The lights... The sounds... The crowd. It was impossible to imagine how this would all look, how this would all feel mere months ago let alone right before the first tip-off of Game 1 of the NBA finals, with our Golden State Warriors getting home court advantage on the biggest stage in the basketball world. Staring the Cavs in the face from across the court, coming in as the favorites by the critics, it all seemed surreal. Was this actually happening? Were we 48 minutes away from a Game 1 victory and that much closer to an actual NBA title? The Bay Area has had its recent surreal moments on its way to championships (a Super Bowl appearance, the Giants as a whole), but to consider basketball in that equation seemed crazy. This same Warriors team? The same one that was a laughing stock no more than a few years ago?
Well, it was a reality. And it happened. And the Warriors fought their way through superhuman performances to finally settle into the kind of basketball that led them to the league's best record during this magical season. And though there is still much to accomplish before we can start making room on the mantle for the trophy, the Warriors did what they set out to do last night — they took care of business. It was a decisive statement victory,108-100, coming in overtime of a game that could have gone either way. TV pundits said that the Cavs let one slip away last night — I say they took their best shot and the Warriors proved why they were the better team. Lets break down the game:
**LeBron isos in the paint**
How did we do it?
- Team effort. Sure, the superstars came out in full force tonight. Steph got his on his way to 26 points on some efficient shooting (10-20 from the floor, though only 2-6 from behind the arc). Klay, though missing some easier shots in the first half, came through with some huge threes in the second on his way to 21 points. But the key was the complete effort of the roster from top to bottom.
The momentum shifted all night every time the second unit came on the floor for Golden State. As has been the blueprint all playoffs long, the starters looked rattled and unsettled, missing easy shots on their way to large first quarter deficits. Then, Kerr subs in Iguodala and the defense gets settled. Then Kerr subs in Barbosa and Livingston, and the offense becomes more fluid and creates more movement. In key times, Kerr has even sat both Splash Brothers in favor of the great chemistry that his subs seem to have, and every time has seen fantastic success. And truthfully, how big was Iguodala on Thursday? The key three point shooting (I don't trust any time he shoots, but I cheer louder when it goes in) and his aggressive strip of LBJ to end the third and the dunk on the other end (serious momentum shift, what a play). He is earning every bit of his salary and justifying all the reasons we brought him in, as if he hasn't before. A professional all the way through.
The icing on the cake on Thursday? The return of MOBUCKETS!!! Mo came back with new energy, some sharpshooting, and instant offense. It was hard to see how much we missed Mo until he actually came back — his spacing on the court, his threat to the big men to have to come out to cover. This is a huge advantage that the Cavs simply don't have an answer for. Will his shooting remain this hot? Probably not, but as for now the Cavs have to consider it. And that is advantage enough.
**LeBron isos in the paint again**
- #PlayoffHarrison. We all talk about Draymond Green looking for that max contract. How about Harrison Barnes?! Efficient shooting paired with great defense on LeBron James (a foul was just called on me for saying that about LeBron). This is the Harrison that the team has wanted since we drafted him. We know Barnes too well to know he can sustain this for a full season, but as of right now he is the third option that we need him to be. Especially if he is the first off the court when Iggy comes in, and first back in when we need scoring from the second unit, his aggression is showing in his productivity, and he has found his stroke from behind the arc, which is opening up driving lanes for him all around.
Face it: Barnes will command the respect of a top scorer at some point in his career from a contract standpoint because of his place on this team. He will simply never be better than the third of fourth option on offense on a great team — he can't create his own shot if it isn't an iso in the post, and his handles aren't consistent enough. He is a poor man's Rudy Gay (efficient Memphis Rudy, not current washed up Rudy). But for now, he is another sign of the amazing depth this team has.
**LeBron isos in the paint again... gets fouled**
- Taking care of business in overtime. OK, let's get it out of the way. Irving fouled Curry on that drive before end of regulation. He hit his hand. But it's the playoffs, and we aren't going to get those calls. Just like Curry won't get another foul call on a three pointer. It just won't happen.
So you get mad, even worried that the Cavs have the advantage going into overtime. But then you remind yourself that the Warriors are at home. The crowd was impressive all night long, big hand to them. They settled down finally and Curry's trips to the free throw line were the key. That's an MVP: take Tristan Thompson off the dribble on the switch and abuse him. He needs to adopt a bit of Harden at times — scoring is great, but know the situation. Getting to the line, especially when you are the best free throw shooter in the league, that's key. And they finally played some great team defense. Draymond was a mental case all night long. The foul calls are starting to get to his head, and his three point shooting is abysmal. He needs to stop arguing, recognize the situations better, and stay on the court. He can't do it himself out there — play in the system and rein it in buddy. In overtime, he put up a vintage Draymond performance on LeBron and co-running the unstoppable small-ball lineup with him as the five. It dominates every time... why do they not use it more?
Finally, overtime provided the cascade effect. If LeBron (or even Shumpert... wow that shot was close) hits those jumpers, the Cavs become the favorite to sweep the Warriors, Kyrie and LeBron are the unstoppable tandem, and all hope is lost (#firekerr). Instead? Kyrie plays extra minutes and does a full stop on a bad knee, and we see the true extent of the injury. That guy is hurt, and he shouldn't be playing. It's RGIII time for this guy — no use in losing him for all of next season with it getting worse. I want him to play, but he has a career to think about.
**LeBron isos in the paint again... his teammates fall asleep while watching him dribble**
The starters have to work on first quarters. It isn't about anything but nerves and executions. They want to come out to hot starts, but end up taking bad shots early in the clock. The bench has been phenomenal, but don't make them work so hard. Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala need to stop passing up wide-open layups. I get it — threes count for more. But wow, this is getting crazy. Take the bunny. They are giving it to you. We don't even care if you get fouled and miss at the line. Be aggressive, it's messing with the flow when you aren't.
The Cavs don't have depth. They cannot live off of LeBron vs the world. The Warriors will simply play into this for the rest of the series, and even if LBJ puts up 50 a game, the rest of the team will fall asleep and not be ready when it counts. Except for Mr. Timofey Mozgov. That guy kills us. And count in Tristan Thompson too — their rebounding was heartbreaking and timely last night, and will continue to be an issue all series long. To counter it, you have to take advantage of having them both in on defense with floor spacing and punishment on the pick and roll. More Curry vs Thompson on the iso please!
**LeBron isos in the paint again... his teammates give up and walk off the court**
It's the morning after and I am still recovering from the drama. Game One! And we won! Three more to go! I still have the Warriors taking this thing in six in Cleveland (heartbreaker to end LeBron's season on his own court, but them's the breaks). Everyone now has to wait for two painful off-days before we get to see these teams play again. So go rest up your cheering voice, re-consider your matchups and prepare for a long series. This one is going to be great all the way to the end.