If Game 1’s 113-91 rout left you dazed and confused, allow me to explain. Despite the Warriors’ dominant performance, the lopsided victory was not as one-sided as it may seem. Let’s take a look at the three key statistics that decided this game, and why we can still look forward to a historic NBA Finals.
First, and most obviously, we see the turnover differential. The Warriors’ NBA Finals all-time-low 4 turnovers was met with 20 by the Cavaliers. Yikes. You’ll often see a -5 or -10 ratio on bad days, but if a team loses the turnover battle by 16, they make it incredibly difficult to stay competitive. For example, as well as LeBron James shot the ball, and as nice as his 8 assists were, the 8 turnovers he caused by himself cancels out most of his production. This not only helped Golden State swipe 12 steals (Cavs had 0), but led to easy fast break points and other transition positions that never let Cleveland set their defense. Always on their heels, the Cavaliers’ careless offense directly translated to the Warriors’ relentless scoring.
Second, I’d like to discuss a couple of lesser-looked-at items on the box score that tell a bigger story. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who looked at team assist totals too closely, and why should you? The ball goes in one way or another, who cares who set it up? I’d answer with this: while an assist or two probably doesn’t make a difference (especially considering the gray area on the scoring), when the Warriors had over twice as many assists as the Cavs did, it raised my eyebrow. The Warriors’ 31 assists are great not because of the volume, but because they came from 10 different players. Meanwhile, James’ 8 assists accounted for half of his team’s 15. This is extremely important because it shows how a team’s offense is running.
Let me explain. When 10 different people get an assist, it not only means that everyone’s getting touches; it means they’re contributing. Golden State emptied their bench and allowed every player on the roster to put something on the stat sheet to help their team to victory. Meanwhile, the Cavs clearly ran their offense through James. So when he lost his one-on-one battle with Kevin Durant, it’s no wonder that Cleveland fell apart. Despite a combined 52-point performance by James and Irving and a phenomenal 21 rebounds from Kevin Love, there was little to no impact from anyone else.
That brings me to my final point. Stars will be stars, but where are the difference-makers? James, Irving, and Love combined for 67 to virtually match Durant and Stephen Curry’s 66. So the large margin came from role players who found their way to the paint and created easy shots. This is evidenced by another large point-differential of 51-30 in the lane in favor of GSW. Despite no one true bench player emerging, the Warriors came out with so many different weapons for the Cavaliers to keep tabs on, and that led to havoc. When you add Cleveland’s own inability to hit makable jumpers and distribute the ball, it’s easy to explain how the Warriors cruised to the series lead.
Now before we start talking about the Warriors going 16-0, let’s remember how last year started. The Warriors had home-court advantage and blew out the Cavs twice by a combined 48 points. Then the Cavs won by 30 in Game 3. This series isn’t over by any stretch, and it’s crucial for Cleveland to come back strong in Game 2. It’s not a must-win, but for their own psyche they’ve got to be competitive in more aspects of the game. Despite shooting just 35%, the Cavs were just a little behind the Warriors. Had they held on to the ball and played smarter defense, they could’ve gotten just as many shots off and perhaps stolen Game 1 on the road.
It seems simple enough, but Cleveland’s mission is to correct their fundamental mistakes and to keep it close as they look ahead to coming home. For the Warriors, it’s about keeping their foot on the gas and hoping the momentum is enough to steamroll through Cleveland. The longer the series goes, the more hope the defending champs have of repeating. Game 2 won’t make or break this series, but it will go a long way to determining Game 3.