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When Steph and KD Ignite Like That, the Warriors Are Invincible

It was a competitive first quarter! And then Golden State’s two brightest stars changed everything. Our staff looks at all the sides to an impressive (and deflating) Game 1.

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Kevin Is a Place on Earth

Danny Chau: Kevin Durant hit a 3-pointer on the right wing in transition for his 35th point with 4:06 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 1. It was a nail through the stake lodged in the Cavaliers’ coffin — a convincing opening statement in the form of a 113–91 Warriors win. Kevin Durant calmly turned, backpedaled, and shook his head in the direction of noted LeBron James fan Rihanna, who had tried her hand at free throw heckling earlier in the game. The NBA.com play-by-play originally logged it as a layup. Makes sense.

Kevin Durant was the tallest player on the court for a significant portion of Game 1; he was ostensibly the Warriors’ center, and from a certain perspective, his numbers reflected that reality. Durant made 14 field goals in Game 1; nine of them came right at the rim on either a dunk or a layup. On Thursday, he played with a traditional center’s efficiency, but from all three levels of the floor; with Draymond Green floating in and out of the game with foul trouble, Durant, as a near-7-footer, took over as the team’s secondary facilitator, throwing a perfect game — eight assists, no turnovers.

Twenty-two seconds after shrugging off Rihanna, he casually hit a fadeaway 3 from the right corner to make it 38 points, a total that ties for his 10th-highest-scoring playoff game ever. The ease with which Durant is capable of amassing points has always been a wondrous thing; but on this team, on this stage, with defenders almost magnetically repulsed from him — it was downright disturbing.

Are We Ready for Steph Curry Finals Magic?

Zach Kram: Steph always gets his 3s. Since returning from injury in last season’s playoffs, Curry has played in 29 playoff games and made at least three 3-pointers in 27 of them. Even when he’s off, or nervous, or otherwise struggling, Steph always has a combination of volume and efficiency sufficient to contribute from behind the arc.

So as much as he’s defined by his shooting, the easiest way to tell whether Steph is feeling it on any given night is to focus on what else he does with the ball. On his infrequent bad nights, he forces looks and moves a half pace too fast for the ball; at his best, he bounces with every dribble and exudes verve with every smiling, underhanded shovel pass to an open shooter.

We saw an engaged and energetic — and fully healthy — Steph on Thursday, with the two-time MVP’s first career double-double in 14 Finals games. He dished, he scored, he high-stepped in celebration while the ball was still live, and he tallied only two turnovers, his fewest in any Finals game. Even his momentary miscommunications turned into highlights at LeBron’s expense.

And when Kevin Love switched onto Curry at the 3-point line, the Warriors guard didn’t hesitate or stumble and force a shot at the top of the key, as he might have done once upon a time; rather, he performed a single bit of dribbling wizardry, gained half a step on the Cavs’ lumbering big, and accelerated to the hoop for a twisting layup off glass.

LeBron James Already Won

Jason Concepcion: LeBron James has already won. That sounds trite in the face of a 113–91 Golden State knockout, with Kevin Durant putting up 38 points, including six first-half cupcake dunks, eight rebounds, and eight assists (and LeBron countering with 28 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists, eight turnovers, and an L). But that’s facts.

I’m not talking about the seven straight Finals appearances (unprecedented in the modern era) or his three rings or the serious and sober comparisons to Michael Jordan or the way he carries himself in defeat or even the fact that he has Rihanna stanning for him from the front row in her auxiliary cultural capacity as next-gen Jimmy Goldstein. Well, maybe it’s a little about that.

James has already won because no other active American athlete has his combination of talent, platform, gravitas, and thoughtfulness. And all those things together are why LeBron James is remarkable and necessary. On Wednesday, James’s Los Angeles home was vandalized with racist slurs. At the press conference before Game 1, LeBron was asked about the incident.

"As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have in sports, race and what’s going on comes again, and on my behalf and on my family’s behalf," James said. "But I look at it as, if this can shed light and continue to keep the conversation going on my behalf, then I’m OK with it. … It just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America. Hate in America, especially for African Americans, is with them every day. Even though it’s concealed most of the time, people hide their faces, say things about you. When they see you, they smile in your face. It’s alive every single day."

"Stick to sports" is a ubiquitous refrain whenever athletes step out of the cloistered and comfortable sphere of the arena and epistemological pregame/postgame soundbite softballs. The obvious problem is that life, in all of its complexity and ugliness, never heeds the request. When that happens, the modern athlete is presented with a Gordian knot of tough choices. Speak out on issues and they get criticized or even potentially ostracized. Sit out the debate, or couch comments in lawyerly dodges and "gotta hear both sides"–style platitudes, and they get roasted again. It can be a no-win situation. But LeBron James has already won.

These Were the Warriors We Were Promised

Chris Almeida: Many events from the past few months with higher stakes than basketball, even hyper-elite professional basketball, have prompted us to talk about conspiracies and alternate explanations and to question conventional wisdom. The NBA Finals — or this game, at least — shouldn’t be treated in the same way. Take the path of least resistance. Why did the Warriors cruise through Game 1? They have many very, very good players and they played very, very well.

Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant shot 52 percent from the field and combined to score 66 points. Draymond Green played smothering defense and grabbed 11 boards. The Cavaliers had fewer field goals than the Warriors had assists. It seemed as if Cleveland threw the ball away four times before the opening tip. Golden State turned the ball over four times total. Klay Thompson had an abysmal shooting night, butchering jumpers that he usually hits with ease. It didn’t matter. There is an embarrassment of riches in Golden State. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with this team on offense if you play at your best. If you throw the ball away, you’re done for. For most of the season, Durant and Curry had to take turns going up on the scoring seesaw. Thursday, the playground floated into outer space.

This was exactly what we feared the Warriors would be and everything that we hoped they could be. The ball seemed to fly from the hands of every Cavalier directly into a Golden State fast break. The entire game seemed to be a loop of Durant getting uncontested dunks or hitting 3s and Curry shooting his shots and karate kicking the air. This was Peak Warriors, except that … it wasn’t. Green and Thompson combined to go 6-of-28 from the field. There is a lot of room for the team that just won by 22 to get better. Call that unfair or boring, but also call it what it certainly is: really damn good basketball.

We’ll Always Have This, LeBron

Crisis of Faith

Juliet Litman: At the first TV timeout, I ran to the other room to put on my Klay Thompson Team USA T-shirt. It’s a great shirt, and Klay played impressive defense to stop Kyrie Irving from finishing at the rim, as is his wont. I assumed Klay was locked in and ready to shake off the shooting doldrums that have dogged him since the playoffs began. I was wrong.

He shot 3-for-16, including two blown layups. That doesn’t include the "extra passes" he dished out, which Steve Kerr would normally applaud, except they were clearly panic passes. My own faith in Klay — my Klaytheism — has only ever been topped by his faith in himself. He’s such a special player because of his smooth motion, quick release, and wildly vacant facial expressions, which make us assume everything is going to be just fine.

Durant and Curry’s collective performance covers for Thompson’s abysmal offensive game. (He was superb on defense, as always.) But if the Warriors want to truly end the Cavs without difficulty, they’ll need Klay to rediscover his stroke. And more importantly, the vitality of Klaytheism relies on it. His believers need and deserve one of those unconscious performances. Sixty points on 90 seconds of possession time isn’t even necessary. I’d settle for six 3s in a game. Is that too much to ask?

The No-Defense Defense

Rodger Sherman: If I were playing basketball and I saw Kevin Durant running in transition with the ball and realized I was between him and the basket, I would sprint away from him as quickly as I could and dive under the closest chair, bench, or rock. It’s kinda what J.R. Smith did here:

But this was not an isolated hilarious GIF. On several opportunities, the Cavs opted not to guard Kevin Durant. He had six dunks in the first half, more than he’s had in any previous playoff game in his entire career.

But these weren’t acts of defensive cowardice. My guess is the Cavs had the notion that they needed to keep a close eye on shooters in transition drilled into their heads over the past week. After all, Golden State is the best 3-point-shooting team of all time, and when in transition, they have been known to pass up decent looks at the rim for great looks by some of the best shooters in NBA history. Of course, the Cavs’ game plan wasn’t to allow open layups, but in those split seconds on the run, their players might have been so consumed with guarding the 3-point line that they didn’t realize they were the last line of defense.

There were a lot of easy opportunities at the rim for the Warriors, from Durant to Zaza Pachulia to Curry. It served as a reminder of why the Cavs were the 22nd-ranked defense in the NBA this season. They seemed to have flipped a switch in the postseason, but the Warriors can unflip switches. If you try to remember all the ways they can beat you, you might forget the critical basketball tenet that you shouldn’t allow an opponent to have an uncontested dunk.

Tristan Thompson’s Milk Carton Game

Haley O’Shaughnessy: The biggest advantage most thought Cleveland held over the Warriors before Game 1 was on the boards. (Also, you know, LeBron James.) It’s the most important responsibility of glorified role player Tristan Thompson, and the Cavs are at their best when he’s feeding second chances back into the offense. Thompson pocketed $15,330,435 this year to do exactly that — trust me, it wasn’t for his perimeter D.

But in his 22 minutes on Thursday, Thompson ended the game with more fouls (two) than points (zero), and as many boards (four) as Kyle Korver. His stat line had more in common with Patrick McCaw’s, who played all of three minutes, than any other starter in the game. Thompson’s absence was felt everywhere: His rim protection vanished, evidenced by how often Kevin Durant feasted on the wide-open lane. Even Zaza Pachulia, the sore thumb of one of the greatest starting lineups ever, went 4-for-5 in the paint. JaVale McGee — who is so short on NBA accomplishments that the broadcast mentioned his pet cat as an accolade — had more blocks (one) than Thompson. Oh, and it was on Thompson:

Twitter cried that the Kardashian Kurse had hexed T.T. when reports came out earlier in the week that Thompson’s significant other, Khloe Kardashian, might be pregnant. But blaming girlfriends for shitty performances is tired, and also: To be cursed, a guy has to be present in the first place.

Win or Lose, Steph Curry Still Isn’t Cool

Sherman: Many have asked whether it is fun to watch the Warriors destroy everything in their path. Here, to help answer that question, is a GIF of Steph Curry draining an impossible 3 by pretending to be a Rockette while Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows has the time of his life in the background:

At first, I thought this was just a spur-of-the-moment celebration, Steph letting his childlike joy flow with an awkward, giddy celebration. Then I remembered Steph was debuting his new shoe last night. The Warriors can’t even be ironically cool. They’re just awesome and it’s sucking our souls out.