Takeaways from Game 1
That was fun. As hell.
I hate writing snap judgment pieces; feels way too close to the moment to be objective, you know?
But I think — and I accept the eye-rolls that you’re about to give me — that last night's game hit every checkmark for what I’d like to see happen during the course of a game. Every single one.
That’s actually very hard to do nowadays, for one pretty simple reason: the potential for basketball fights is pretty low. Which is understandable; folks have real money on the line now, and a game check lost due to suspension isn’t worth whatever pride you feel you must defend in the moment. But yeah, I remember Carmelo Anthony punching a guy in the jaw and getting a 15-game suspension for it. It was amazing. I am not proud of that Pacers-Pistons brawl, but you’re not going to tell me it wasn’t entertaining as hell to watch unfold. Because that would be a lie.
Last night, I got my two favorite players, Steph and LeBron, both playing phenomenally, Steph finally having the assertive Game 1 I’ve wanted from him, and LeBron only being the greatest basketball player of all-time. (Which he is. Stop it.) I got a competitive game, competitive meaning competitive, folks out there playing like they wanted it (minus #35, who I’ll talk about later, I guess). Draymond was on tip early — which I personally like, but those are my biases — and for better or worse, that lights a spark under the rest of the guys (except for #35, which, whatever, I’ll address it now.
Kevin Durant needs to, er, go play somewhere else.
I sound insane, I get it. But this ain’t working. You see his stats (26 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 8/22 fg) and think he positively influenced the game, except their insistence on isolating him despite his jumper not falling kept Cleveland in the game. Even worse, their typical ball-movement and cutting was getting Klay and Steph open looks — looks they were actually making. I don’t think I saw Kevin make more than 5 shots, which tracks, because he missed 6 of his 7 threes. I think he got a few dunks, so that leaves like 2 or 3 foul-line jumpers. He routinely takes them out of rhythm on offense, and on defense, he’s way too inconsistent to be so damn lanky; all he should have to do is, like, exert energy to be a solid defender. Instead, he loses what should have been the game-winning rebound to J.R. Smith, a dude considerably shorter and lighter?
I’m fed up. The occasional scoring eruptions aren’t enough. He takes pull-up 3s with no compunction, like somebody really told him he can shoot with Steph and Klay like that. He took so many pull-up 3s in the first half of Game 7 against the Rockets that I swore he was point-shaving. (I haven’t ruled it out yet.) Either way, he’s playing out-of-sorts, and I don’t know if he’s in his own head, or if he’s just incapable of consistently playing within their motion offense, but I’d much rather he go somewhere else he can be the man and run isolations to his heart’s content. I’ve grown way too attached to the Dubs and Steph to be okay with Kevin siphoning off what makes them special. He’s an offensive freak, I know, but his style clashes so extremely with Steph’s that it can be hard to watch when they’re on the court together. I get why people hate them. I never could — when it’s clicking, it’s gorgeous, and you know it — but when it gets stuck in the mud, it’s because they’re forcing the ball to Kevin and letting him face-up and jab step and take 7 seconds to make a damn decision. (Somebody on Twitter called him Carmelo Durant during the game. I might've half-laughed.)
They never needed him. I never thought it was a real possibility, and thought they should’ve pursued somebody like Nic Batum.
(I am complaining about my favorite team employing a walking, nightly 26. I am a masochist.)
But yes, aside from a disjointed night from Durant, Draymond’s rage seemed to get everyone else going, on both sides. I can always feel when a game is legitimately intense — and for Game 1 of a Finals this important, I guess it should’ve been — but it was clear from the outset that Bron came to win. If the game was going to be a blowout, like I sort-of expected, the Dubs were gonna have to jump on them early; Cleveland would’ve likely kept it close-ish in that scenario, keeping it around 10 due to Golden State’s terrible second-quarters, but the recurring third-quarter avalanche would ultimately put the Cavs down, and that would set the tone for the rest of the series. Instead, LeBron got himself and Kevin Love (kind of) going in the first, and, surprisingly, we went to halftime tied, courtesy of a Steph Curry buzzer-beater from a very far distance. Check.
The Dubs third-quarter run. Check. Bron keeping his boys in it. Check. Related: it is a joy watching this dude basically become a wiser, stronger, more sculpted version of himself from 10 years ago. I feel like I read so much about LeBron’s mediocre 3-point shooting, but I legitimately believe every 3 he takes is going to drop. He makes them from everywhere: top of the key, both wings, off pick-and-roll as the dribbler, on fadeaways, on catch-and-shoots. He missed a few at the end of the game, but it was clear by then he was tired and simply throwing stuff up and hoping it stuck. He shoots like a guy whose just been shooting NBA threes for fifteen years and knows how to shoot now simply out of repetition. All those bricked threes he maybe shouldn’t have been taking when he was a baby set the stage for a late-career gunner, a guy you can absolutely depend on to hit those shots. I don’t know. I just know he deserves all the roses, win-or-lose.
