The highly anticipated rematch of last years’ NBA Finals got going on Thursday, as Cleveland traveled to the Bay to take on the defending champion Warriors. The billing could not have been bigger this week, with LeBron James and Steph Curry dominating talk throughout the week heading into the game. But as far as games go, this one wasn’t much of one after intermission.
The Warriors won pretty comfortably, having to flex a small amount at the end to stave off the Cavs, but it never actually felt like Cleveland was a threat to win after the waning minutes of the second quarter.
Game 1 is hardly a predictive measure of the winner of this series, however, with series-opening winner’s prevailing in just three of the last six series in this years’ playoffs. While we’re far from the end of this series – or even at a point where we can declare a favorite – we can take away a few things from this opening game:
- Cleveland’s Offense
This was tough to see coming, as Cleveland’s main struggles on offense last season were thought to simply be the byproduct of the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. And up until this point in the postseason, the Cavs’ offense has been the most prolific in the NBA, rolling into the Finals. And yet, Golden State stretched them and made them work. The Cavs’ offense struggled at levels of last year’s team, and looked totally unprepared for Golden State’s length and athleticism.
- Thompson Pressure
It was easy to see a mile away that Cleveland was going to pressure Steph Curry and force him into tough shots. That certainly happened, with Curry running into two and three defenders all night – but nobody could quite see coming just how much pressure they’d put on Steph’s ‘Splash Brother’, Klay Thompson. Thompson was pressured off ball screens, which was something that other teams had attempted up until this point in the postseason, but never really had the athletes to do. The Cavs made it a major priority, and really disrupted Thompson’s game…but at the risk of trying to let the bench beat them.
- Warriors Bench Play
Speaking of, how about the minutes for the Warriors’ second unit? This was a game for players like Shaun Livingston, Maurice Speights and Andre Iguodala to shine, as Cleveland wanted the play of the rest of the Warriors to dictate the swing of the game much more than the play of the Splash Brothers. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to pay off for them in Game 1 – but I can’t say I don’t like Cleveland’s approach. The Warriors were frustrated in spurts during this game, but the Cavs just don’t seem to have the personnel to keep it up for a whole game.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 4, 2016
- Kyrie’s Offense for Defense
Kyrie Irving has become a real enigma for the Cavs. The star guard has excelled in previous rounds for Cleveland, but he was really exposed in Game 1 of the Finals. USA Today pointed out an odd pattern where Golden State exploited Kyrie in almost every instance that he was on the court, leveling him out and finding the nearest player he would switch to on defense and attacking him. And it didn’t seem to matter who it was, with everyone from Steph Curry to Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston capitalizing on Kyrie’s ‘defense’ in Game 1. Kyrie is a terrific scorer, but if he’s going to keep getting torched that badly, he’s going to need to average 30 points just to even out his defensive liability.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) June 4, 2016
- Tyronne Lue (and LeBron’s) Bench Strategy
By now we’ve all seen the statistic where the Warriors bench outscored Cleveland’s 45-10. But I’m not one of those that believe that those stats are really indicative of a larger problem for Cleveland, other than a sharp contrast of philosophy between Tyronne Lue and Steve Kerr. Kerr practices the Phil Jackson School of Everybody Contributes, but Lue seems bent on only having his best players on the floor at all times. We saw how Game 1 went, but LeBron was quick to voice his displeasure in the play of the bench. But this seems to fall squarely on Lue’s shoulders, as his minutes didn’t necessarily allow for Cleveland’s bench to do much other than provide wind for the starters. Likewise, Lue didn’t exactly run any plays to help his bench. Channing Frye, arguably Cleveland’s best shooter, saw just two designed shooting plays all night, and it’s hard to get good shots when you have Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Timofy Mozgov running an offense with no direction.
- Is Draymond Back?
Draymond finally got back in the swing of things, but he was far from perfect. Still, seeing Green playing All-Star level minutes again was great for Golden State, especially with the absence of Curry and Thompson. But still, Green missed a lot more open looks than he was used to, although he hit more than in the last series. Where Green shined was his defensive role. Green harassed Love all night, and even helped off on Kyrie and LeBron. LeBron got his points, but took a mountain of shots to get there, and much of that had to do with Green’s presence in the paint.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) June 3, 2016
Overall, Game 1 isn’t something to overact to. Cleveland is going to get at least two more games in front of their home crowd, and this team plays much differently at Quicken Loans Arena. But, recent history reveals plenty to be concerned about with the Cavaliers’ chances. Since their win in Game 3 of last year’s Finals matchup against Golden State, the Cavs have lost by 20 and 30 points to the Warriors, and four times by double digits. The Warriors are confident against the Cavs, and it shows.
Game 1 is just one game. But Cleveland has quite a bit to figure out between now and Monday (AEST).