Strength in Numbers may be more marketing ploy than motto, but the Warriors lived by it in their Game 1 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals Thursday night.
Golden State beat Cleveland 104-89, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combining for only 20 points, while bench players Shaun Livingston (20), Andre Iguodala (12) and Leandro Barbosa (11) all scored in double figures.
“You don’t win championships without the entire squad coming in and making an impact on games. And the way, obviously, Shaun came in, was so composed, got to his spot, had that confidence to knock them down. Andre the same way. L.B. That’s why we’re here, everybody having an impact on our team in the game.”
Livingston said that adjustments made a big difference for him in Game 1:
“I think I took the same shots last series but it’s just staying confident in my shot, understanding my game, where the shots are going to come from and trusting it.”
The Warriors win felt wire-to-wire, though the Cavaliers took a lead early in the first quarter, and the two sides exchanged punches during a third quarter where the Dubs looked complacent and Cleveland briefly climbed to the slimmest of leads.
Golden State bulged the gap to 20 with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, erasing any hope for the Cavaliers.
A dominant stretch began with a Harrison Barnes dunk, continuing with consecutive trips to the free throw line for Livingston and Draymond Green. Iguodala went up for a two-handed jam one possession later, and the run was capped with two more Livingston free throws.
Head coach Steve Kerr said:
“Well, I think, first of all, he just played a great game, but I thought he looked for openings. He was very aggressive. And, you know, this was a strange game for us. We’re not used to having both Steph and Klay off like that with their shooting. But the one thing we’ve talked about all year is if we defend and take care of the ball, then we’re always going to have somebody score enough points for us, whether it’s the starters or the bench.”
The Warriors were an efficient group Thursday, shooting 52 percent from the floor, well better than Cleveland’s 37 percent, the main reason Golden State won by such a large margin even with Lebron James playing 40 minutes and nearly recording a triple-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
After dropping two straight NBA Finals Game 1’s to Golden State, James told SFBay he didn’t see much difference between this year’s and last year’s Warriors team:
“I mean, they got to the point where they were last year and won a championship because of their whole team and their bench. And they’re here once again in The Finals because of their whole team. So nothing has really changed. They’re a team that’s had another year under their belt, and they’ve exceeded what they did last year.”
The Cavaliers beat the Dubs in two categories that have been critical during this postseason, rebounds and free throws, but the Warriors also took care of the ball with only seven turnovers compared to Cleveland’s 14.
Late in the third quarter, Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova tried for a unique kind of ball control, when he punched Iguodala in the testicles, which was called a common foul after being reviewed as a hostile act.
Iguodala naturally objected to the play, and fired up in Dellavedova’s face, shouting, before being pulled apart by referees and teammates.
Iguodala scored 12 points with seven boards and eight assists, while his bench-mate Livingston scored 20 to go with four rebounds and three assists. Livingston also made a noticeable impact on defense, earning the praise of Cleveland’s head coach Tyronn Lue:
“Just his length, being 6-foot-7, and no matter who you try to put in front of him, he’s always going to be bigger at the point guard position. So we try to keep a bigger defender on him. But he got to the spots, to the free-throw line, 12 feet in on the baseline and got to his shot, and he hurt us with that tonight. So we’ve got to continue to keep length on him and try to make it harder and be more physical with him.”
Green scored 16 points and grabbed 11 boards, while Curry scored 11 points to go with six assists and Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, 11 of which came from the free throw line.
The Warriors have a few days off before facing off with Cleveland again Sunday evening.