Feel-out game feels bad, man: NBA Finals Game 1, Behind the Box Score

BtBS Behind the Box Score WFNY

Cleveland Cavaliers (0-1) 91
Golden State Warriors (1-0) 113
[Box Score]

LeBron James always like to say that Game 1 of a series is a feel-out game, where each team is trying to see what the other team is doing, how the matchups are going to work, where there is room to exploit weaknesses, etc. If that’s the case, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a whole heck of a lot more feeling out to do.

The Golden State Warriors continued their unbeaten romp through the NBA playoffs by crushing Cleveland’s will and doing pretty much whatever they wanted en route to a big Game 1 victory that wasn’t even really as close as the score might look.

In the first quarter, the story was rebounding, as the Warriors were struggling on their first shot, but they kept getting crushing offensive rebounds to maintain possession and get second chance points. In the second quarter, the story was turnovers, as the Cavaliers seemed determined to just give the ball back to the Warriors as much as possible.

Despite all that, the Cavaliers were somehow only down eight points at the half, giving them hope that they could clean up a few things and get back in the game in the second half. Instead, the third quarter got off to a disastrous start as the Cavs offense sputtered and the Warriors capitalized on every mistake to blow the game wide open. Cleveland made a small run to get within 12 points later in the quarter, but the Warriors responded with ten quick points to reclaim control of the game and they would never let that up.

Now the Cavaliers find themselves on the other side of the ledger, forced to tell themselves the same things the Celtics told themselves after Cleveland beat them by 40. This only counts as one loss and on the only scoreboard that matters, Cleveland is only losing 1-0. Just as the Celtics came back to stun the Cavaliers in the following game, now Cleveland must regroup and try to find some way to slow down Kevin Durant and the Warriors in Game 2.

There aren’t many positives for the Cavaliers to take away from this game. They simply have to somehow learn from the things that didn’t work and try to come up with some way to limit their own mistakes while also slowing down the Warriors’ unrelenting offensive attack.

As ugly as they might be for Cavs fans to look at, here are the numbers.

  • 38/8/8 – Kevin Durant was the story of this game for the Warriors. Last year, the Cavaliers had to dig deep and throw everything in their arsenal to just barely get by the Warriors. Golden State’s response to losing the series was to replace Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. It seemed unfair at the time, and it’s pretty much playing out that way. Durant was simply unstoppable in this game, scoring 38 points with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. The Cavaliers started the game so worried about the three point shot that they routinely let Durant get to the rim more or less untouched. Durant shot 53.8 percent from the floor including 50 percent from three-point range. It has to be pretty concerning for the Cavaliers because, frankly, nothing they tried to slow down Durant worked whatsoever.
  • 31 to 4 – In one of the more insane stat lines in NBA Finals history, the Warriors finished the game with 31 assists to just four turnovers. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers turned the ball over 20 times compared to just 15 assists. LeBron had eight turnovers and Kyrie Irving had four. The question going forward will be if the Cavaliers were just extra sloppy with the ball in this game or if the turnovers were a result of the Warriors defense and the pressure that Golden State’s scoring puts on opposing offenses. The Warriors have arguably the best offense the NBA has ever seen and the 31 assists aren’t exactly surprising, but if Cleveland is going to get back into this series, they have to do a better job taking care of the ball. The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers 21 to 6 on points off turnovers.
  • 56 to 30 – The Warriors outscored the Cavaliers in the paint by a 56 to 30 margin. The Cavaliers started out focusing so heavily on protecting the three-point line, but the Warriors’ offense is so problematic because doing so only opens up lanes getting to the rim. The Warriors exploited this matchup all night. On the other side, the Cavaliers struggled shooting in the paint as the Warriors were characteristically stout in keeping pressure on players at the rim.
  • Big Three – Offensively, the Cavaliers’ big three were actually pretty solid. LeBron James was great, especially in the first half, and he ended up with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists. Kyrie Irving scored 24 points but had just 2 assists. Kevin Love added 15 points, 21 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The problem was Love shot just 30.8 percent from the floor and just 1-of-7 on two-point shots. Kyrie Irving was 7-of-18 on two-point shots. For the Cavaliers offense to be its normal dynamic self, they need to be more balanced on inside and outside shots.
  • The rest – Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, and Deron Williams all combined for just three points, four assists, and 11 rebounds. JR Smith hit a three-pointer in the opening minutes of the game. His only other contributions to the box score for the rest of the game were two turnovers and one foul. The other three mentioned above went scoreless for the entire game. There’s not much else to say about this one other than this is simply not good enough. Those four players are all big parts of why the Cavaliers are in the Finals and Cleveland needs them to show up in Game 2.
  • 36.8 percent – The Cavaliers shot just 36.8 percent (14-of-38) on uncontested field goals in this game. Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love, Deron Williams, and Kyle Korver combined to go just 3-of-17 on uncontested shots. Kyrie and LeBron were the only Cavaliers with three or more uncontested shots to shoot 50 percent or better. Deron Williams went 0-for-4 and Korver went 0-for-3. Not to pile on, but again, those guys just have to be better.
  • 54.5 percent – After doing a good job limiting Steph Curry last season in the Finals, the Cavaliers struggled to stay with Curry in Game 1 this year. Curry scored 28 points and had 10 assists as he shot 54.5 percent (6-of-11) on three-point shots. After Durant routinely destroyed the Cavaliers in the first half, the Cavs defense focused on Durant a bit more, which allowed Curry to get free a lot more. Going back to uncontested shots, Durant had 12 uncontested shots (made 7) and Curry had 11 uncontested shots (made 7).

The Cavaliers have a lot of work to do between now and Sunday if they’re going to be able to slow down Curry and Durant. The Cavs are fortunate that Klay Thompson is struggling with his shot right now, or this one could have been even uglier.

But again, in NBA playoff series, it’s always important to not get carried away by the results of any one game. Cleveland will surely watch film and try to come up with a more successful game plan for Game 2. In the bigger picture, the goal for the Cavaliers is to protect home court and steal one win on the road. If Cleveland protects home court, they will have three more chances to win one in Oakland. If that happens, this will be a forgotten game, just as Games 1 and 2 were last year.