OAKLAND, Calif. — For the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been defined by the exploits of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The “Splash Brothers,” as they are known, have become the best shooting back court in NBA history, and their performances in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals only added to their growing legend.
But in Thursday’s opening game of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, they stunk.
Not that it mattered. Thanks to a remarkable performance from Golden State’s supporting cast — including a remarkable 45-10 edge in bench scoring — the Warriors emerged with a comfortable 104-89 victory over Cleveland in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 inside Oracle Arena.
“This was a strange game for us,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re not used to having both Steph and Klay off like that with their shooting.
“But the one thing we’ve talked about all year is if we defend and take care of the ball, then we’re always going to have somebody score enough points for us, whether it’s the starters or the bench. I thought we played great defense, and our bench, obviously, gave us a huge lift.”
It certainly was a strange night for the Warriors, given that Shaun Livingston finished with the same number of points (20) and field goals (eight) as Curry and Thompson combined to produce in Game 1. But it also was one that, at least in some ways, played out according to form. The Cavaliers were expected to struggle defensively, and did so, with the Warriors shooting 49.4 percent from the field even on a night Curry and Thompson struggled.
Meanwhile, Golden State’s defense created 25 points off 15 Cavaliers turnovers. Combined with Golden State’s massive edge off the bench, Cleveland didn’t have much of a chance.
“When you get outscored 45-10 on the bench and give up 25 points off 17 [actually 15] turnovers, no matter what someone does or doesn’t do, it’s going to be hard to win, especially on the road,” James said. “That’s what it was.
“[It] don’t matter what you do with Steph and Klay, don’t matter what you do with Draymond [Green]. Give up 45 points off the bench and 25 points off turnovers on the road, it’s not a good ingredient to win.”
After the Warriors built multiple double-digit leads, only to have the Cavaliers fight their way back into the game each time, the decisive moment came at the end of the third quarter, with the third incident involving a blow below-the-belt within the last two weeks involving these teams.
With 34 seconds remaining in the quarter, Andre Iguodala was bringing the ball up the court when Matthew Dellavedova came up behind Iguodala and, in a cursory attempt at a steal, swiped at the ball, his hand instead landing a shot directly between Iguodala’s legs. That led to an immediate reaction from Iguodala, who was quickly separated from Dellavedova, and a lengthy review by the officials.
“I’m not going to judge or say anything negative about him,” Iguodala said. “He’s out there competing. There are a lot of emotions going on out there. I respect a lot of guys’ hustle in this league. You’ve got guys who’ve got to get a little dirty, got to be a little physical, to make a life and to feed their family, so I can only respect that.
“For me, it’s just keeping my composure, and continue to try to do things for my team to help us win.”
The play resulted in a common foul, much to the dismay of the hometown fans. But Iguodala got his revenge by burying a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, giving Golden State a 74-68 lead after three quarters.
Then, with Curry and Thompson watching from the bench, the Warriors opened the fourth with a 22-8 run — the first 20 of which came from Livingston, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. By the time the run was over, the game was out of reach.
“[I’m] just really proud of the way everybody contributed,” Curry said. “You don’t win championships without the entire squad coming in and making an impact on games.”
No one is more indicative of that than Iguodala, who picked up right where he left off when he was named Finals MVP a year ago . Kerr chose to reinsert Barnes into the starting lineup in place of Iguodala, who started the final few games of the Western Conference finals, but Iguodala remained a massively important contributor, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and no turnovers while playing tremendous individual defense.
“Andre is a brilliant basketball player. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit,” Kerr said. “His line never usually tells the story, but 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists, no turnovers and great defense . . . that’s who he is for us.
“He is the adult in the room. He always settles us down, and he knows exactly what’s happening out there.”
Cleveland briefly tried to make it interesting, twice cutting Golden State’s lead to 11 late in the fourth. But that’s when Curry and Thompson finally made their mark, burying back-to-back three-pointers that caused Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to call a timeout and remove his starters from the game.
The Cavaliers came into this series as the rested team, having played just 14 games over the past six weeks, and having avoided the bruising battle between the Warriors and Thunder in the Western Conference finals. But while Cleveland got plenty of production from its stars — 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists from LeBron James, 26 points from Kyrie Irving and 17 points and 13 rebounds from Kevin Love — they got practically nothing from everyone else, and find themselves trailing in the series because of it.