The Golden State Warriors are not playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals; they will not suffocate underneath the physical and overwhelmingly athletic, never-ending supply of limbs and strength the Thunder tossed at them.
Neither the players nor coach Steve Kerr would admit that this series would resemble the last six matchups against the Cavs (all victories). Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, Kerr, and Draymond Green all said the right things. They had lost last year twice in a row after a Game 1 victory and would reiterate that repeatedly so as not to lose focus. But it was hard, after observing the ease with which the Warriors dispatched their assumed rivals, to say that this series was nothing more than a light second wind jog through the finish line.
This series is going to, and is already, coming down to the fact that nobody on the Golden State Warriors can absolutely shut down LeBron James when he has it coming. LeBron started out with a bang before getting Andre Iguodala who swipe-doused the fire and made him uncomfortable the rest of the game. The Cavs need LeBron to essentially play the entire game or else their offensive and defensive schemes go to waste.
On the other side, the Cavs will have zero answer for the Warriors' offense. On a night where both Curry and Thompson got stuck in traffic and failed to make it to the game until late in garbage time, Iguodala, Livingston, and Leandro Barbosa took over. And lest we forget, there was Anderson Varejao's flop per minute ratio. The Warriors played uphill the entire Western Conference Finals, but the scars are starting to heal now. A bench that struggled against the Thunder's length and power took over on a 15-0 deciding run in the 4th quarter to put the game away.
Iguodala nailed jumpers after getting smacked in the balls by Delly, Livingston ate up Kyrie Irving and whoever else on PNR midrange Js, and Barbosa sprinted through, up, and around a Cavs defense unprepared for a balanced attack this dangerous.
Kerr minced no words after the game, "[Iguodala] is one of the smartest players I've ever seen, on offense and defense."
This is the exhale series. The Warriors can finally breathe. They aren't relaxing but finding out that their effort and style of play that allowed them to coast through a regular season worth of 73 wins is now making these games and performances second nature. At no point, even when the team went down in the third quarter, was there any panic. There was a regular season vibe, a team confident of its own power, and its knowing ability to shut this Cavs team down whenever they choose.
Finally, the Warriors have yet to play their three trump cards: Klay Thompson shooting, Stephen Curry shooting, and an extensive Death Lineup rotation.
Did I mention these are the NBA Finals?
It's hard to imagine a competitive series where the Cavs are now searching for adjustments beyond "make more contested shots" and the Warriors have three changes that are built into their DNA. After the Thunder affair, everything looks more open, the passing lanes look stretched. The Cavaliers' offense is looking more like an isolation fest that GSW will have the opportunity to feast on. LeBron James and co. are looking just as lost as they did in Games 4-6 of last season's Finals.
On Thursday night, the Cavs went into Oracle and forced or stumbled their way into a Steph/Klay debacle. In turn, they took to the chin a Livingston/Iguodala/Barbosa battering. No matter where they turn, no matter how much they talk about playing their style, fast, slow, or how good the Eastern Conference is, the Golden State Warriors let them know there are levels to this game. The Cavs were not ready for this type of uptick in quality. Not after facing the Pistons, the Hawks, and then the Raptors. Now they adjust and will assuredly come out much better in Game 2.
The only issue? The Warriors are more prepared than they have ever been for this. The NBA Finals belongs to the Warriors now and the only debate moving forward might be how long this even lasts.
Side Quotes that didn't make the story
A pretty tame media session as Lue and LeBron took turns roasting some reporters for dumb questions. They didn't seem worried about the game but that's normal. Dray took his turn getting pissed at another bad reporter question about his flail kicks but beyond that, nothing special...beside this Livingston/Steph anecdote.
Q: I'm guessing you've defended Shaun in practice a lot. Can you describe how difficult it is when a 6'7" guy jumps that high and releases at that point? How hard is it to defend him when he's rolling?
Steph: Sometimes there's really nothing you can do about it. You try to just contest his shot but something he won't even see you. For me in practice it's the loneliest feeling in the world because Draymond needs somebody to talk to and to talk trash to. And if he's on the other team -- sometimes even if he's on my team, he'll "mouse in the house" or whatever kind of phrase you want to talk about when (Livingston) gets in the post. And I'll play the best defense of my life, and he'll knock down a shot, and you've just got to live with the chatter. So it's not fun.