Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr called it a “strange game,” and he couldn’t have been more right.
On a night when the Splash Bros. didn’t do much splashing, Golden State still managed to put away the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-89 on Thursday night to take a 1-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.
Here are my five takeaways from Oracle Arena:
▪ No. 1: Off the bench, and on point
Golden State’s best offensive player wasn’t Stephen Curry. Nor was it Klay Thompson. Instead, backup point guard Shaun Livingston assumed a starring role with a team-high 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Considering Livingston made 11 field goals in the entire Western Conference Finals (which went seven games), his production was somewhat unexpected. OK, totally unexpected. But the matchups did favor him. Instead of having a long, tall Oklahoma City defender in his face, the 6-foot-7 Livingston had no problems shooting his trademark midrange jumpers over the 6-3 Kyrie Irving.
Led by Livingston, the Warriors bench outscored Cleveland’s 45-10.
“It could be anyone on any given night, and it’s our job, really, to stay ready,” the understated Livingston said.
▪ No. 2: Dry night for the Splash Bros.
The numbers just don’t look right: Curry, 4 of 15 from the field. Thompson, 4 of 12 (and 1 of 5 from three). Yet the Warriors still won going away.
No, that’s not exactly a good sign for Cleveland.
“I missed some shots and didn’t get in a rhythm, but the way that they defended, we’ll be able to find some adjustments for Game 2,” Curry said. “Not worried about that. Just really proud of the way everybody contributed.”
Curry and Thompson did hit back-to-back threes in the final minutes, just to remind everyone it probably won’t be like this the rest of the Finals.
▪ No. 3: The punch that swung the game
I don’t think Matthew Dellavedova did it on purpose, but the Cavs’ reserve guard seemed to strike a nerve. Or something.
During the final minute of the third quarter, Dellavedova took a wild swipe at the ball but missed and instead hit Andre Iguodola in the nether regions. The officials took several minutes reviewing the play but only charged the perpetrator with a common foul.
No matter. Following the delay, the Warriors went on a 28-5 scoring run that turned what was a three-point game into a comfortable win.
▪ No. 4: Cavs’ identity crisis
One of the biggest questions I had coming in was which Cavs would show up, the uptempo, three-point-happy team we’ve seen in this year’s playoffs, or the defensive, slow-down squad we saw in last year’s Finals.
So far, the answer is neither.
Cleveland struggled from the field – the Cavs finished 7 of 21 beyond the arc and missed 28 shots in the paint – and didn’t play active, swarming defense, either. For all their offensive skill, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are poor man and help defenders. Which the Warriors exploited time and again.
“We’ll be better next game,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
▪ No. 5: Karate chopping Kerr
Kerr has a thing about clipboards. He just doesn’t like them. Early in the third quarter, with the Warriors looking lethargic and sloppy on offense, the second-year coach used his fist to shatter the clipboard he uses to draw up plays during timeouts.
This is not the first time Kerr has taken out his fury on a clipboard. Insiders say it’s happened at least twice previously this season.
“Destruction tends to ease some of the anger,” Kerr said with a grin. “So I try to take it out on a clipboard instead of a player. So it’s better that way.”