The defensive woes that plagued the Cavaliers late in the regular season were glaring against the star-laden Golden State Warriors in a 113-91 loss in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant had six dunks in the first half alone to match his most ever in a game, Stephen Curry hit six 3-pointers and the Cavaliers looked like the team that stumbled down the stretch in the second half of the season.
“We’re just going to have to dig our feet in and be able to guard the basketball,” guard Kyrie Irving said after Thursday’s opener. “So it’s more or less a heart thing, a prideful thing. Going into Game 2 we’ll be a lot more settled in, a lot better on the defensive end.”
Cleveland went just 23-23 after Jan. 10 and was ranked in the bottom third statistically on defense all season. The lapses were mostly glossed over as the Cavs streaked through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland shut down Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas on the way to a 12-1 postseason record.
The Cavaliers are going to have to make some adjustments to slow down the Warriors.
When Cleveland stayed on Curry, Durant got easy dunks in transition.
“That’s when they become very dangerous because those guys, they sprint down the lane, they sprint to the 3-point line, they put a lot of pressure on your defense,” LeBron James said. “But the ball is the number one thing. We got to stop the ball first and then fan out to the 3-point line if those guys go there.”
When the Cavs gave help, Curry hit 3-pointers. The only thing that kept Cleveland in the game in the first half was the usually brilliant play from James and Irving and several missed layups by Golden State.
But after a 13-0 run to open the second half with help from four of Cleveland’s 20 turnovers, the game was never close, leaving Cleveland to figure out a way to regroup before Game 2 on Sunday.
“Some of our lack of communication led to mistakes and led to buckets. They got downhill, got to the spots where they wanted to go,” forward Kevin Love said. “That led to us not being able to set our defense and get out and play in transition, play fast like we wanted to. Uncharacteristic with the number of guys that turned the ball over, but we have to credit those guys for creating some of the turnovers.”
The turnovers were an issue all night, with James committing eight of them. Making matters worse was a lack of scoring help from any of their role players. James finished with 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, Irving scored 24 points and Love had 15 points and 21 rebounds.
No one else seemed to show up, with the most glaring absences being Tristan Thompson, who had no points and four rebounds and was outplayed at times by Zaza Pachulia, and J.R. Smith, who made just one basket.
Midseason acquisitions Deron Williams and Kyle Korver missed all seven shots they took and failed to score.
“There’s no time to be disappointed,” Irving said. “They capitalized a lot on our mistakes, a lot of transition, easy baskets that we can’t allow going into Game 2. So definitely a lot of things we can correct and get better at.”