeking his first NBA crown after leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State last July, hit 14-of-26 from the floor and added eight rebounds and eight assists, his early domination including six first-half dunks, more than in any prior full playoff game.
“If I see a lane, I just try to attack,” said Durant. “Just tried to be aggressive to the rim and loosen them up a bit. But it all starts from getting stops. We worry about defense first and offensively we can move the ball around, drive and kick and try to find shots. I was more focused on defense.”
Durant’s defensive work helped frustrate Cleveland star LeBron James, who finished with 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting with 15 rebounds and eight assists in the first game of his seventh consecutive finals.
But James also made eight of 20 Cleveland turnovers that led to 21 Warriors points, seven of them coming in the first half, the second most in any half of his epic career.
“We were victims of ourselves,” James said. “There’s no way you’re going to win a game with 20 turnovers against this team and on the road. I pride myself on not turning the ball over and I did it too much.”
The Warriors matched an NBA Finals record low with only four turnovers and struck for 56 points in the paint. Golden State had 11 first-half dunks in all, the most of any team in any Finals half in 20 years, Durant leading the way.
“He was amazing and I expect nothing less in the rest of the games,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “He came out ready to go and it was huge for us.”
‘The best I ever seen’
Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who had 28 points and 10 assists, sparkled in the third quarter, his two 3-pointers capping a 13-0 run to start the second half that produced a 73-52 lead. The Cavaliers never seriously threatened again.
“We have playmakers all over the floor. Just see who is going to draw attention, find the open guy and knock down open shots. That’s the formula for us,” Curry said. “It’s going to get harder and harder as we go when the stakes rise, but you have to stay focused.”
Golden State, trying to become the first unbeaten playoff champion, matched the record 13-game post-season win streak set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988 and 1989 and matched by the Cavaliers this year.
“They’re the best I ever seen,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
The Cavaliers saw their nine-game playoff road win streak snapped. It was the second-best in NBA history after the Los Angeles Lakers took 12 in a row in 2001-02.
No time to be disappointed
Kyrie Irving added 24 points for Cleveland while Kevin Love had 15 points and 21 rebounds for the Cavs, who outrebounded the Warriors 59-50. Draymond Green led Golden State with 11 rebounds.
“There’s no time to be disappointed,” Irving said. “They capitalized on our mistakes, a lot of easy baskets we can’t allow going into game two.”
James had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the first half, the first time in his career he managed a playoff double-double before halftime.
Andre Iguodala’s 3-pointer to end the first quarter gave the Warriors a 35-30 lead and Golden State stretched it to 60-52 at half-time.
Curry’s surge to open the second half pulled the Warriors away to stay. After another 3-pointer later in the third, Curry turned from the basket and kicked his feet into the air, celebrating his ability to seemingly score at will against the struggling Cavaliers.
Late in the fourth quarter, a steal from James by Ian Clark set up a no-look pass from Curry to Durant, who sank a 3-pointer and shook his head in awe of his hot hand.
Durant joined Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Barry in scoring 25 or more points in his first six NBA Finals games, the prior five with Oklahoma City in a 2012 loss to the James-led Miami Heat.
The Warriors beat Cleveland for the 2015 crown but squandered a 3-1 lead last year as the Cavs made the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history.