Game plans aren’t the only thing Steve Kerr can break.
Neither Warriors head coach Steve Kerr or his Cleveland counterpart, Tyronn Lue, planned on smashing up the game plan Thursday evening in Oakland during game 1 of the N.B.A. Finals.
…Otherwise they would have brought extra supplies.
Imagine the Cavs’ starting five’s faces were Lue to have drawn up a pre-game xo strategy on what to do about Shaun Livingston’s MJ-evocative midrange J or how to combat Leo Barbosa’s behind the back And1 Mixtape redux or coming up with a reductive answer about what, exactly, to do about Harrison Barnes’ smothering defense and box-out prowess in the paint.
In the immediate aftermath of Cleveland’s 109-84 loss, LeBron James looked like a kid at a last-day-of-school party who was blindfolded and promised a snow cone but received a Dixie cup full of dog poo instead. “They got to the point where they were last year and won a championship because of their whole team and their bench,” he said. “And they’re here once again in the Finals because of their whole team.”
If Lue’s plan was to neutralize Steph Curry and Klay Thompson Game 1 — mission accomplished. The back-to-back MVP and the man who saved the Warriors from oblivion in the Western Conference Finals combined for just 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting and just 4-for-13 from beyond the arc. Meantime, the Warriors’ bench outscored Cleveland’s non-starters 45-10 and the Cavaliers gave up 17 turnovers that resulted in 25 points.
“Don’t matter what you do with Steph and Klay, don’t matter what you do with Draymond,” James said. “Give up 45 points off the bench and 25 points off turnovers on the road, it’s not a good ingredient to win.”
The Warriors deep play Game 1 was testament not only to Kerr’s willingness to stick with the hot hand, regardless of the name of the back of that hand’s jersey, but also — perhaps more tellingly — portends how much his spent Warriors may rely on the bench throughout the series.
The Warriors’ starters, who were tired from a grueling box-score-didn’t-reflect-the-battle five-game series against the Blazers, were given up for dead after falling behind 3-1 to a wide awake OKC. And if they were beaten up before KD and Russell Westbrook decided to play four games like Kareem and Magic (unfortunately for the Thunder, the series went seven), they truly don’t have much left now.
Enter back-up point guard Livingston whose 20 points led seven players in double figures. Curry was the Warriors’ seventh to get there with a close-to-garbage time three and Thompson followed him on the next possession with a splash of his own to finish with nine.
“Maybe we’re not here without our bench,” Warriors GM Bob Myers said post game. “We have a really good bench that stays ready, and I think those guys also recognized they were needed more tonight.”
Draymond Green led starters with 16 points and 11 rebounds, along with his defense and rebounding Barnes woke up to score 13 points and Andre Iguodala checked in with 12 and was seemingly in on every play on the defensive side of the ball.
The night held some bright spots for the Cavs. Kyrie Irving, absent from last year’s finals due to injury, led the Cavs with 26 points and James had a quiet 23. The Cavs showed a glimpse of what’s to come when they went ahead in the third. Kerr called a time out and waxed off his clipboard for emphasis. And that’s when Livingston, Barbosa (11 points), Iguodala and co. kicked in to push the lead back to 14 leaving starters from both sides to take in the last three minutes from the bench.
“For the most part, I’m pleased with what we did defensively against Steph and Klay,” Lue said. “Their bench did a good job for them.”
Game 2 is Sunday in Oakland. Kerr did not say whether he plans to hit up Office Depot before then.