At least Game 1 of the NBA Finals wasn’t all about Steph Curry.
The Golden State Warriors did beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in OT, 108-100, but Chef Curry and The Potcookers weren’t their usual deadly-shooting selves. We heard so much about the shooting prowess of the baby-faced assassin over this past month that you started to think he invented the jump shot. One analyst compared the pure mastery of and captivating execution of Curry’s unique pre-game shooting ritual to a Barry Bonds batting practice session at the height of the PED Era.
However, for the first four quarters of Game 1, the Cavs defense taught us that Curry does miss jumpers on occasion. Last night, “Mr. Automatic” was on clampdown for the most part. He was a solid 10-20 from the field and hit some key shots down the stretch, but had a “quiet” 26 points and hit only two of his six signature trey attempts.
Curry’s low-key night also allowed two other talented guards to get some shine. Klay Thompson’s killer game had been on the back of a milk carton until he exploded for 16 of his 21-points in the second half of Game 1. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving had a powerful playoff performance before leaving the court with 2:00 left with a knee injury. He scored 23 points with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals. Let’s not forget Irving’s ill block on Stephen Curry with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter that helped the Cavs push the game to overtime. He let heads know that when he’s on the court, LBJ is definitely not alone. Even when slowed by myriad injuries, Irving’s also a problem few can handle.
Entering the game, I felt the teams were evenly matched, but Golden State held a slight advantage in depth and overall talent. Despite the godly praise Chef Curry has received since winning his MVP Award, you always have to account for the “LeBron Factor” when analyzing these games. James has been vintage in these opening rounds. The last time Cleveland felt the sting of a loss was Game 3 in Chicago.
It’s the NBA Finals. Losses are going to happen. It’s also the fifth season in a row, that King James’ game will be scrutinized and analyzed based upon his team’s performance in June. Guys who love him will say he’s carrying the Cavs by himself again. On Thursday night, with Kyrie going from Golden State Gangbuster to Cavs Crutches Committee and JR Smith reverting back to streak-shooter mode, King James was forced to go outside of his usual role as all-purpose player and try his hand at the Jordan-Kobe Killer mode.
It was iso after iso for LBJ who shot 18-of-38 from the field and had eight rebounds and six assists in 46 minutes, but in the end, he ran out of bullets. Those stats are cool and I’m sure Cavs fans will be big- upping the near triple-double LBJ is averaging in the playoffs, but the statistical moment that matters most is when the four-time MVP missed a long jumper at the end of regulation, and Cleveland missed its first eight shots of overtime — and 12 straight going back to the fourth quarter.
“At the end of the day we gave ourselves a chance, James said. ” I missed a tough one (at the end) but we had so many opportunities to win this game and didn’t ..its up to us to watch film, make adjustments and be ready for Sunday.”
These are some numbers that should get some attention as well: The Game 1 winner of the NBA Finals has a 48-20 series record. James’ teams are 18-2 in playoff series when winning the opener and 7-5 when losing Game 1. In other words, Cleveland needed to steal Thursday night’s game. It was more important to the Cavs’ title hopes than Golden State’s. The Warriors averted disaster and are basically in the driver’s seat after one game. A game that was a roller coaster battle. There were 13 lead changes and 11 ties. There was little edge in shooting (Warriors 44.3 percent, Cavaliers 41.5 percent), rebounding (Warriors 48, Cavaliers 45) or assists (Warriors 24, Cavaliers 19).
The biggest difference was supporting cast. The Warriors’ reserves outscored the Cavs’ 34-9, with J.R. Smith the only Cleveland reserve to score — and he was a dismal 3-of-13 from the field (Somebody ask that man where he was hanging out Wednesday night).
The Cavs finished the game with just three players in double figures LeBron (44), Kyrie (23) and Timofey Mozgov (16) the rest of the Cavs combined for just 17 points on 6-of-24 (25%) shooting.
Once LeBron settled for his usual fadeaway jumper and then Shumpert missed his shot at glory as the buzzer sounded ending regulation, you knew that LBJ would have to drop 50 for Cleveland to win. Unfortunately in the final seven minutes of the game (last two of regulation and all of overtime), the Cavaliers shot just 1-of-13 (7.7%) from the field and committed four turnovers as the Warriors closed the game on the 10-2 run.
Without Irving there to do all of the little things he provides; scoring, passing, drawing double teams away from LBJ and using his court savvy to make key defensive plays, Cleveland never had a chance.
“To see him walk out the locker room in crutches right now is a tough blow for our team,” said James. “The next man has to step up.”
The problem is, the next man might be as invisible as James’ other teammates have been outside of Irving. People keep saying that LBJ has to “do it by himself,” but that’s not the case by a long shot when Kyrie is on the floor Game 1 showed you that.