Cleveland Cavaliers - 89
Golden State Warriors - 104
We all wanted it to be different. Hell, we still do. After tantalizing the rest of the NBA with a juggernaut offense that scored 114.7 points per 100 possessions through a 12-2 start to the playoffs, even the Warrior worshippers (read: everyone on earth) had to want a different Cleveland Cavaliers to show up this time around. Entertain us! the sporting world had to beg. Many talked themselves into the Cavaliers giving the Golden State Warriors a run for their money — and they still have a shot to do so!
But whereas your trusty narrator thought the Cavaliers came into this series with as much as a 40 percent chance of grifting a title from the 73ers, it now feels like a solid five percent-er. I came into the series looking at a sports car with bald tires which may slide around in the rain ... but the engine was solid! It could get to 130 and burn rubber when needed. But then suddenly, the car sprung an oil leak, the radio knob broke off on the country channel, and the engine block burst into flames. And the cup holders broke. Next thing I knew, I was sitting with spilled coffee all over my lap listening to lyrics about tractors as the pant legs on my jeans started to catch fire.
I make it a point to never overreact after one game, but it just looked like there were too many things to fix in Game 1 for Cavs fans to be realistic about winning the series. They'll need to put out the flames, patch 'er up, and turn the whole thing around in a hurry to have a chance at beating the Warriors. Let's torture ourselves with the box score and total up the damage.
45 to 10 - Amazingly, the Cavalier ledger of horror does not begin with Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but with the Warrior bench. The Warriors' role players outscored the Cavalier bench 45 to 10 — annihilation by backups. Actually, despite all that was made of last season's genius adjustment by coach Steve Kerr to insert Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup, the Warrior bench did much of the same last season; stalling every Cavalier comeback with a demoralizing make. Golden State's bench has a knack of making every shot look like the exact shot they wanted all along. Nothing feels forced. It's as if Kerr talked to each player individually, and told them, "These are your shots — you only take these shots."
Guard Shaun Livingston had the best game of his career, scoring 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He was amazing on Thursday, making fadeaways and difficult turnarounds. At 6-7, he creates a difficult matchup point guards, and worked smaller guards like Kyrie Irving all night, finding crafty ways to get into the lane. Leandro Barbosa was the other primary assailant from the bench, scoring 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting. Andre Iguodala did his standard Cavalier harm, scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting (2-of-4 from three despite being a career 33.4 percent three-point shooter). Meanwhile, the Cavaliers mustered a whopping 10 points from the bench — though it's not entirely their fault. The bench attempted a cumulative 10 field goals.
It's amazing that the Cavaliers looked futile in a game that was largely decided by bench play, but here we are. Ex-Cav Livingston looked like Curry Lite on Thursday, and it would only be fitting and diabolical to have the Cavaliers foiled by other ex-Cavs like Anderson Varejao, Mareese Speights, and Coach Kerr throughout the series. Maybe Ozzie Newsome and Manny Ramirez can show up to help drive the stake through the Cavaliers' heart.
20 - Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 20 points on Thursday, and had I led with this information, you would have responded with, "Great! How many did the Cavs win by, and where is the cake?" The fan in me was relieved that the Cavaliers were only down nine points at half despite shooting 30.9 percent in the first half, but now that same fan is downright despondent that the Cavs were unable to stay within a 10-foot-pole's reach in a game in which Curry and Klay combined for 20 points on 29.6 percent shooting. Someone hold me.
7-of-22 - Kyrie Irving shot 7-of-22 in Game 1. Irving was impressive when he opted to attack the paint (11-of-12 from the free throw line), but he was forcing shots all game, instead of taking what the Warrior defense gave him. Far too often, the Cavalier offense started and ended with Irving dribbling around aimlessly (see the stat via ESPN Stats & Info below). Irving didn't amaze on defense either, as hiding him on defense in this series is going to be like hiding Godzilla in a trailer park. Irving is too short to guard Livingston (he actually did OK on Curry), and hiding him on Harrison Barnes went disastrously, as Irving was an obvious post-up target and wasn't attentive enough to prevent obvious backdoor cuts.
