Game 1 of the NBA Finals was weird. The best two shooters to ever touch a basketball combined for 8-27 from the field, score only 20 points and yet have their team win by 15 despite the fact that one of the five best players ever nearly tallied a triple-double. One head coach broke a clipboard, and he was the one who won by 15. My favorite weirdness of all though was the lineup that unlocked the game for Golden State, led by two reserve guards and "the adult in the room."
Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa were simply stupendous last night for Steve Kerr's team. The veteran guards combined to go 13-15 from the field for 31 points. It's not exactly splash brothers production, but Kerr couldn't ask for much more.
One of the most under appreciated assets in athletics is self-awareness, and Livingston has it in droves. He knows exactly what he is as a player and plays accordingly. He's not a three point shooter, so despite the new revelations on efficiency, he doesn't take them. While a player only has to make 33% of his threes to create the same offense as 50% on twos, Livingston knows his own math (58% from two, 16% from three) favors the shorter shots.
He uses his height to get off clean looks both in the mid-range and the post. He abuses smaller players and did so routinely last night when the Cavs tried to guard him with Kyrie Irving. Irving had some good contests, but he's just too little. My friend Kevin Brown described Livingston's night perfectly in a text message this morning: "Shaun Livingston was the best player in a Finals game with the reigning two-time MVP, a multi-time MVP and probable top 10 player in history, maybe the second-best pure shooter ever, three other All-NBA players and last year's Finals MVP." Not bad to say the least.
Meanwhile, Barbosa blurred around the court in complete confidence, hitting an array of floaters with ease. Those are really tough shots and he hit them without hesitation.
The two splash brother subs were great in the first half, leading Kerr to play them again at the start of the fourth quarter alongside Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. It was a modified, splash-free version of the Golden State "death lineup."
That lineup went 9-10 from the field for 20 points on 6 assists in just over six minutes. Those numbers are astonishing on their own, but become downright unbelievable when you realize that those five players didn't play a single second together during the regular season. They played less than a minute together during the conference finals and that's it. The Warriors' dominant, game-changing lineup in the NBA Finals had essentially never played together before. Talk about a time for innovation.
Of course it's easier when three of the five players have been in the league for over a decade. Iguodala sets the tone for the Warriors in general and was brilliant on both ends last night.
"Andre is a brilliant basketball player," Kerr said following the win. "He doesn't get enough credit. You look at his stat line and his line never usually tells the story, but 12 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, no turnovers and great defense. So that's kind of who he is for us. I think Bob Fitzgerald, our TV guy, calls Andre the adult in the room for us. He is the adult in the room. He always settles us down, and he knows exactly what's happening out there."
The game's seminal moment happened when the "adult in the room" got hit in the manhood. Matthew Dellavedova hit Iguodala below the belt, sparking a get together and a heightened intensity, which was just fine with Kerr.
Kerr broke a clipboard during the 3rd quarter, which was an incredible display. He just punched the thing and it shattered. What strength!
That led to a phenomenal sideline interview with Doris Burke where she asked him why he broke it. He said the Warriors' intensity represented a November game, not June. The follow-up:
Burke: "How do you get [the intensity] back?"
Kerr (smiling): "Remind them that it's June!"
I mention this exchange not because you probably didn't see it. It's the NBA Finals and if you're reading this it's probably because you're interested and were watching. I mention it because that was my overwhelming take-away from this game. It felt very ordinary instead of feeling very NBA Finals.
The intensity wasn't there from the tip, and that actually is some credit to the Warriors and their fans. Warriors games are epic every night, so it's hard to ratchet up the enthusiasm even more. With both teams having been in The Finals just a year ago, there were no real nerves to work through. They were just playing basketball.
In the end, that's what Game 1 was. It was a Golden State Warriors basketball game. Their depth showed and they dominated despite not playing anywhere close to their best.
The good news for the Cavs is neither did they. Kyrie Irving was particularly awful in the second half. He started to get very isolation heavy and killed the Cavs offensive rhythm, despite scoring on some possessions. The ball was in his hands a ton and he only had four assists. That's not good enough, especially when balanced with three turnovers.
LeBron James was average by his standards, which is absurd considering he had 23 points, 12 boards and 9 assists. James had some key turnovers though in the stretch where Golden State pulled away. His mentality was fantastic early, driving and getting to the rim or dishing out to open shooters, however he started firing up threes later in the game. He was 2-4, which is certainly acceptable but the two misses weren't great shots.
Kevin Love was very encouraging for Cleveland. Surprisingly, considering it was his first finals game after missing the entire series last year, he was the Cavs most consistent player. He shot it well, was effective in the post and rebounded well.
The Cavs need more help offensively from everyone else. JR Smith was born to shoot, yet took only three shots. That can't happen. Irving and James need to get him involved and Smith needs to hunt shots to get involved. Channing Frye needs to get more shots up as well, but really this is all a credit to the Warriors defense. Iguodala and Barnes did a good enough job on James 1-on-1 that Golden State didn't feel compelled to double team him. That means there are no wide open kick-outs. That completely changes Cleveland's offense.
Game two should look very different, but I'm not sure the result will be. Barbosa won't go 5-5, but Curry won't go 4-15 either. This was an opportunity for Cleveland to steal a game and they missed it. It took Curry some time to figure the Cavs out last year, but he did. He always does, and when he does it's over.
Fortunately for Golden State, they have other options. This team is simply loaded, but you probably knew that. They won 73 freaking games and look on their way to a second consecutive championship.