The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers kicked off the third consecutive installment of their Finals series on Thursday night, in a game that was essentially competitive for a half, but got out of hand very quickly. When Kevin Durant elected to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join on with the team that beat his after being up 3-1 in the series, the NBA All-Star and future Hall of Famer took a lot of flack for his decision.
But after scoring 38 points, and coming two rebounds and two assists shy of a triple-double in Game 1 of the Finals—all while being guarded by LeBron James for most of the night and having no turnovers—Durant not only showed why he’s one of the best in the business, but that he made the right choice in terms of putting himself in position to win his first NBA Championship, and is a true game changer for any team.
“This is where every player wants to be, the highest level of basketball,” Durant said after the game. “This is what you dreamed about as a kid, so I’m just trying to be there for my teammates and play up to my standards as an individual.”
There’s certainly no argument with Durant’s individual play. He came out aggressive from the opening tip, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and 13 points in the second. By halftime, Durant led all scorers with 23 points, while also pitching in 6 assists and 4 rebounds. After not playing on the NBA’s biggest stage for five years, KD seemed poised, focused and ready for this moment. Even LeBron James had to give credit where it was due when it came to acknowledging what the addition of Kevin Durant means for Golden State.
“I mean, you take one of the best teams that has ever been assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the postseason, and then in the offseason you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that? That’s what stands out,” James said. “I mean, there’s no if, ands or buts—it is what it is. We’ve got to figure out how to combat that, which is going to be a tough challenge for us.”
But Durant certainly wasn’t the only story in Game 1.
For example, the contest was relatively close through the first two quarters. By halftime, Golden State held a 60-52 lead over Cleveland, despite getting no points from Draymond Green, only 4 points from Klay Thompson and Curry was not exactly lights out from outside. On the Cavaliers side, LeBron James put up a double-double in the first 24 minutes with 19 points and 11 rebounds, Kyrie Irving chipped in with 17 points, and Kevin Love was dominant on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with his 8 points. While the score didn’t show it, things were going accordingly for the Cleveland. It seemed that Game 1 was shaping up to have an epic finale. But that’s when it all fell apart.
In the third quarter, it was Steph Curry’s turn to take over. He came out smoking hot after the half scoring 14 points while knocking down four of his six three-point shot attempts, some from way beyond the arc and others with a hand in his face. Cleveland had no answer for the two-time MVP who finished the game with 28 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, while helping the Warriors outscore the Cavs 33-20 in the third frame which proved to be the difference in the game.
While the basketball world seemed to celebrate the Warriors dominance, on the Cavaliers side, they kept everything in perspective. Remember, they’ve been here before. Still, Cleveland had no problem taking their hats off to Golden State and showing the utmost respect for their opponent after Game 1, while at the same time, letting everyone know that a blowout loss was nothing to fret over.
“They’re the best I ever seen,” said head coach Tyronn Lue. “I mean, no other team has done this, right? So 13-0, and they constantly break records every year, last year being 73-9, this year starting the playoffs 13-0. So, they’re playing good basketball. But we can play better.”
If the Cavaliers are going to win Game 2, then playing better is certainly something that needs to happen. While the big three of James, Love and Irving did what they normally do, it was the supporting cast who gave Cleveland no meaningful contributions.
Tristan Thompson was held scoreless in 22 minutes while attempting only three shots and grabbing just 4 rebounds, which is where he makes his money. J.R. Smith was another no-show as he scored just 3 points in 28 minutes on the floor. Cleveland’s bench production was also invisible and the team got nothing from its most meaningful reserves, namely Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver. If the Cavs are going to even things up in Game 2, it’ll have to be more than their Big 3 who comes to play.
LeBron James, who is now appearing in his seventh consecutive Finals, echoed the tone of his head coach and expressed the sentiment that the Finals is a long series that certainly won’t be decided by one game.
“They are a high-powered offensive team,” James said of the Warriors. “They can shoot the ball from the perimeter; they can get into the paint. They do everything exceptionally well, if not great. So, I’m never surprised by anything they do… We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really needs to be said. We know we’re capable of playing a lot better. We didn’t play as well as we know we’re capable of, so we look forward to the next one.”
Those seem to be ominous words from the greatest player in the world that Golden State will certainly need to take heed to and prepare for. While many basketball fans are of the opinion that this year’s playoffs lacked competitiveness and Game 1 of the Finals was no different, if we’re to take James’ words seriously, expect a much more intense and tightly contested Game 2 on Sunday.