OAKLAND –- Nearly everything in Game 1 of the NBA Finals went as drawn up by Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his staff, with the notable exception being Steph Curry and Klay Thompson missing shots they usually make blindfolded.
Curry and Thompson are not going to struggle throughout this series. Not against this Cleveland defense which, unfortunately for the Cavs, is the only one available.
Which puts the Warriors squarely and firmly in command even before the ball tips off for Game 2.
Assuming good health, the biggest threat to the defending champions needing more than six games to repeat is not LeBron James or Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. The biggest threat to the Warriors dominating is their negligence, which occasionally appears -– usually accompanied by excess swagger.
Any possibility of that should be mitigated by the presence of LeBron, who has won nine consecutive Game 2s after losing Game 1. The Warriors also realize these are not the Cavs they’d beaten in five consecutive games, dating back to the 2015 Finals.
“That’s something that we don’t . . . we never look at what happened in the regular season or last year,” Kerr said Friday afternoon, roughly 16 hours after the Warrior hung a 104-89 loss on the Cavaliers in Game 1. “Every game is so entirely new. And the team we’re facing now is totally different from the one we saw in the regular season and the one we saw in The Finals, based on injuries, based on coaching, based on health, based on acquisitions and new lineups.
“So the team we beat (Thursday) night is brand new. The previous five games or whatever mean nothing to us. We don’t pay attention to that.”
What the Warriors did pay attention to in Game 2 was defense. They seem to have figured out these “new” Cavs, for which only two players, James and Irving, consistently attack the rim. Every other scorer generally lives on the perimeter in hopes of getting open looks beyond the arc.
The Warriors defended the paint, holding Cleveland to 42.9 percent shooting. James and Irving shot a combined 37.2 percent, 30.3 percent after the opening quarter. The Cavs got plenty of offense rebounds, 15, but turned them into only six buckets.
The Warriors also protected the 3-point line. The Cavs, who had been the hottest 3-point shooting team in the playoffs, at 43.4 percent, were at 33.3 percent in Game 1.
“Our defense has a lot to do with it, just being aggressive, trying to follow the game plan,” Curry said. “They’re obviously a team that shoots the 3 very well and can get hot at any time. But the key is trying to not let them get open looks and find a rhythm. From the jump, you want to be able to try to impact their offensive rhythm by not having a miscommunication, having great rotations on the perimeter and contesting shots.”
It’s a blueprint that if applied well works against most teams. Against these Cavs, it’s precisely on target.
“We can do all of that on Sunday and they can make everything,” Curry said, shutting off excess swagger. “It’s just how basketball is.
“But our defense, energy and kind of focus was pretty good (Thursday). If we can repeat that and take it up another notch, that’s when we’re at our best.”
If the Warriors are at their best, this series won’t get anywhere near the maximum seven games.