To say that the Golden State Warriors‘ bench bailed out their starters would sort of discredit the fantastic effort they put forth. As usual, the defensive effort was tremendous, but the Dubs bench players were actually the most effective offensive weapons. After it was all said and done, the Warriors walked away with a convincing 104-89 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Both sides were rolling in the first quarter. The Warriors took an early 28-24 lead, but LeBron James was having a field day getting to the rim. Golden State was switching almost everything on the perimeter, leaving Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson to get the brunt of James’ scoring — he finished with eight points on 4/5 shooting. Kyrie Irving had a tough time getting his offense going and hit just two shots in five attempts for six points, and Kevin Love was just 1/3 from deep. The Dubs saw great things from Barnes on offense, and he stormed out to seven quick points on 3/4 shooting. Green had issues with shooting the ball, so instead orchestrated everything and handed out four assists. Andrew Bogut had a shockingly efficient quarter on offense with six points, and Stephen Curry got in the scoring column with two threes.
It began to get away from the Cavaliers in the second quarter, and they had almost no offensive game to speak of. James and Irving made just one shot in 11 attempts, and the Cavs going 7/9 from the free throw line was huge for them as they scored just 19 points and shot 23% from the field. Many of James’ issues were because Steve Kerr sent out Andre Iguodala, the reigning Finals MVP, to match up against him. Iggy’s defense was phenomenal, and he was able to strip James in the post and blocked one of Irving’s layups. Golden State was struggling for points themselves until Leandro Barbosa came in. Very quickly, Cleveland saw the deficit jump from six to 11, and Barbosa’s seven points were a large part of it. The Dubs entered the break with a 52-43 lead, and the Cavaliers were incredibly fortunate to trail by just nine after their struggles in the first half.
Out of the break, the Cavs dropped 25 on Golden State, but their bench was still nowhere to be seen. James and Irving had seven each, and Love and Tristan Thompson accounted for the other 11; notice how J.R. Smith wasn’t on the board. A little weird, right? Smith attempted just his second shot of the game in the third quarter despite playing eight-plus minutes. Issues aside, they held a three-point lead for the quarter. The Splash Brothers struggled mightily and combined for 2/9 shooting and four points. Shaun Livingston and Iguodala bailed out the two superstars and combined for ten points on 4/6 shooting; despite his scorching stretch in the second, Barbosa saw no playing time in the third. Cleveland moved into striking distance, trailing just 74-68 heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was Livingston’s quarter. And he single-handedly torched the Cavs’ defense. He was getting nearly whatever he wanted, and Cleveland had no one who could handle his height. Because of his height, length, and elevation, his jump shot wasn’t altered by the shorter defenders. Livingston had ten points in the period on 3/3 shooting while Iggy and Barbosa added four each. The Dubs’ starters were almost not needed down the stretch, and the Splash Brothers hardly played. Cleveland was unable to stop the bleeding, and poor shooting continued to plague them in crunch time. Love was just 1/4 for two points and missed a couple of buckets from right in front of the rim; James and Kyrie weren’t any better, shooting 2/5 each with 11 combined points.
The gaudiest stat of the game was Golden State’s bench outscoring the Cavs’ 45-10, and that’s really where the Cavaliers lost the game. However, credit was rightfully earned by Barbosa (11 points, 5/5 shooting), Iggy (12 points, seven boards, six assists), and Livingston (20 points, 8/10 shooting).
Although their bench didn’t show up, Cleveland’s Big Three wasn’t perfect. James messed around and almost got a triple-double (23p, 12r, 9a) but shot 9/21 from the floor; Irving was the game’s leading scorer with 26 but shot 7/22 and played a lot of hero ball, going 1/9 on shots where he was the only player to touch the ball. Lastly, Love was great on the boards and grabbed 13, but missed ten of his 17 shot attempts.
(Oh, bonus point: as wild as it may sound, Cleveland’s chance of winning decreases when J.R. Smith isn’t shooting — just three shots in 36 minutes yesterday. Maybe Tyronn Lue can find a way for Smith to get his shots late in the shot clock while he’s double-teamed, since he’s one of the league’s best bad shot makers.)
Game 2 of the Finals is Sunday at 8 PM EST in Oakland, where the Dubs look to take a commanding 2-0 lead.