If someone told you that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would combine for 20 points on 8-of-27 shooting from the floor (29.6 percent), including 4-of-13 from three-point range (30.8 percent), you probably would have said the Cavaliers would have blown out the Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, especially since Cleveland’s Big Three combined for 66 points.
Well, you would be wrong. In fact, it was just the opposite. Golden State led by 20 points in the fourth quarter and won, 104-89, to take Game 1 of the Finals against the Cavs for the second straight season.
Still, should the Cavs be encouraged by their defensive effort on the Splash Brothers?
“What they decided to do was blitz Steph Curry and double-team him and switch all the pick-and-rolls and just make sure that Curry and Thompson were not going to be the ones to beat them – and well into the third quarter and to the start of the fourth quarter, it was working,” CBSSports.com NBA insider Ken Berger said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “The Cavs were getting back into the game. They had been down by 14 early and they had actually taken a one-point lead on three different occasions late in the third, so the Cavs were in a pretty good spot.”
Curry and Thompson had combined for just 14 points entering the fourth quarter.
“They had to feel really good about themselves,” Berger said of the Cavs. “And then lo and behold, the Warriors’ bench really came up and bit them. There’s a whole other story in there about the great work of Bob Myers, the GM of the Warriors, to assemble the supporting cast that he has, but I think the question going into Game 2 is two-fold: Can you possibly hold Steph and Klay to the night they had tonight again? And even if you do, can you bank on the fact that the Warriors bench is not going to erupt the way it did in Game 1? So I think it’s probably the only defensive strategy that the Cavs can really pull out of their hat here. I think they have to bank on the fact that they can control Curry and Thompson, and they know at the very least when they go to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 that the role players and the bench players are not going to perform the way they did tonight, when the bench outscored the Cavs’ bench 45-10.”
Seven Warriors scored in double figures, including Shaun Livingston, who scored a team-high 20 off the bench. Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Andre Iguodala combined for 43 points on 18-of-24 shooting (75 percent).
So while the Cavs cannot control the Warriors’ depth, they can control their defensive intensity, especially against Curry and Thompson.
“I think the answer for them is what we saw in Game 1,” Berger said. “I think their best chance is just to try to disrupt and limit Curry and Thompson as much as they can and force everybody else to beat them. Their gamble, if you can call it that, is that it’s not going to happen three more times – and at the very least, it won’t happen on the road. You would expect role players and bench players to play much better at home, where they’re comfortable and they have the crowd behind them. Going to Cleveland it’s a different story.
“And LeBron pointed out something interesting, too,” Berger continued. “Regardless of what Curry and Thompson do and don’t do, if you’re going to give up 25 points off turnovers, and Kyrie Irving – although LeBron didn’t say this, I’m just pointing this out – if Kyrie Irving goes 1-for-9 from the field on possessions where he brought the ball up and did not pass it, those are problems. And those are problems that can be fixed. So as dominant as Golden State was in the fourth quarter of this game in Game 1, we have to remember how quickly these kind of series can turn. We saw it in the Thunder series in the West. So I think the Cavs have a plan, and I think they stick to it and hope for the best.”