By Joey Zocco
After more than a week since the end of the conference finals, Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals had a Super Bowl-type build up, creating anticipation fatigue for the people anxious to see basketball get back underway.
Game 1 went the same way it has each of the past five years prior: not in LeBron James’ favor. The Golden State Warriors pulled away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opener, 113-90, in what is the two teams’ third-straight year facing off in the Finals.
The biggest difference from last year’s Finals to this year’s, Golden State’s addition of Kevin Durant, sparked the Warriors on both ends of the floor. Durant not only poured in a game-high 38 points and stuffed the stat sheet with eight rebounds and eight assists, he guarded James on the other end and at times anchored the Warriors defense. This was Durant’s fourth 30-point performance in the Finals.
Draymond Green oop with Kevin Durant. pic.twitter.com/JBddri7k8L
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) June 2, 2017
Teammate Stephen Curry added 28 points and ten assists, making Durant and Curry the only two Warriors to reach double figures. James lead the way for the Cavaliers, scoring 28 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing eight assists. This was James’ 24th career double-double in the Finals.
Golden State came out of the intermission with only an eight-point lead, after committing only one turnover in the first half to Cleveland’s double-digit errors. The Warriors attempted 18 more shots than the Cavs in the first half, proving how important second chance scoring was and will be throughout the series.
“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said. “We felt like we played pretty good basketball and we missed a lot of layups. “The second half, I thought Draymond (Green) set the tone. I think maybe the first or second possession, they tried to post Steph (Curry) with JR Smith. Steph did a nice job fighting him, and Draymond (Green) came over. There was a loose ball, and Draymond was first one to the floor, came up with it, we were off the races and knocked down a three.”
Cleveland’s inability to score early in the third allowed Golden State to start the second half on a huge run, scoring the first 13 points of the third quarter. Cleveland went over four minutes without a point to begin the second half, unable to convert on any of their first seven offensive possessions. James scored his team’s first bucket after halftime, and looked up to see the lead had ballooned to 73-55.
The Cavs were able to put some stops together and weather the storm, cutting the Warrior lead from 21 to 12 at one point in the third. Golden State’s response came in the form of Durant doing it on both ends: contesting a LeBron drive and forcing a miss that resulted in a Curry three-pointer followed by multiple Rockette-esque leg kicks in celebration.
Steph Curry high stepping on the Cavs pic.twitter.com/yvkOQ1PNWz
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 2, 2017
It was not only Durant who contributed on the defensive end, as many of the Warriors had active hands knocking the ball away when Cleveland did get into the paint. It was all about the Warriors getting to the rim on offense, outscoring the Cavs by 26 points in the paint.
“We feel like our opponents have to pick their poison: crowd the paint and take away our layups, or you going to guard the three,” Brown said. “You saw Kevin (Durant) got three uncontested dunks because we had Steph (Curry) in one corner and Klay (Thompson) in the other. It’s just the pleasure of having guys who can knock down that three ball and that are threats out there.”
The story of the game, and probable key to the entire series, is who can win the battle of converting second chance points while also taking care of the ball. In Game 1, the Cavaliers did neither.
Tristan Thompson was also non-existent Thursday night (zero points, four rebounds) after being a very large reason why Cleveland was able to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in last year’s Finals. Thompson’s hustle plays, offensive rebounds and interior presence will need to return immediately if the Cavs are going to have any chance to make this a long series.
Golden State only committed four turnovers all game, tied for the fewest in Finals history, while the Cavaliers committed 20 turnovers. That 16 turnover gap is the widest in the last 30 NBA Finals. That obviously cannot be expected to continue, but is not a good sign moving forward.
“One thing that we talked about coming into this series, one of the keys was to take care of the ball,” the Warriors’ Draymond Green said. “When we got leads (in Game 1), we took care of the basketball. We continued to keep our foot on the gas. If we continue to defend the way we did, and if we can keep the turnovers down, we will always have a chance to win.”
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