The Cavaliers aren't going to win any games this series in which Irving makes less than one-third of his shots — it's as cut-and-dry as a piece of beef jerky. That offense needs to change, and it needs to change in a parallel universe before Game 1 even happened.
23, 12, 9 - LeBron James finished one assist shy of a triple-double, and despite an underwhelming game probably had the best game of anyone other than Shaun Livingston or Leandro Barbosa. James was dominant in the first quarter (4-of-5 from the field) and showed he knows how to pick apart a defense, dazzling with a one-handed bullet pass to Kevin Love in the third quarter and a beautiful lob to Irving from the right elbow. But James slowed down once the Warriors threw Iguodala his way, the one guy in the NBA who knows how to stymie James other than Kawhi Leonard. 2014-15 James also made an appearance, turning the ball over four times in uncharacteristically butter-fingered fashion. What do the Cavs do from here? Rely on James to make magic happen, even it means slowing down the entire offense when the Warriors bait James into posting up on weaker defenders? Or just give up and cry?
3 - J.R. Smith needs more than three field goal attempts. He played passable defense all game, and was clearly bothered by a hand injury. But this fire-breathing Cavalier offense thrived off whipping the ball around the perimeter, letting J.R. and all others affiliated (other than Tristan Thompson) find and chuck the shots they're comfortable taking. Jump Shot Jesus can't explode for 10 threes if he only gets three shots.
7 - Channing Frye played all of seven minutes in Game 1 — never mind that he has the best plus/minus per 48 minutes on the team among anyone with playing time, and is shooting 56.5 percent from three during the playoffs. (Frye also had the highest plus/minus on Thursday, +4, for whatever that's worth.) I viewed Frye as the one wild card that could shock the Warriors into feeling a little uncomfortable — tall enough to get in the way of Warriors bigs on defense, and to shoot over anyone on the floor. Frye-Love has been an interesting combo all playoffs, so it's only fitting that they played less than 30 seconds together in Game 1. Coach Tyronn Lue also abandoned the second/fourth quarter lineup of Frye-James-Dellavedova-Jefferson-Shumpert that had served him so well in the playoffs. So ... hopefully coach Lue plays the flame-throwing Frye more than four minutes of non-garbage time in Game 2. Let's try something a little unconventional, exotic even, instead of playing a gassed James 40 minutes while a fresh Frye sits on the bench.
15-0 - The Cavaliers, down all game, battled to take a 68-67 lead late in the third quarter only to relinquish a 15-0 run to the title defenders. Steve Kerr was so enraged when the Cavaliers took the lead that he busted a clipboard. I know it's cliché, but that's how champions respond. I'd be happy to break some clipboards right now. The Cavs may lose, but some clipboards are going to suffer, damn it! Anyway, the game wasn't close after the 15-0 run that was mostly sparked by Livingston.
2 - Formerly beloved Cavalier Anderson Varejao drew two offensive fouls on his former teammates on Thursday, both of which were flops. I don't blame you, Andy, I blame the officials, who ought to know better. The Cavaliers had 15 costly turnovers in Game 1, many of which were offensive fouls, and at least four of which were Warrior flops. It was a sick karmic twist that I had to learn what it feels like to be on the other side of an Anderson Varejao flop as the Cavs desperately vie for a title. WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THIS??? DON'T YOU KNOW WE ALWAYS LOVED YOU, ANDY????
6 - The Cavaliers have now lost six straight games to the Warriors dating back to last season's Finals, and none of them have been very close. It feels similar to the situation the Atlanta Hawks faced against the Cavaliers — the Warriors are in the Cavs' heads like the sprites in the move Inside Out, but if all of them were the "evil" manifestations of the team's personality. The Cavs have a real fixer-upper on their hands, but as long as they haven't lost a game at home, there's still time to do some patchwork. We'll learn a lot in Game 2, but right now it feels like a lot of the same old head-shaking from years past.