Thursday night saw a fiery contest unveil itself at the Oracle Arena as the Golden State Warriors emerged victorious over the Cleveland Cavaliers by a score of 124-114.
As is rather common in basketball, the scoreline doesn’t quite reflect the game – if George Hill sunk a free throw to take the lead, if JR Smith correctly read the scoreboard after grabbing the rebound, if Ty Lue called a much needed timeout – had any of these events occurred, this article would be reflecting on the importance of the Warriors splitting the series tonight before the long trip to Ohio. Despite the Dubs’ win, however, the opening game showed that this series will not be the sweep that most predicted before the series.
The primary reason for this is, of course, LeBron James himself. Going 51-8-8 was simply a continuation of his magical postseason form. Despite possessing versatile defenders such as Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and even Jordan Bell, the Warriors were powerless to prevent the King from dominating them on their own court.
It is why, then, that Game Two (and indeed, the rest of the series) will depend on the people around him. In a sense, Cleveland fans should be hopeful – it’s very feasible that Kevin Love will continue his All-Star form, having put up 21/13 after returning from a concussion. Larry Nance Jr was also very effective – registering 9/11, he seemed to be all over the court, ending up with a +3 in a 10 point loss. He played 19 minutes to Tristan Thompson’s 20, and looked a lot more comfortable defending the Warriors’ quick players. With James unlikely to put up 50 every night, it all depends on the role players to push Cleveland over the edge – should we see the backcourt of JR Smith and George Hill combine for say, over 25 points, in addition to some more minutes for Kyle Korver, Cleveland could keep up the offensive intensity that saw them match Golden State blow-for-blow.
As for the Warriors, fans will be wary that it’s unlikely the trio of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will all score so prolifically again (the last time the trio each hit 24 points or over in a single game was back in January). It was not only them – the ‘supporting cast’ (players like Shaun Livingston, David West and Jordan Bell) went 70% from the field; it thus begs the question whether this was simply an abnormally ‘hot’ shooting night for the Warriors, or if the talent will carry the Warriors over the line.
The key matchup tonight isn’t Kevin Durant against LeBron James, who I suspect will cancel each other out somewhat, but the backcourts. Golden State’s ‘Splash Brothers’ have infinitely more talent, but if the Cleveland guards can get going (playmaking or scoring wise), it will provide James with the support he needs to gain home-court advantage for Cleveland.