Warriors beat Cavaliers on Curry’s off night
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA—The bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night was a 104-89 loss to the Golden State Warriors. The worse news was that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had little to do with it.
Game 1 of the NBA finals was a tribute to the Warriors’ depth and sharing spirit. Led by Shaun Livingston’s 20 points, their bench annihilated the Cavaliers, outscoring Cleveland’s bench by 45-10 and leading a 21-4 run from late in the third quarter to the 8-minute-34-second mark of the fourth, turning a 1-point deficit into an 88-72 lead.
The fewest points that Curry and Thompson, the renowned Splash Brothers, had scored in a game this season was 29. They combined for 20 on 8-for-27 shooting in Game 1, but it meant little, with both long-range marksmen sitting for almost six minutes of the fourth quarter.
Unstoppable with midrange jumpers—what he called “my bread and butter”—Livingston, Curry’s 6-foot-7 backup at point guard, made 8 of 10 shots to lead seven Warriors into double figures.
“He got to his spots, to the free-throw line, 12 feet and in on the baseline, and he hurt us with that,” the Cavs’ rookie coach, Tyronn Lue, said of Livingston, although he was more mournful over the 28 shots Cleveland missed in the lane.
Draymond Green, the best of Golden State’s Game 1 starters, filled his stat line with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Andre Iguodala—the most valuable player in last season’s finals—had a brilliant night on both ends of the floor, harassing LeBron James, among others, on defense and finishing with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a game-best plus-minus rating of plus 21.
Handling the ball at times like a point guard, Iguodala played just under 36 minutes and had no turnovers. In the game’s most intense moment, he got into the chest of Matthew Dellavedova, the Cavs’ backup point guard, after Dellavedova slapped him in the groin from behind, reaching for the ball but nowhere near it with the Warriors ahead, 71-68, late in the third quarter.
On the Warriors’ next possession, Iguodala drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to close the quarter. The bench assault continued into the fourth.
The Cavs cut the lead to 11 with a 9-0 run with 3:23 left, but James lost the ball to Green, and Curry nailed a 3-pointer to abort any budding drama. Curry flung his mouthpiece, later explaining it as a demonstration of his nightlong frustration.
“Really proud of the way everybody contributed,” he said, referring to how he and Thompson had been bailed out by the bench.
Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 26 points. James had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists, and Kevin Love added 17 points and 13 boards. But the Cavs got little else, especially from JR Smith, who scored 3 points on 3 shots in 36 minutes.
“When you get outscored, 45-10, on the bench and give up 25 points on turnovers, you’re not going to win on the road,” James said after beginning his seventh career finals, with a 2-4 record to show for it.
These finals have been cast as a legacy series, with the Warriors trying to clear the final and most formidable hurdle to punctuating—or authenticating—their record 73-victory regular season.
James and the Cavaliers had their own crusade, related to the so-called Cleveland curse, the city’s failure to win a major professional sports championship since 1964.
But James, who intensified the title chase by returning to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons (and two titles) in Miami, said: “I don’t really get involved into the whole pressure thing. I think I’ve exceeded expectations in my life as a professional. I’m a statistic that was supposed to go the other way, growing up in the inner city, having a single-parent household. It was just me and my mother.”
“So everything I’ve done has been a success,” he added. “So as far as the game of basketball, I just go out and play it and have fun and love it, and be true to the game and to my teammates and live with the results.”
He was nonetheless visibly upset with the flow of Game 1, as the Cavs’ offense deteriorated into excessive isolation play and wound up with 38 percent shooting.
Nursing a 32-28 lead early in the second quarter, the Warriors went on an 11-3 run, capped by a trademark Iguodala strip of Irving that led to a Thompson runout. When Iguodala followed a missed Curry 3 with a put-back dunk, the Warriors had a 45-32 lead.
Trailing by 9 at the half, the Cavs put together their best stretch, outscoring the Warriors by 21-9 behind James and Love to take a 66-65 lead. But Livingston hit a 12-footer in the lane to erase the lead, and followed up a missed Curry 3 after James’ left baseline drive had put the Cavs up again.
Next came the groin slap on Iguodala by Dellavedova, who was involved in several scraps during last season’s playoffs. After Dellavedova was assessed a normal foul, Iguodala responded with his quarter-ending 3 and opened the fourth with a 15-footer from the left wing.
The rout was on. Curry and Thompson had choice viewing seats on the bench.
In the annual prefinals state-of-the-league news conference, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, on the subject of intentional fouling, “It is my hope that we are not far away from some kind of reform.” He said off-the-ball fouling had increased by two and a half times from last season and by 16 times over the past five years. “All the fan research we have shows the fans hate it,” said Silver, who also said that kicking and failing in the hope of drawing a foul, while nothing new, had become more prevalent and troublesome.”
Silver said the league was looking for alternatives to playing the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, although “there is no line in the sand” on a compromise to the contested legislation in North Carolina targeting gay and transgender people. “Discussions are ongoing,” Silver said.
In response to a question about questionable officiating, Silver mused about the possibility of a fourth game official, perhaps through the Development League or the Summer League, “that we’ll take a fresh look at.”