Stephen Curry, who scored 28 points, demoralized the Cavaliers early in the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Warriors’ lead to 20. They led by 21 entering the fourth. Golden State took great care of the ball throughout, finishing with 31 assists and four turnovers.
“I wouldn’t imagine it,” Brown said of that disparity, “especially going into Game 1 against that team.”
LeBron James, whose play for the Cavaliers through the first three rounds was virtually flawless, had an uneven game. He finished with 28 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists but committed 8 turnovers. He was also assigned to defend Durant for much of the game, and that did not go well for him.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” James said. “They capitalized.”
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points for Cleveland, and Kevin Love added 15.
Undefeated in the playoffs, the Warriors have not lost a game since April 10, their second-to-last game of the regular season.
As for Thursday’s thumping, consider that the Warriors’ Klay Thompson shot 3 of 16 from the field. His teammates missed their share of layups. Durant did the math.
“We could be a lot better than we were tonight,” he said.
For the Cavaliers, it was a return to the site of their greatest triumph. In Game 7 of last year’s finals, on this same court, the Cavaliers completed an improbable and unprecedented comeback to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy before a dazed crowd at Oracle Arena. It was a bitter end to a historic season for the Warriors.
Since then, both teams had made changes — some major, some subtle. The Warriors added Durant to their already high-octane roster. (Put that in the “major” category.) They also signed experienced role players like Zaza Pachulia and David West. The Cavaliers engineered their own midseason face-lift, acquiring point guard Deron Williams and the 3-point specialist Kyle Korver.
By virtue of their shared playoff dominance, both teams arrived for Thursday’s game as fresh as organic produce. It had been 10 days since the Warriors completed their four-game sweep of the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, went a week between games after eliminating the Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference finals.
But while the Warriors have made their journey through the playoffs look almost effortless, they continue to cope with an unconventional situation. Midway through the first round, Coach Steve Kerr stepped away from his day-to-day duties to deal with continuing medical problems. On Thursday, Brown again manned the Warriors’ bench.
Kerr, who has remained actively involved behind the scenes, watched Thursday’s game on television from the home locker room.
The game’s early moments were full of plodding and grabbing, bricks and whistles. On the Cavaliers’ first possession, the Warriors forced Kevin Love into hoisting an air ball as the shot clock expired. Not long after, Durant nearly broke the backboard on a long jumper. Pachulia engaged in some form of wrestling with the Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson under the basket. James missed a free throw.
Even the greatest players in the world were susceptible to nerves on the sport’s grandest stage. Soon enough, both teams settled into more of a rhythm. Durant, in particular, looked comfortable back in the finals — his first appearance since 2012, back when he was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. On Thursday, he scored 23 points in the first half.
The Cavaliers’ primary challenge was obvious: somehow slowing a team with the greatest assemblage of offensive talent in league history. In previous rounds, James had been conserved energy by defending lesser players. For however long this series lasts, no such vacations will be forthcoming.
“We know coming into this building, it’s going to be a tough game for us,” Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “But just getting a chance to see how they play, their style of play, how fast they play — you can’t simulate that at practice.”
On Thursday, James guarded Durant — or tried as best he could. With 3-point threats like Curry and Thompson dragging defenders to the perimeter, Durant found seams to the basket. He had six dunks in the first half alone.
“I don’t know when I’m going to dunk or when I’m going to get the wide-open 3,” Durant said. “I just try to go out there and play.”
The Warriors are renowned for their 3-point shooting, but they spent the bulk of Thursday’s game dismantling the Cavaliers in the interior. The Warriors scored 42 points in the lane as they ran out to a 60-52 lead at halftime. The Cavaliers were not doing themselves any favors, committing 12 turnovers in the half — seven by James. The Warriors committed one.
On Wednesday, James acknowledged feeling distracted after the police said someone had spray-painted a racial slur on the front gate of a Los Angeles home that he owns. The Los Angeles Police Department said it was investigating the incident as a hate crime. James said he would focus on the game as best he could.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers had no margin for error — not against the Warriors, who turned another playoff game into a clinic.