With 10:19 remaining in the game and his Cleveland Cavaliers needing a spark, Kevin Love turned his shoulder and spun through the paint, flipping up and seemingly finishing what looked to be a pretty move.
But the shot rolled off the rim and sent the Golden State Warriors sprinting the other way. Less than 10 seconds later, Warriors guard Leandro Barbosa drilled a jumper, extending Golden State’s lead to 14 and providing a perfect metaphor for the game. Cleveland had the right moves, but just couldn’t finish -- came close, but couldn’t quite smoke that cigar.
Blame it on the Cavaliers’ weeklong sabbatical from competition, if you want. Blame it on the momentum Golden State had following its recent Game 7 victory. But Cleveland’s play coming out of the gate on Thursday was sloppy and their shot was ice-cold, leading to what was ultimately a Golden State drubbing, with the Warriors taking Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 104-89.
While Curry had his inevitable highlight-reel plays -- including this gem of a jab step -- it was the Warriors’ role players who that made the biggest ruckus all night. Barbosa, Harrison Barnes and especially Shaun Livingston all shined, scoring a combined 44 points, taking turns catching fire, passing the torch to one another as each managed to build then hold Golden State’s oft double digit lead.
More than anyone else's, however, it was Livingston's night on Thursday. The player known more for a gruesome injury than his actual game, Livingston was on another level throughout Game 1. Finishing with 20 points in 27 minutes, the point guard went 8-of-10 from the field, burying midrange jumper after contested midrange jumper, more than making up for MVP Curry’s poor shooting performance (4-of-15).
While the Warriors largely had their backcourt play to thank for their early advantage, they were also indebted to Cleveland’s sloppiness. The Cavs totaled nine turnovers before the half and 17 for the game, with Golden State capitalizing on the mistakes to the tune of 25 points off turnovers.
Especially prior to intermission, the rock just kept slipping out of Cleveland’s hands as even gimme layups went wide left and right, with even put-backs looking hard to convert. And while each of the Cavaliers’ “Big Three” scored at least 17 points in the matchup, point guard Kyrie Irving’s proclivity for one-on-one play -- and his 7-of-22 performance from the field -- stymied much of the team’s offensive fluidity.
Cleveland did, however, manage to launch a moonshot and stage a comeback in the middle of the third period. Irving came alive and upped the tempo, Tristan Thompson showed how dominant he can be inside, and Love rebounded, scored, then rebounded again -- and the Warriors’ advantage quickly evaporated. By the third’s 3:57-mark, Cleveland was up -- and Golden State head coach Steve Kerr was furious.
But the Warriors’ firepower was just too much. Cleveland went over four minutes without scoring in a spell that bridged the third and fourth quarters, while Golden State just kept on pushing -- leading the contest to quickly turn back into a blowout once more.
On to Game 2. Advantage Warriors.