OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors took another bold step Thursday night in their quest to notch the first “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” in NBA postseason history, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers113-91 in Game 1 of the Finals.
A Warriors team that’s nearly perfect on paper was masterful in practice, led by Kevin Durant‘s 38 points. He became just the fourth NBA player to score at least 25 points in his first six Finals games. Durant attacked the rim relentlessly all night for Golden State, which entered the series 12-0 this postseason after posting four-game sweeps in each of the previous three rounds. He capitalized on every awkward closeout and missed defensive assignment by Cleveland, and tore through the open floor on the break with impunity. He threw down six dunks and racked up 23 points alone before halftime.
But Durant’s individual exploits were anything but hero-ball. Though he was opportunistic when presented with a mouthwatering advantage — e.g. Kyrie Irving on the switch — he moved the ball generously, tallying six assists in the first half and finished the game with eight. For what it’s worth, Durant also matched up with LeBron James on the other end when the Warriors’ starting unit was on the court.
The Warriors’ first successful 3-pointer came 10 minutes into the first quarter when Stephen Curry, in a bold act of whimsy during a game that was a bit ragged from the start, pulled up from 31 feet and fired away. He followed up that launch on the next two possessions with another 3, then an acrobatic foray into the paint for a twisting layup. Golden State capped a 35-point first quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Andre Iguodala, a promising sight from the team’s glue guy who has been battling a knee injury over the course of the postseason.
Leading by eight at intermission, the Warriors wrested control of the game in the opening moments of the third quarter with a scorching 13-0 run. Over a four-minute stretch, Golden State unleashed its full Warrior-osity — a barrage of 3-pointers, pinpoint passes and suffocating defense orchestrated with sure-footed choreography. The Cavs, much as they did in last season’s Finals, targeted Curry in the half court, spinning him into a series of hard screens. But Curry navigated them with aplomb, showing, recovering and getting timely assistance from his teammates, who did a stellar job cutting off Cleveland penetrators at the point of attack.
Though he struggled again from the floor– 3-for-16, including a 0-for-5 night from distance — Klay Thompson continued to assert himself as the Warriors’ sturdiest wing defender this postseason, a development that would have seemed inconceivable during his first couple of seasons in the league. Thompson entered the Finals holding his matchups to 34 percent from the field (tops among postseason defenders), contesting 80 percent of attempts (ranking second). On Thursday night, he used his size to get into Kyrie Irving’s space and handled the Warriors’ switch-heavy scheme with fluency.
For all the boffo production from their big scorers, the Warriors put up an unexceptional true shooting percentage of 50: They very much won Game 1 on the margins. Though the Warriors can occasionally get too cute with the ball, they dominated the Cavaliers in the turnover column, coughing up only four possessions against Cleveland’s 20. They punished the Cavs on the offensive boards early, collecting more rebounds on their own glass than Cleveland in the first quarter.
In the end, the Warriors answered every potential question. Durant, a ball-dominant player who had to make considerable adjustments to his game in the Warriors’ more egalitarian system, performed with perfect balance in Game 1. Draymond Green summoned his best self as the team’s defensive stalwart and offensive fulcrum, and did it with a cool head. And a team that hasn’t lost at full strength since March 10 — some 83 days ago, when they fell at Minnesota on the game’s final possession — didn’t show any ill effects of not having been tested in weeks.
The Warriors also reaffirmed what has been evident for a while: Though they’re competing against Cleveland for the third consecutive June, with the addition of Kevin Durant this series simply isn’t a rematch.