This Warriors may be one of the greatest teams ever assembled, torturing teams with having to watch their inevitable deaths.
Like watching a swinging bladed pendulum slowly being lowered closer and closer to them, waiting for that third quarter run to put them out of their misery. But that’s also their biggest weakness, mimicking the pendulum’s movement going from great to awful — and it was all on display in their 124-114 Finals Game 1 overtime win.
The Warriors offense looked worlds more comfortable against the Cavs than they were against the Rockets. All the off ball actions are free and they are getting tons of easy looks. It’s not that much of an exaggeration to say that the Warriors got more wide open looks in the first half than they did the whole Western Conference Finals.
Stephen Curry paced the team with 29 points and nine assists and looked miles more free than he has in weeks. And Klay Thompson went for 24 despite having to leave the game early in the first quarter.
J.R. Smith slipped while making a break on a pass and rolled up on Thompson’s knee. It wasn’t a simple bump either as it happened behind and to the side of the knee. Thompson immediately went to the locker room and things looked bleak, especially with Golden State still missing Andre Iguodala.
But he looked fine when he returned from what the team called a left leg contusion.
Head coach Steve Kerr said it was a scary situation to watch:
“It looked pretty bad, I think he was out the rest of the quarter. So I didn’t know if he was going to be able to come back or not, but he was available and he turned into Klay right away. He took a 35-footer on his first possession back out on the floor, so we knew he was okay.”
While Smith’s slip shook the Warriors early, it was a play by him at the end of regulation that ended up sealing the Cavs fate. He pulled down an offensive rebound off a free throw with just 4.6 seconds left and the game tied, but forgot the score and dribbled the ball out of the key to halfcourt before realizing what he had done.
Durant said that it’s just part of the frenetic game of basketball:
“I mean, anything can happen on the basketball court you know? We’ve all done stuff like that on the basketball court. I can’t talk about a situation that way because I do some dumb stuff on the court. But I’m glad we got the W.”
Without Smith the Warriors probably don’t make it to OT especially with the way LeBron James played. He finished with 51 and looked superhuman with his drives to the rim. But all of his work was undone by his lowly sidekick.
Durant said it was a load trying to guard James:
“It’s tough to stop him, especially when he’s getting a lot of screens and he’s getting Steph on him a lot, and getting the bigs on him. So we’ve got to do a better job of helping him out. In transition you’ve got to be aware of his catches. Because he wants to catch and go to the rim but, you know, that’s what he does… We’ve just got to try and make it tougher on him.”
The Warriors got beasted on the glass, something they’ve been able to avoid for the past three series. They got out-rebounded 52-38 and gave up 18 offensive rebounds while pulling in just four. Larry Nance Jr. was a force on the boards while the Warriors looked disinterested in putting any kind of body on him.
He played five minutes, all of which included: staying in front of a James iso for a solid eight seconds before biting on a pump fake but forcing a miss, a hard closeout on Kevin Love in the corner forcing a miss, two layups, and getting stuffed by the rim on a dunk attempt while momentarily forgetting where he was on the court. It was the full McGee experience and had an enormous effect on the game both good and bad.
The Warriors ran off their usual third quarter run, but once McGee missed his dunk attempt the Warriors third quarter went from a spurt to a sputter. The ball movement slowed down and the isolations started to pile up. The offense ran through Durant who finished with 26 but shot just 8-of-22. The pendulum swung back towards the middle.
Then Draymond Green, who had missed his last nine 3’s, hit the two biggest 3’s of the night. One with five minutes left in the fourth to give the Warriors a three-point lead, which the Oracle crowd actually let out an audible groan when he cocked the shot back and one in overtime to put the game firmly out of reach.
Green said it’s all about the team’s confidence in him that lets him rise to the moment:
“I’ve got guys like Steph, who after I missed the first one, he’s like listen, you’re going to get that shot all night, take it with confidence. Coach Kerr has been telling me the last couple days, your shot’s going to fall. Even Zaza came up to me before the game, like this whole pep talk about shooting the basketball. When you play with people like that, play for coaches like that, and they have confidence in you, it helps to keep that confidence in yourself.”
Before that shot Green was just 2-of-20 from deep since the start of the Western Conference finals. But just like a pendulum his shot swings back the other way — just like everything else they do, in true Warriors fashion.
Unlike last series, these two teams will get significant rest between games as Game 2 isn’t until Sunday.
Tristan Thompson got tossed with just two minutes left in the game for throwing an elbow to Shaun Livingston’s face. He then got into a shouting match with Green on his way off the court. The NBA will probably take a look at it and there’s a good chance Thompson just cost himself an appearance in Game 2.