Subs come through for Warriors in Game 1 triumph Featured
There are still a week's worth of games, perhaps, to determine the better team in this championship series rematch. One game in, all we know is who has the better battle cry.
The Warriors might want to trademark Strength In Numbers after Thursday night, when they issued a beatdown of the Cavs without much from their usual mayhem makers. Steph Curry didn't hit double figures in scoring until just under three minutes remained in Game 1, and after he swished the 3-pointer, he flung his mouthpiece to the floor in disgust, sending two arena employees to their hands and knees searching for it under the scorer's table. Klay Thompsonmade only four baskets, matching his Splash Brother, and somewhere in Midwest America, there are Oklahoma citizens cursing their timing.
This came as a double body blow to the Cavs, for not only did they lose 104-89 to the subs, they must be on high alert for Game 2, anticipating a vicious Klay-Curry comeback.
Well, about that term "subs." In theory, that's what Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa are. But in the case of the Warriors, it should be stripped of any and all demeaning intent. That's because the Warriors are deeper than the shots Curry makes. Such was proven last summer, when Iguodala was the Finals MVP, and most emphatically in the 2016 Finals opener, when the bench took over for Thompson and Curry and took up the slack.
"We've talked about our depth for the last two years," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "We rely on a lot of people. We play a lot of people, and we feel like we have talent on the bench that can come in and score when we need it. So it's a great sign that we can win in the Finals without those two guys having big games, but it's really not surprising to us. This has been our team the last couple of years."
That's now six straight for the Warriors over the Cavs, counting three last summer, two during the regular season, and now this. It's a disturbing trend for Cleveland, especially given the changes made, all for the better. Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt as coach. Kevin Love didn't play in The Finals last year, andKyrie Irving was injured in the 2015 series opener, and both are healthy and anxious for this series. Along with LeBron James, all three had moments in Game 1, but did nothing that was sustaining or game-changing. And in the moment of truth, they were outplayed by the Golden State bench at the start of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors put the game away for good.
While there's no need for panic — Golden State took the opener last year, only to fall behind 2-1 — there are clearly issues the Cavs must address. Their bench was outscored 45-10 and too often the Cavs leaned on their three core players to make plays and try to keep pace with a defending champ that won 73 games. They were sloppy with the ball, spotting the Warriors 25 points on 17 turnovers. That manner of basketball will get the Cavs one game, if they're lucky, in this series. Remember, they caught a Game 1 break; Curry and Thompson (8-for-27 shooting, 20 points combined) were chillier than a summer night in San Francisco.
"We had some breakdowns," said LeBron. "We look forward to the challenge again."
Remember when the Cavs received encouraging signs from J.R. Smith andChanning Frye during their romp through the East? Well, Smith had one basket in 36 minutes and looked suspiciously like the same stage-frightened guard who couldn't get buckets last summer. Frye played seven minutes and could be a bad fit against the Warriors. And so those and other circumstances allowed Golden State to claim an unconventional early victory, helped generously by the second-teamers.
"When Steph and Klay struggle, those guys do so much for our team, and everybody's subject to an off night," said Draymond Green. "The one thing we speak on is the depth of our team, and that showed tonight. Everybody who stepped on the floor was big."
There was Livingston, scoring 20 points in 26 minutes, most by elevating and dropping that trademark high release shot. He's a weird fit with the Warriors, in that he's allergic to 3-pointers. Livingston has taken only 63 for his career — Curry attempts that over a few weeks — and showed why the mid-range game — "my bread and butter" — is a deadly lost art. Livingston can be a difficult matchup for opposing point guards, because he's 6-7 and brings length. Also, remember that Livingston, nine years after one of the most gruesome injuries in pro sports history, remains a feel-good story, given that doctors initially feared he'd lose the leg he shattered.
"Shaun Livingston played out of his mind," said Thompson. "I'm happy for him, and not surprised."
Barbosa dribbled and slashed through the Cavs for 11 points in 11 minutes. This certainly caught the Cavs by surprise, that a 33-year-old is nearly a match for Kyrie Irving with rim attack and change of speed.
And then, Iguodala. His MVP last year was mainly due to being inserted into the starting lineup and making LeBron, a one-man demolition then, exhausted. In the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City, Iguodala pulled similar defensive pranks on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with timely strips and steals, especially in the final two games of the Warriors' rally from 3-1 down. On Thursday, his defense disrupted LeBron and also Irving during two crucial fourth-quarter possessions, allowing Golden State to seize and maintain control. Iguodala had no turnovers and one foul.
"He has great timing, great hand-eye coordination, and obviously his wingspan works to his advantage," said Curry.
Iguodala didn't start the game, but was used like a starter by Kerr, playing 35 minutes. Expect him to see heavy minutes this series at the expense of centerAndrew Bogut, since the Cavs, unlike the Thunder, don't offer a low-post scoring threat and therefore Bogut's interior defense is less needed than Iguodala's flexibility and bounce. For now, Kerr will keep Harrison Barnes as the starter, but like last summer, that's subject to change.
"I didn't feel any need to change our lineup for Game 1 of the series," said Kerr. "Last series (against OKC) was very unique. We felt we needed to get Andre on the floor right away against Durant. This series we want to get a feel for how everything's going first."
What a strange way to open a hotly-anticipated series. Defense ruled, Curry and Thompson were whisper quiet, LeBron was good for five points in the fourth and the Warriors were forced to pull the rip cord and rely on their bench. There were moments in the game where you understood why Kerr grabbed a pen and smashed it through his whiteboard during a timeout.
"Destruction tends to ease some of the anger," said Kerr, who somehow has managed to destroy two whiteboards in a historically great season. "So I try to take it out on a clipboard instead of a player. It's better that way."
The Warriors won't run out of clipboards if this keeps up. Maybe the most dangerous sign for Cleveland wasn't the shattered white plastic near the Golden State bench, or Iguodala polishing up his Finals MVP at the expense of Cleveland again, or the lift from Livingston. Maybe it was this observation from Curry, who really hasn't had a smashing Finals performance in seven games now.
"I missed some shots and didn't get a rhythm," he said, "but the way they defended, we'll be able to find some adjustments for Game 2. I'm not worried about that."