So the Golden State Warriors (GSW) and Cleveland Cavaliers go at it again in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, just like last year. Many predicted this match-up anyway. Sure, we had our doubts when the Oklahoma Thunder pushed GSW to the brink of elimination after a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals. But somehow, most of us also suspected Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would eventually find ways to save their record-breaking campaign this season and plot their path to the finals. But even more predictable was the Cavs’ entry into the National Finals.
Now, we also know who the main guys are for both teams and what they can do. We know the match-ups and their styles of playing. This is why the team that comes up with the most surprises would have the edge in this Best-of-Seven series. Yes, unpredictability will be a huge key in winning the NBA championship.
Golden State proved this in Game 1. When you have the most prolific scoring tandem in the league today combining for only 20 points and its team still getting the W over another elite team, it just blows your mind. The Warriors took Game 1 after a commanding 104-89 rout of the Cavaliers at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Curry and Thompson could’ve both amassed 40 points. I mean, they both once scored 30-plus points in one quarter, right? But the Cavs had an excellent defensive strategy on the Splash Brothers, putting the clamps on Curry and Thompson that had them shooting a combined 8-of-27 from the field, and 4-of-13 from beyond the arc. Definitely a far cry from what these guys can do.
But it seemed the Warriors had predicted it was going to be tough for Steph and Klay so the second unit responded to the clarion call of “Strength in Numbers.” Shaun Livingston became the biggest thorn in Cleveland’s side as he played a great all-around game with 20 markers, four boards, three assists, one steal and an 80% shooting clip. He also did a decent defensive job on Kyrie Irving. Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa added 12 and 11 points respectively, giving GSW a big lift offensively when Curry could only make 11, and Thompson nine. Iguodala and Barbosa went a combined 3-of-5 from the three-point arc.
Draymond Green was his usual self as the team’s most valuable player after Curry and Thompson. GSW would not have been as successful without this guy. I mean check out his numbers in Game 1 – 16 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, one block, and 5-of-11 from the field. Harrison Barnes chipped in 13 markers. It was a total team effort for Golden State.
Steve Kerr borrowed a page or two from his former mentor Phil Jackson. Not much on the X’s and O’s but more on becoming the Zen master. He was cool even when his team was down 1-3 in the Western Finals. He still believed in his team and was able to push the right buttons. His brilliance and composure even under tremendous pressure are what make him a champion coach. Okay, he loses his cool once in a while like when he smashed his whiteboard in Game 1. But only to vent out frustration for a second before getting back to business.
As for the Cavs and rookie coach Tyronn Lue; they need to be unpredictable in Game 2 to even the series. Their Big Three of Lebron James (23 points), Irving (26 points) and Kevin Love (17 points) did as expected, accounting for over 74% of the team’s total output. Worse, their offense was so predictable with mostly one-on-one plays for James and Irving. They had a good run in the third period when they moved the ball better and the other Cavs got more involved. But they couldn’t sustain this. Tristan Thompson was the only other player with significant contribution of 10 points.
Having played against each other for many seasons, NBA teams need to always come up with fresh ideas and surprises to gain a crucial advantage in a series. We can expect both GSW and Cleveland to be unpredictable for the rest of the finals.