Three-hundred and forty-seven days. That’s how long the Golden State Warriors have waited for this.
For all the talk about putting last year behind them, you could tell there was more to it. And on top of that, the 10 days between the last game they played made the wait seem like an eternity.
But it was all worth it as the Warriors put a hurting on the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-91 to convincingly take Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
But the Warriors aren’t going to celebrate this win like it’s what they’ve been waiting for, because they’ve been on both sides of Finals emotion Stephen Curry said:
“We’re going to enjoy what we do on the floor and going to be passionate about it and have each other’s backs where we are out there. But every 48 minutes is a separate event, a separate mentality, and the goal obviously is to lock in on the moment.”
The Cavs seemingly came into the game with one goal in mind: limit Curry. The only problem is that by doing that they gave up every open look possible to the rest of the Warriors, including Kevin Durant.
Cleveland was so keyed in on limiting Curry, especially in transition, that they have let Durant waltz to the rim for any dunk or shot he wanted, which proved to be a problem.
Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown said it was a point of emphasis to get Durant going early:
“(Head coach) Steve (Kerr) suggested we try to get the ball in his hands right away and put him in position where he can attack downhill. So we tried to do that early on, and KD didn’t settle. When he had an opportunity, he went downhill, and it worked out well.”
Durant went for 23 in the first half alone, and on more than a handful of dunks. Including one after dropping LeBron James on a closeout.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 2, 2017
He would finish the game with 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and played tremendous defense on James, who was his primary defensive assignment.
Durant and the rest of the Warriors hounded James all game, and forced him into seven first half turnovers, which tied the most turnovers he’s ever had in an entire Finals game. He would finish with eight but his body language showed someone who was exhausted by the constant pressure.
The Warriors committed just four turnovers as a team, and that played a huge part in their victory Draymond Green said:
“We scored 21 points off their turnovers. They scored six off ours. When you turn the ball over against this team it’s almost impossible to guard. … So we know coming into this game that we got to really value the basketball.”
What’s worse for the Cavs is Durant should have had more points but him and the rest of the Warriors fell victim to the yips when it came to layups. As a team they missed 15 shots at the rim, most uncontested, in the first half, yet still took an eight point lead into halftime.
The other problem with the Cavs defensive strategy is they couldn’t even execute their Plan-A. Curry went off for 28 points with six 3-pointers and 10 assists and it seemed like the only time he didn’t have an open shot is on the fastbreak. But those would end on a Durant slam anyway.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 2, 2017
Plus, when Curry did have the ball in the halfcourt he would just do some disrespectful things.
Welcome to Shake Shack may I take your order? pic.twitter.com/0V7QZk2vUY
— Pettywise (@World_Wide_Wob) June 2, 2017
And the Warriors did all this while Klay Thompson and Green struggled offensively. They shot a combined 6-of-28 from the field and scored just 15 points. But they made up for it on the other end of the court as they harassed Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving all game. While Irving had his share of insane finishes, Love was a little less effective, shooting just 4-of-13 from the field.
Brown was quick to point out that while Thompson continues to struggle with his shot, his defense still makes him a key player:
“The number wasn’t good in terms of 3-for-16, but we have asked Klay to do a lot throughout the course of our Playoff run so far. He’s guarded some tremendous guards. And you’re not going to stop Kyrie, Kyrie’s going to score, that’s what he does. But Klay’s out there fighting over screen, getting hit, trying to contest, trying to rebound, trying to do it all for us defensively. That’s what we love about him.”
Zaza Pachulia caught heat from Oracle as he looked super timid early on, passing out of two open layups and smoking a third. It’s a shame his struggles are so noticeable as he actually did a pretty nice job bothering Tristan Thompson, forcing him into an early foul and making him work on the offensive glass. Thompson finished with just four rebounds, rendering him almost completely ineffective.
But Brown definitely noticed, as he complimented his starting center after the game:
“Tristan Thompson’s a load. He’s been destroying almost everyone he’s come across in the Playoffs on the offensive glass. And Zaza Pachulia didn’t play a ton of minutes, but the minutes he played, especially at the beginning of the game, kind of set the tone for us on the offensive glass.”
If Pachulia’s contributions are a whisper, barely perceptible to fans, JaVale McGee’s contributions are a foghorn blown into a megaphone. McGee racked up four points and five boards in just six minutes in the first half.
But as a team the Warriors looked like a team who hasn’t forgotten about last year at all. This was a statement game, not just to the Cavs but to themselves, that this year won’t be the same. And if this is what the opening statement looked like, we could be seeing a conclusion very shortly. A conclusion 347 days in the making.
The Cavs will get two days to regroup after this beatdown and head back to Oracle for Game 2 on Sunday. The Warriors could have a new coach by then, too, as Steve Kerr could make his way back to the bench sometime this series.
Stephen Curry is now a plus-235 in this year’s playoffs after posting a plus-20 Thursday. Since 2001 the record for playoff plus-minus is plus-213. … Kevin Durant posted his fifth 30-point night of the 2017 playoffs Thursday. He also became just the third Warriors player in NBA Finals history to score 38 or more points in a game, Rick Barry four times, and Curry in Game 4 of 2016. … The Warriors four turnovers were the fewest in a postseason game in franchise history, and tied an NBA record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game.