It took one year for basketball fans around the world to finally see the rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. One year ago, the Cavs hobbled to the Finals versus this very same team sans Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Some pundits even said that the title was handed to the Warriors as LeBron James had to single-handedly carry the Cavs. There were questions surrounding the “legitimacy” of the Warriors’ title win but they have answered loudly with the Game 1 104-89 drubbing of the Cavaliers.
In this game, the Warriors showed their tremendous depth as their bench scored 45 points versus the Cavs’ 10. Shaun Livingston headlined the bench setting a postseason career-high of 20 points, leading all Warriors scorers. Aside from forcing turnovers in the last few minutes and making life difficult for LeBron, Andre Iguodala contributed a solid all-around game (12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists). Leandro Barbosa, meanwhile, added 11 points. Seven Warriors scored in double figures.
Where were the Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson)? They only scored 20 points combined on a miserable 8-for-27 shooting and still the Warriors won handily. Looks like the team’s “Strength in Numbers” marketing campaign is more than just a slogan. While Curry and Thompson were being harangued all night by the Cavs defenders even beyond the three-point line, Warriors Coach Steve Kerr called it right and started attacking the middle.
While the Cavs were well in the game until the late 3rd quarter when they lost steam even if they had more rest (5 days) going into the series while the Warriors just completed a historic comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a grueling seven-game series. The Cavs took the lead last in the 3rd (68-67) and once they rested their starters, the Warriors went on a 15-0 run in the 4rd and 4th quarters to seal the deal.
Another glaring stat was that the Cavs were silent from the three-point area shooting 7-21 from this range. The Cavs have been shooting great in their first three series in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs, and not the Warriors, are the ones making the most threes (14.4 per game) on 33 attempts in the postseason. They have upped their three-point percentage a whopping 7 percentage points to 43.4% in the playoffs versus a 36% clip in the regular season. The Cavs shooting failed miserably as they missed good looks.
LeBron and his court need to regroup right away and devise a way to stop the Warriors juggernaut. They need to steal one away from the Warriors home court if they are going to make a series out of this. It seems like stopping Curry and Thompson won’t be enough. Both Love and Irving had good games but LeBron shot only 9-21. He needs to step up his game on both ends to stem the tide.
This series has a lot of underlying motivators. LeBron is still chasing the franchise’s first ever title and redemption from the loss in his last trip to the Finals. A win for Curry, meanwhile, will cement his claim as the Most Valuable Player and end the Warriors’ historic 73-9 season holding the most prized trophy in basketball.
SIDELINES. The defending champion is just 6-7 in NBA Finals rematches. Curry is also trying to become just the fourth player in NBA history to win MVPs and championships in the same season in two consecutive years. Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James have accomplished this feat.