Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals featured all the drama and intrigue we could have hoped for. LeBron James led his Cleveland Cavaliers off to a quick start against an admittedly nervous Golden State Warriors team. And once the Warriors got the hang of this Finals thing, the game turned into a heavyweight bout between the two best teams in the Association.
At the end of the night, Golden State pulled off a hard-fought overtime victory to take a 1-0 series lead.
Here are five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals.
1. LeBron’s Best Won’t Be Enough
King James put up 44 points. He accounted for 40 percent of Cleveland’s field goal attempts, 46 percent of its made field goals and 44 percent of its total point output. For all intents and purposes, James was the best player in the court Thursday night, and it wasn’t even close. Despite this, Cleveland fell short in overtime.
What does James need to do moving forward to get Cleveland even one win? If this was his best, and it might very well have been, the team is in trouble. It simply can’t expect the two-time NBA champion to put up 44 points while exhausting a tremendous amount of energy on both ends of the court. That’s not sustainable moving forward in the series.
2. Andre Iguodala May Be the True X-Factor in the Series
Golden State mixed up responsibilities against James throughout Game 1. It started with Harrison Barnes, who did his best to stop the four-time NBA MVP. However, James was able to get his jump shot off without a problem, and began to score at will against Barnes. Steve Kerr and company then tried Draymond Green on the beastly forward. While that helped against the perimeter shot, Green simply didn’t have the speed to stay with a driving James.
Once the Warriors threw Iguodala on James, the entire game changed. James shot just 4-of-14 from the field and turned the ball over three times when covered by the reserve small forward. Iggy also made a tremendous play forcing James into a difficult jumper at the end of regulation. It remains to be seen how Kerr is going to play this moving forward, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Iguodala guard James a majority of the time moving forward in the series.
Offensively, Iguodala finished third on the Warriors in scoring with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including one huge three in the fourth quarter. If the Warriors get anywhere near that type of offense from Iguodala moving forward, this series won’t last too long.
3. Series Is Golden State’s to Lose
Tonight was the Warriors' 98th game of the year (not including preseason or All-Star).
— Brian Witt (@Wittnessed) June 5, 2015
In order for Cleveland to take this series, it now needs to win four of a six against a team that has lost 18 games all year. That’s a mighty steep hill to climb. Now take into account the fact that Golden State is 47-3 at home on the season, and it becomes even more unlikely that Cleveland will be able to rebound from a game that it probably should have stolen in Oakland. This also means that Cleveland is almost in a must-win situation heading into Game 2. It simply can’t expect to win four of five should the Warriors come out on top in Game 2. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.
4. Depth Was Key
Cleveland’s bench scored a combined nine points (all from J.R. Smith) on 3-of-14 shooting. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones also combined for a -32 point differential in the game. Meanwhile, the Warriors bench combined to score 34 points on 14-of-27 from the field. It also grabbed 19 rebounds and dished out eight assists. Overall, Golden State’s second unit finished the night with a combined +23 point differential.
Outside of the stats, it became increasingly evident which team was the deepest as the game progressed. When Cleveland sat James early in the fourth quarter, Golden State responded by resting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The result was a change in tempo in the Warriors’ favor, and an overall turn around in the flow of the game. Once the starters returned, Golden State had all the momentum.
It’s really simple here. Cleveland relies on a few players to change the outcome of a game. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ roster goes about 10 deep with quality NBA talent. That’s going to be hard for David Blatt’s squad to overcome.
5. Adjustments Needed for the Cavaliers
The Warriors’ philosophy was clear in Game 1. Let James shoot, and let him shoot a lot. Kerr and company couldn’t have cared less that James scored 44. Heck, he could have dropped 60 on the Warriors. It was all about limiting the production from Cleveland’s role players. And in reality, that worked to perfectly for the Western Conference champs. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert shot a combined 5-of-19 from the field. Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson scored a total of two points on four shots.
Isolation plays for James might work well against Eastern Conference teams, but the Warriors are an entirely different monster. They didn’t double the MVP too often, which disabled James’ passing prowess. Instead, the philosophy was more directed at picking spots to double James and keeping the forward off guard. And while James had a near historical night, it wasn’t enough for the Cavaliers to pull out an upset win.
Moving forward, Cleveland needs to get back to letting the offense flow naturally through James. That’s only magnified if Kyrie Irving is out for a substantial period of time due to the knee injury he suffered in Game 1. James could very well average 40 points per game in what could be a short series. That would end up working in the Warriors’ favor. It’s all about distribution and ball movement—something that simply didn’t happen on Thursday night.
Photo: USA Today Sports