LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rest of the NBA world quickly learned how much of a difference Kevin Durant makes in this rivalry.
After a season’s worth of speculation as to how much the addition of Durant would tilt the balance of power in the Golden State’s favour, the Cavaliers’ worst fears and the Warriors’ wildest dreams were
realised within the first 48 minutes of the NBA Finals.
Durant did more than just provide a boost – he was the best player on the floor in the Warriors’ 113-91 Game 1 victory, outplaying LeBron James on both ends as a fully weaponised Golden State squad continued their domination at Oracle Arena on Thursday.
James, who was at the centre of the previous two Finals between the teams that resulted in 13 games played out of a possible 14, was succinct when asked what stood out in the trilogy’s third opener.
“KD,” replied James.
Durant shined on paper – a game-high 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting, including 3-of-6 from long range, to go with eight rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers.
But he was somehow even better than the stats suggest. He found an ideal balance between playing unselfishly within the flow of the offence and looking for his shot, while making simple passes to open teammates and aggressively attacking in the open court.
Durant’s defence was just as impressive, with his length and athleticism bothering James in one-on-one settings and other Cavaliers players when they attacked the rim.
Of course, as deadly as Durant is in a vacuum, his other-worldly talent has been streamlined by the players around him, such as Stephen Curry, whose gravitational pull draws defenders out of his path, and Draymond Green, who can trigger fast breaks instantaneously.
“I’m only as good as my teammates,” Durant said. “Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Draymond and Zaza [Pachulia] and the rest of the guys, we just complement each other, try to complement each other and try to make the game easier for each other. And I only can get in transition because we got stops and rebounding.”
Solving the Durant issue may be at the top of the list for Cleveland going forward, but it’s one of many for the defending champions as they face a seemingly impossible task. “They’re the best I ever seen,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.
“I mean, no other team has done this, right? So 13-0, and they constantly break records every year, last year being 73-9, this year starting the playoffs 13-0. So, they’re playing good basketball. But we can play better.”
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM GAME 1
Cavaliers tried to match the pace
Cleveland is in somewhat of a pickle when it comes to deciding how fast to play in this series. Their attack is at its best when running the ball down their opponents’ throats, but the same is true for Golden State. But it’s more likely the Cavaliers can be competitive by grinding out games instead of turning them into shootouts, as evidenced by the 0.89 points they held the Warriors to in the half-court in Game 1. Cleveland may be better off slowing it down.
Cavaliers have no room for error
It’s hard enough to beat these Warriors as it is, but if you don’t take care of business with the things you can control, you have no chance. Cleveland learned that the hard way in the opener, in which they turned the ball over 20 times, compared to Golden State’s four, leading to a 21-6 deficit in points off turnovers. In many ways, the Cavaliers’ best defence in this series will be a sound, secure offence if they hope to limit the Warriors’ transition looks. Any second chance points allowed also spells death.
Warriors managed in pick-and-roll D
One of the most obvious areas where the Cavaliers can take advantage is when LeBron James receives an on-ball screen to get Stephen Curry in a switch, which worked time and time against last year. In Game 1, however, Golden State were able to hold their own on that play by doing their best to go under the pick and then shifting their backline to help on LeBron’s straight-line drives. That strategy was a big factor in James turning the ball over eight times and having fewer pathways to the rim.
Thompson’s defence still strong
It’s unrealistic to expect the Warriors to make every shot, but it was an anomaly that Klay Thompson made just 3-of-16 from the field. And yet, it didn’t matter because the shooting guard more than made up for it on the defensive end, where he continues to be perpetually underrated. When Thompson was the primary defender, Cavaliers players shot just 1-of-12, with 11 of those coming from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. His size was particularly bothersome for Irving and Love.
Curry looks like a magician again
A lot has been made of Stephen Curry looking fully healthy this time around, as opposed to last year’s Finals when he appeared just… off. Whatever the case may be, he’s making defenders look foolish again, while not hesitating or seeming unsure of himself when drawing a mismatch. Tristian Thompson and Kevin Love both had moments of brilliance defending Curry last year, but that seems like a thing of the past now, with the two-time MVP back to his best.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t let this distract you from the fact the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.
That’s what the Warriors have been relentlessly hearing for the past year after being turned into a punchline by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
From being a win away from completing a historic campaign in which they set the record for most wins in a regular season, to being crying Jordan face’d into oblivion, the Warriors suffered the ultimate fall from grace. They were the belle of the ball, the rare dominant team that was liked and not loathed.
And then LeBron snatched all that admiration and respectability, though much of it was self-induced as the Warriors saw their confidence suddenly viewed as arrogance and their loose, fun-loving play deemed reckless.
Now, they’re the NBA’s biggest villains, not only battering opposing teams on a nightly basis, but the concept of parity in a league that has ultimately become repetitive the past three years.
Kevin Durant’s decision to jump ship from Oklahoma City and join the bandwagon only stoked the flames and took their newfound ‘unlikeability’ to new levels. That’ll happen when you’re a 73-win team and add a former MVP, which is the equivalent of Bill Gates winning the lottery.
Golden State and their fans should have known hatred would follow, but they’ve struggled to reconcile embracing the villain role with the desire to still be liked. You can somewhat understand their unrealistic expectation that even as they embarrass teams, they should still be cheered, considering that’s exactly what was happening before their collapse against Cleveland.