OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors took another bold step Thursday night in their quest to notch the first “fo’, fo’, fo’, fo’” in NBA postseason history, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-91 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
A Warriors team that’s nearly perfect on paper was masterful in practice, led by Kevin Durant's 38 points. He became just the fourth NBA player to score at least 25 points in his first six NBA Finals games. Durant attacked the rim relentlessly all night for Golden State, which entered the series 12-0 this postseason after posting four-game sweeps in each of the previous three rounds. He capitalized on every awkward closeout and missed defensive assignment by Cleveland and tore through the open floor on the break with impunity. He threw down six dunks and racked up 23 points alone before halftime.
Asked what stood out about the Warriors in Game 1, LeBron James answered concisely, “KD.”
But Durant’s individual exploits were anything but hero-ball. Though he was opportunistic when presented with a mouthwatering advantage -- e.g. Kyrie Irving on the switch -- he moved the ball generously, tallying six assists in the first half and finished the game with eight; he also pulled down eight rebounds. And for what it’s worth, Durant matched up with James on the other end when the Warriors’ starting unit was on the court.
“To have a game like that when he's playing that way, it's tough to beat,” Draymond Green said. “Thirty-eight, eight, eight, zero turnovers? I mean that's -- we're real tough to beat when he's doing that. ... We're going to seek him out, get him the ball, and guys got to defend him. He was amazing tonight, and I expect nothing less in the rest of the games.”
Wearing an unassuming black hoodie at the podium alongside Stephen Curry, Durant deflected all individual praise.
“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.”
Guarding the perimeter was clearly a point of emphasis for Cleveland. The Warriors’ first successful 3-pointer came 10 minutes into the first quarter when Curry, in a bold act of whimsy during a game that was a bit ragged from the start, pulled up from 31 feet and fired away. He followed up that launch on the next two possessions with another 3, then an acrobatic foray into the paint for a twisting layup. Golden State capped a 35-point first quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Andre Iguodala, a promising sight from the team’s glue guy who has been battling a knee injury over the course of the postseason.
Leading by eight at intermission, the Warriors wrested control of the game in the opening moments of the third quarter with a scorching 13-0 run. Over a four-minute stretch, Golden State unleashed its full Warrior-osity -- a barrage of 3-pointers, pinpoint passes and suffocating defense orchestrated with sure-footed choreography.
“No matter how many days that you have to prepare, you can't simulate what they have,” James said.
In what’s clearly a talking point for Cleveland, Irving delivered the same analysis postgame almost word for word: that there’s nothing a team can do, even one as talented as the Cavaliers, to approximate what the Warriors execute for 48 minutes.
The Cavs, much as they did in last season's Finals, targeted Curry in the half court, spinning him into a series of hard screens. But Curry navigated them with aplomb, showing, recovering and getting timely assistance from his teammates, who did a stellar job cutting off Cleveland penetrators at the point of attack.
“When [Curry] takes it personal like that and he accepts the challenge, we're a damn good defensive team,” Green said. “He was up the floor on his shows as opposed to getting strung out, and guys were locked in behind the play. So if there was a miscommunication on one show or two, there were guys that were helping. We were all locked in on the screen together.”
Though he struggled again from the floor -- 3-for-16, including 0-for-5 from distance -- Thompson continued to assert himself as the Warriors’ sturdiest wing defender this postseason, a development that would have seemed inconceivable during his first couple of seasons in the league. Thompson entered the NBA Finals holding his matchups to 34 percent from the field (tops among postseason defenders), contesting 80 percent of attempts (ranking second). On Thursday night, he used his size to get into Irving’s space and handled the Warriors’ switch-heavy scheme well. The Cavaliers went 1-of-12 from the field when Thompson was the primary defender, with 11 of those attempts by Cleveland’s Big Three.
“Give Klay Thompson a ton of credit because he's out there fighting over screens, getting hit, trying to contest, trying to rebound, trying to do it all for us defensively,” acting Warriors head coach Mike Brown said.
For all the boffo production from their big scorers, the Warriors put up an unexceptional true shooting percentage of 50: They very much won Game 1 on the margins. Though the Warriors can occasionally get too cute with the ball, they dominated the Cavaliers in the turnover column, coughing up only four possessions against Cleveland’s 20. They punished the Cavs on the offensive boards early, collecting more rebounds on their own glass than Cleveland in the first quarter.
In the end, the Warriors answered every potential question. Durant, a ball-dominant player who had to make considerable adjustments to his game in the Warriors’ more egalitarian system, performed with perfect balance in Game 1. Green summoned his best self as the team’s defensive stalwart and offensive fulcrum, and did it with a cool head. And a team that hasn’t lost at full strength since March 10 -- 83 days ago, when they fell at Minnesota on the game’s final possession -- didn’t show any ill effects of not having been tested in weeks.
The Warriors also reaffirmed what has been evident for a while: Though they’re competing against Cleveland for the third consecutive June, with the addition of Kevin Durant, this series simply isn’t a rematch.