Of the 30 NBA teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the best two. This isn’t something up for debate — their pedigrees, their players, and their nearly immaculate playoff runs make it clear that these two teams facing each other in the finals are the very, very best that this sport can offer us.
And in Game 1, the Warriors demolished them so thoroughly in a 113-91 win on Thursday that you wonder how the Cavaliers — or anyone else — could ever beat them.
Let’s slow down before we get too far ahead of ourselves: last year, the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 48 points before losing in Game 7. A blowout in a game isn’t four wins in a series. If anyone learned that humiliating lesson last year, it’s Golden State.
But what Game 1 was, however, was an overwhelming show of force from the league’s best team. When the Cavaliers hugged the three-point shooters in transition, Kevin Durant twice coasted for wide-open, layup-line-looking dunks. When Cleveland shifted over to stop him, the ball immediately found its way to Stephen Curry, open on the perimeter.
A Durant dunk or a Curry three, huh? Hell of a choice. As Draymond Green said in his postgame press conference, “Their focus was definitely to take away the 3 point line. Obviously, if you're gonna give us a dunk in transition, we're gonna take the dunk.”
It featured Draymond Green having the most dominant 3-of-12 shooting game you’ve ever seen, stopping LeBron James and anyone else who dared try him defensively. Golden State didn’t even need Klay Thompson, who played well but missed shots (3-of-16). It just didn’t matter. Stephen Curry dropped 28 points; Kevin Durant added 38 with eight rebounds and eight assists without a turnover.
The Warriors, given Thompson’s bad shooting, weren’t perfect. As a team, though, this is damn near as good as they can get. If they play like this three more times, the series is over. Cleveland, undoubtedly the second-best team in the league, can’t touch them. It’s the best regular season team in league history that lost in 2016 only due to a historic collapse, who then added a top-three player to the mix. It’s a team exactly as good as you would expect them to be.
It wore out Cleveland, who wasn’t bad on Thursday, though not damn near good enough. That can change — a better Cavaliers and a worse Warriors team changes everything. Remember, again, how the 2016 Finals played out and how two Warriors blowouts still ended in a Cleveland win. But these Game 1 Warriors aren’t beatable, and something has to change as the series goes forward. Often, it does, but in this instance it has to.
Once in the first half, despite seven days off coming into Thursday, the camera lingered on James after something went against the Cavaliers. He actually looked tired, which is the furthest thing you’d expect from someone we basically view as a superhuman basketball playing machine at this point. He actually looked exhausted.
It probably wasn’t physical exhaustion, no more than he usually faces. James was just tired, because for the third straight year, he remembered how impossible it is to play against this team. When the Warriors are playing their best, you can do the same and still lose. When they’re good, you still can’t make mistakes to win. When they’re bad, you still might lose, just because they have several players who can hit half a dozen threes in just three minutes if everything goes right.
The Warriors are overwhelming, and James is remembering it again.
Of course he’s already tired by the thought.