At the point Steph makes a 3 to put the Dubs up six with 4:39 to go, I assume the rest of the game a fait accompli; an Earl miss and Steph rebound all but solidify my belief that they’ve sown this one up.
I gotta stop doubting LeBron, man. That’s my bad.
Kevon Looney (who might not have a 20-inch vertical? I can’t tell, really,) misses a relatively easy layup, especially for an NBA center; LeBron scores twice before-and-after one of Durant’s terrible solo sessions; Steph makes a short shot; a weird Cavs possession leads to a Kevin Love 3; and suddenly, Cleveland’s only down by 1. And at this point, I’m sure Golden State’s going to lose.
LeBron James needs 1 point in this scenario? I am betting on him each and every time. (Remember when he wasn’t clutch? Wow.)
Bron making that layup — through that contact — and completing the and-one was fairly predictable. Just a little. He deserved that win, my opinion. Strictly as a basketball fan, I was rooting for LeBron’s legacy, because to win Game 1 in Oakland with that roster would’ve been the most impressive feat of this postseason, and he’s been dominant for its duration. To get an amped-up Draymond, a locked-in Steph, and a moderately active Durant, and still nearly take that game? There is nothing he can’t do on a basketball court.
Controversial (?), but I even thought LeBron deserved that charge call against Durant, simply because it was questionable and Durant didn’t deserve it. On 50/50 plays, reward the guy who’s been playing harder. (Abolish referee reviews!)
But even still, with one more chance to win — and admittedly, with Golden State occasionally shaky in these moments — I figured LeBron still had one too many chances to take this win. Finding George Hill was the perfect play (if only he wanted to take those free throws!), and even in spite of Hill’s gag on the second free-throw, Earl outmuscled Durant for the offensive rebound, securing the basketball no more than 4 feet from the basket. Reports conflict, but the fact remains the Cavs were an inconvenient J.R. Smith moment away from doing the impossible and winning at Oracle.
Overtime was fairly obvious, but that kerfuffle at the end was ... unexpected? Honestly, I just enjoy any chirping — especially between Steph and Bron — but so much happened that by the time the referees mishandled the situation, it’d already become more than it should’ve. Bron was clearly annoyed by how the game ended, his team now getting trounced when 15 minutes earlier he’d come so close to victory, and he’s never going to let Steph get anything over on him if he can help it. Steph responding to LeBron’s block was immediately peculiar, as was Klay Thompson involving himself too? (A lot happened!) Tristan Thompson going after Shaun Livingston’s shot was directly instigated by his involvement with the Bron-Steph conversation, which then led to Draymond goading Thompson into pushing him after Thompson had already been ejected; on his way out, Tristan seemingly tells Draymond to meet him in the tunnel? It was all so strange, and yet, selfishly, as Thompson made his way to the Cavs locker room and Draymond preened to the crowd and replays showed how we even got here, I smiled at the moment, the ribbon on an otherwise perfect game. It was compelling from start-to-finish, with that skirmish adding even more intrigue to a series already unexpectedly dramatic.
I’m legitimately concerned this game might’ve broken the Cavs. LeBron’s definitely and rightfully irritated, and I wonder what type of effect games like last night's have on his psyche; he scored 51 points and played 48 minutes and lost by 10 in an overtime that should’ve never taken place. All jokes aside, if Bron can’t trust J.R., who can he trust?! We learned to always know the time and score on my JV middle school team. Is that uncommon? Earl’s been in the league 13 years, and of all the possible options, that’s the one he chose? That one brain fart might’ve cost the Cavs the slight chance they did have, and what if Bron figures the fight isn’t worth his time, especially if he’s still forced to do everything? How does this impact J.R.? Does this already shaky team begin to splinter again? Can Ty Lue keep them focused? If LeBron doesn’t want to be there anymore, does it even matter?
Maybe this pisses LeBron off even more. Prayers up. Because, I’m not going to lie, LeBron winning this title might be the best possible outcome: he’d finally be validated as the GOAT, and the Dubs and Durant might be forced to reconsider their future.
I think Golden State got lucky. It’s insane LeBron continues to play these 48-minute games in Season 15, but I have no reason to believe he’ll slow down, either. And, to his credit, he has a short memory: for better or worse, he’ll be kicking the ball to Earl for open 3s on Sunday as if nothing happened. He doesn’t really have a choice, no. But I’m not doubting the guy again. He’s in every game he wants to be in. If he can find that little bit of help, he can absolutely positively steal this ring. And I am very excited to see him try.