OAKLAND, Calif. – As dominant as the Golden State Warriors looked in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they are up against more than just the Cleveland Cavaliers in this series.
They are up against history. They have won the first game in each of their three meetings with the Cavs in the Finals, yet found mixed results after that.
For a franchise that has accomplished so much on its way to three consecutive Finals, it is still searching for that sustained, signature Warriors dominance against LeBron James and Co. on the game’s biggest stage.
After all, the Warriors won the first two games of last year’s series by an average of 24 points, and, well, we all know how that turned out.
So naturally much of the discussion Saturday at the Warriors’ practice facility focused on what might be different in Game 2 Sunday at Oracle Arena.
“Well, I’m sure [the Cavs are] going to be better in transition,” said Warriors acting coach Mike Brown. “They’re going to do a better job of stopping the ball and getting out to our shooters. But the biggest thing, and they even said it: They’re going to try to amp up the physicality of the game. They’re going to grab a little bit more and try to knock us off our routes and do what they can to disrupt whatever we try to do offensively.”
It’s a formula that has been effective for the Cavs the past two Junes as they surprisingly extended the series in a six-game loss in 2015 before winning a physical struggle of attrition last year.
“They will be way more physical,” said Kevin Durant, who’s in his first Finals with the Warriors. “They’re going to be way more aggressive in the pick-and-roll on the offensive end and defensively. They’re going to try to get their 3-point shooters going and rebound the ball. They’re going to try to get more offensive rebounds. They’re just going to muck the game up and be physical.”
Even with Golden State head coach Steve Kerr’s status for Sunday unclear – “[GM] Bob Myers and Steve both told me, they both said, ‘Hey, you’re the coach until we tell you otherwise” Brown said – nothing really changes for the Warriors. They’ve been here before. So instead of focusing on remaining the up-tempo dynamos who have gone 13-0 this postseason, they are looking for improvement upon their 22-point victory in Game 1.
“We have to come out and be even more physical than we were in Game 1,” Durant said. “We have to be better at finishing around the rim. We can’t leave points on the table. Defensively, we just have to talk a little bit more and communicate on pick-and-rolls, on anything, transition. So we definitely have to be better.”
One of the biggest topics after Game 1 centered on Klay Thompson’s shooting struggles. He shot 3 of 16 and has shot better than 50 percent from the floor just once this postseason – in the final game of the Warriors’ semifinal series against Utah. The reality may be that while it may seem like a concern, with Durant and Stephen Curry leading the way, the Warriors may not need big offensive contributions from Thompson because of his defensive impact.
“His movement off of the ball is one of the main reasons why we’re a good team,” Durant said of Thompson. “And his defense is the reason why we we’re one of the best defensive teams in the league as well. So when he’s not shooting the ball, that doesn’t take him out of his game, that doesn’t lower his confidence.”
Added Cavs coach Tyronn Lue: “He’s one of the best shooters we have ever seen. For him to be in a slump is crazy. He’s missed some shots or whatever, not in a great rhythm because Steph and K.D. are playing at a high clip, and they have been in the playoffs. So maybe [he’s] a little bit out of rhythm, but as far as off in a slump, I don’t believe that. A guy like that is never slumping.”
History – there it is again – suggests Thompson, who’s shooting 36.6 percent during these playoffs, will get it going again. If he does, the Warriors could very well be on their way to completing a historic Finals run.
A four- or five-game series win and a second title in three seasons would put Golden State in some elite company. But there’s still plenty of basketball remaining in this series. Until then, Kyrie Irving isn’t concerned.
“They took Game 1 the last three years, so we obviously know that there are some things that we can correct. And going from Game 1 to Game 2, obviously Game 1 – highly anticipated, been off for a while – we finally get back into some game action. We just have to settle in. That’s all.”
If the two previous matchups are any indication, it likely will be a lot more than that.