When the box score is this seemingly mundane, one must find their narrative points where one can.
So did the Golden State Warriors win Game 1 of the NBA Finals when Steve Kerr punched out yet another defenseless whiteboard (he swears it’s only his third in 57 games this year, but blamed age and brittleness -– the took, not him –- for the damage), or when Matthew Dellavedova found his hand too far within the perimeter of Andre Iguodala’s legacy builders?
Or was it when Leandro Barbosa found safety in improbable shots, or when Shaun Livingston turned Klay Thompson into a very temporarily distant memory, or maybe when Thompson and Stephen Curry decided through one of their worst nights as a tandem to show the Cleveland Cavaliers that too much scouting on too few people leads to a bad end?
Whatever the reason for the result, the Warriors slowly but decisively squeezed the Cavaliers, 104-89, Thursday night and handed Cleveland a fresh conundrum to go with the 10 that they’ve been dealt before this in the last two seasons.
Specifically, how you can take away the opponent’s two best players and still get chased from their building.
The how, though, is fairly clear; Livingston, Iguodala and Barbosa combined to produce a Thompson-Curry line -– 18-of-24 for 42 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and no turnovers. In addition, Andrew Bogut was active and even lively in his 15 minutes, and Draymond Green was efficient and disciplined (16/11/7/plus-17 in a game-high 40:17).
And there are other hows here. Cleveland shot a miserable 38.1 percent (84 shots for 89 points), missed 28 shots in the paint where they presumably have a noticeable advantage, allowed Golden State 25 points on 17 turnovers while getting only 12 from the Warriors’ nine. LeBron James (23/12/9, with four turnovers) was seemingly overwhelmed by the constant sting of the Warriors’ defensive hive, Kyrie Irving finished with 26 but got 11 of those at the free throw line, they got 10 points from their bench to the Warriors’ 45, and in general were taught the same lessons they had been given in their eight meetings last year, and in the two regular season games in this one.
The Warriors simply have too many things. It isn’t as simple as Kerr having only to wind them and watch them go, of course, but this was a night when Curry and Thompson were the team’s seventh and eighth more influential players, and still they won by 15, and could have won by more if aggregate score mattered.
And therein lies the real issue for the Cavs. They have the single most powerful player in the game (you needn’t ask), one of the game’s best guards (Irving), a prolific four (Kevin Love), and that’s not nearly enough.
Indeed, the Warriors would not only need for Curry and Thompson to put together a string of 8-for-25/4-for-13/eight-assist/five-turnover stinkers, but for the rest of the roster to fail as they succeeded Thursday night.
This seems unlikely, but that is not exactly an original thought, a technical analysis or even (deities forbid) a hot take.
So Game 1, which looked like so many Warrior games except for Curry and Thompson not being usual factors, will be remembered for Kerr’s whiteboard murder (he punched it into three smithereens in Golden State’s first second-half time out), and Iguodala’s forbearance in the face of Dellavedova’s roving hand.
In fact, the fascinating thing about the incident is not yet one more groining in a sport that has become increasingly tolerant of the tactic, or Iguodala’s angry reaction to Dellavedova, but the fact that Green of all people is the one who corralled Iguodala and moved him from his initial inclination to precipitate a bench-emptying brawl and to a place of disciplinary safety.
This violates two previous narratives – Green as loose cannon and Iguodala as, in Kerr’s words, “the adult in the room” – while preserving the overarching one.
Namely, the Warriors have more face cards to play night in and out, and that makes the high-stakes poker they are currently playing a far easier game.
Not that Cleveland can’t do something about all this, mind you; the Cavs did reorient themselves in Games 2 and 3 a year ago. But they have now lost six straight to Golden State by an average of 16.3 points per game, and this looks like a desperate cry to go back to the drawing board.
As long as it isn’t one of the drawing boards that the Warriors provide for Kerr. That wouldn’t end well at all.