The Golden State Warriors emerged victorious, 108-100, in an overtime thriller to take a 1-0 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The score was close throughout, but in the end, Stephen Curry came up huge in overtime to lead his team to victory. LeBron James led all scorers with 44 points, while Curry had 26 points and some huge free throws in what looks like an instant classic.
The rust from a long layoff was obvious with both teams missing easy shots and looking generally sloppy early on. As both offenses settled, thestarted to find cracks on Golden State's defense by having James isolate on the left mid-post and find cutters as soon as someone helped. Cleveland's offensive rebounding afforded extra possessions and the threes were falling. The , meanwhile, didn't look comfortable in the first quarter and trailed by 10 by the end of it.
As the benches checked in, Golden State's superior depth became apparent. The Cavaliers' offense went dry while the Warriors' did just enough to close the gap. Once the starters checked back in, the jitters from the start of the game were gone andIman Shumpert. A J.R. Smith three at the buzzer had Cleveland up three at the half.-- guarded closely in the first quarter -- found some gaps to exploit, leading to a 12-2 run. Unlike most teams, the Cavaliers were able to hold on thanks to ' 19-first half points and some timely corner three-pointers by
The third quarter saw the Cavaliers' starters once again look better than the Warriors', but the difference wasn't as pronounced as the it was to start the game. Golden State stopped helping on James and turned him into a scorer. LeBron binged on points, but the offense stalled a bit and that prevented the ball movement that leads to open three-pointers. The Warriors couldn't take advantage of that moment, but did win the quarter by three points to tie the game going into the final period.
Neither squad could create separation in the fourth quarter. Whenever James hit a shot, there was an answer on the other end. Nothing came easy for either team, and going into the final minutes, the score was so close that it was impossible to predict the winner.
With the game tied at 98 and less than a minute to go, Curry got past Kyrie Irving and it looked like he had a clear path to the rim. Irving recovered and surprisingly blocked it from behind.
The Cavaliers got the ball back with 24 seconds left. James missed a contested three-pointer and the game went to overtime.
The Warriors dominated from there, with Curry in particular coming up big. He got defenders biting on pump fakes and got himself to the line, where he calmly hit his four free throws. The defense --with an inspired Andre Iguodala leading the way -- didn't allow the Cavaliers any easy shots, and a corner three by Harrison Barnes with two minutes to go sealed the deal. The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers 10-2 in overtime and lead 1-0 in the NBA finals.
3 things we learned
1. Klay Thompson stepped up
Thompson took a huge leap this year, becoming an All-Star in the process. In the playoffs, however, he has struggled as the competition has gotten harder, averaging only 18 points in 17 shots in the conference finals. Without him providing secondary scoring, the Warriors' offense loses some of its potency.
Against the Cavaliers and with Curry struggling for stretches, Thompson broke out of his funk and finished the game with 21 points in 14 shots thanks to his ability to get to the line. When he's cooking, the Warriors are much more dangerous. If he can continue to do that, It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Golden State loses the series.
2. The Warriors turned LeBron into a scorer
Golden State sent some help early on to stop James and the Cavaliers were ready to exploit it, having Tristan Thompson or Timofey Mozgov immediately cut to the rim. Helping on such a talented passer can kill a defense, as the Atlanta Hawks found out in the conference finals.
Once they stopped doing that and stuck with single coverage, James had to become the offense for Cleveland. He did a fantastic job, finishing the game with 44 points, but he only had six assists after coming into the finals averaging 8.4 per game. The Cavaliers need James to get his teammates involved but he couldn't do it on Game 1 and that played a part on Cleveland losing.
3. Kyrie Irving's injury looms large in the series
One of the factors that could determine the series is Irving's health. The Cavaliers point guard has been battling knee tendinitis and had been a shell of his former self in the conference finals before sitting out a couple of games.
Irving looked healthy for most of Game 1. He was energetic on defense and quick enough to get past his man with the ball in his hands. He had 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, and made huge plays on both ends. Unfortunately, he seemed to re-injure his knee at the end of the game.
Rest seems to have done him good in the past. The two days off before the next game will hopefully allow him to nurse his knee back to health, because this matchup is a lot more fun if Irving plays like himself.