8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Warriors -9, Over/Under: 221
With one game in the books of this NBA Finals Trilogy, the Cleveland Cavaliers look to avoid falling into a two-game hole against the Golden State Warriors in Game Two from ORACLE Arena, in Oakland, California. For a Finals that has been hyped as much as this one has, one couldn’t imagine it getting off to a more lopsided start than Thursday’s 113-91 blowout, as the Cavaliers (51-31, 2nd in Eastern Conference) were ran out of the arena during the Second Half. Many Cleveland fans will point out that they were defeated by thirteen points in Game One of last years Finals before rallying back from a 3-1 hole to steal Game Seven on the road. However, from their perspective, even the most biased of Cavs’ couldn’t have found much to like from Game One. For a team that had six days off, the reigning Champions looked inept in the Series’ Opener, particularly during the final twenty-four minutes in which the game delved out of control. A great many things went wrong for Tyronn Lue’s charges, who shot a miserable 34.9% from the field, with the hosts accumulating more assists (thirty-one) than they managed field goals. However, the biggest disparity in the contest was undoubtedly the Turnover Differential, which was about as one-sided as you’ll find in the NBA Finals; Cleveland was excessively sloppy with the basketball, coughing up the rock a staggering twenty times to Golden State’s four, which of course turned into twenty-one points going the other way. LeBron James (26.4 PTS, 54.8% FG, 36.3% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK) did everything in his power to keep things close, scoring twenty-eight points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field (45.0%), but even the four-time MVP wasn’t immune to mistakes, as he committed as many turnovers (eight) as he had assists. Hell, he had twice as many turnovers as the Warriors!!! The rest of the Supporting Cast was virtually invisible, with Kyrie Irving (25.2 PTS, 47.3% FG, 40.1% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 5.8 AST, 1.2 STL) chipping in with twenty-four points on 10-of-22 shooting (45.5%), while Kevin Love (19.0 PTS< 42.7% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 11.1 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.9 STL), who was on fire in the Conference Finals against the Celtics, came crashing back down to Earth, scoring just fifteen points on a dreadful 4-of-13 shooting (30.8%). The rest of the team was hardly worth mentioning, combining for a scant twenty-four points on 7-of-31 shooting (22.6%). And with all that said, this affair was actually rather close for a good while, or at least in the First Half where things were played largely within a four-to-six point spread, before the Warriors entered Halftime with an eight-point lead. The first six minutes of the Second Half is when everything just fell apart, as the Cavs didn’t find their first point until 7:53 remained in the Third Quarter. With the deficit bloated to twenty-two points, the visiting side managed to cut it twelve, but that would be as close as they would get the rests of the way. As we stated in Thursday’s column, one of the few ways that this team can keep the pace of play in their favor is by getting to the Free-Throw Line, which was something they did a pretty good job on Thursday, all things considered. Cleveland netted 20-of-25 attempts (80.0%), nine more than their opponent. Both James and Irving are adept at creating contact when they drive to the rim, and since the ball is in either players hands predominantly, there should be no reason that they can’t slow the game down by shooting singles. This would also go a long way towards snuffing out Golden State’s transition attack, which eviscerated them in Game One, as they were outscored by eighteen points in that regard.
Meanwhile, on the surface it may not appear that their nine-day layoff hindered the Warriors (67-15, 1st in Western Conference) in any manner in Thursday’s 113-91 demolition of the Cavs, but if you watched the game at all, particularly early on, then you would know that that affair could’ve been a whole lot worse. Despite leading by as many twenty-four points throughout the Second Half, Golden State struggled to finish early, missing a number of point blank opportunities at the rim, in addition to some wide-open three-pointers. Klay Thompson (22.3 PTS, 46.8% FG, 41.4% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK) and Draymond Green (10.2 PTS, 41.8% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 7.9 REB, 7.0 AST, 2.0 STL, 1.4 BLK) were particularly ineffective, combining for just fifteen points on a miserable 6-of-24 shooting from the field (25.0%). Hell, as a team, the three-time Western Conference Champions only shot 42.5% overall, including 12-of-33 from beyond the arc (36.4%), which was marginally better than their opponent, and is hardly an impressive figure when you consider the quality of players in their rotation. So how the hell did these guys manage to absolutely house the defending champs so easily, you ask? Turnovers, or a lack there of. In forty minutes of play, the Dubs became just the third team in NBA Finals’ History to commit fewer than five turnovers in a game (four), while dishing out thirty-one assists. Furthermore, they pounced on just about every one of Cleveland’s many, many mistakes, converting their counterpart’s twenty turnovers into twenty-one points, along with a wealth of opportunities in transition, where they owned a decisive 27-9 advantage. To give you an idea of just how lopsided this game became due to the turnover differential, the hosts attempted a staggering 106 field goals, which was exactly twenty more than the Cavs. Apart from that, Steve Kerr had to have been pleased as the rehabbing skipper watched his charges bully their opposite number in the Paint, outscoring them by a whopping twenty-six points. Now we doubt that the turnover differential will remain consistently in their favor throughout this Series, but with all that said, there were two major differences from last year’s Finals and this year’s that became readily apparent from Opening Tip. First, Steph Curry (25.3 PTS, 46.8% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 6.6 AST, 1.8 STL) was not healthy for much of last year’s Postseason Run, as the two-time MVP was abused in the latter stages of the Finals, particularly in Game Seven. That was not the case Thursday Night, as the sharpshooting assassin coasted to twenty-eight points on an efficient 11-of-22 shooting, including 6-of-11 from three, while piling up six rebounds, ten assists, and three steals. And then there was by far the biggest change from the previous year’s disappointment: Kevin Durant (25.1 PTS, 53.7% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 8.3 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.6 BLK). Whereas Kerr had the likes of Harrison Barnes occupying the Small Forward role in 2016, the four-time Scoring Champion and 2013-2014 MVP has changed the dynamic completely, and made it clear from the outset of these Finals that he was here for one thing and one thing only, and that was to win a championship. Durant tormented Cleveland with frightening ease, scoring a game-high thirty-eight points on a lights out 14-of-26 shooting (53.8%), including 3-of-6 from downtown (50.0%), eight rebounds, and eight assists. It must have been sweet for a guy that took a lot of heat for making the switch from Oklahoma City to Golden State, who eliminated his Thunder in seven games in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Furthermore, Durant’s only previous trip to the Finals came in 2012, where his young Thunder succumbed to the Gentleman’s Sweep, as James earned his first elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy with the Miami Heat.