OAKLAND, Calif. – For the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been defined by the exploits of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The “Splash Brothers,” as they are known, have become the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, and their performances in the Western Conference finals only added to their growing legend.
But in Thursday night’s opening game of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, they stunk. The funny thing about it? It didn’t matter. Golden State’s reserves simply took over the game and powered the Warriors to a 104-89 victory before a packed Oracle Arena.
Curry and Thompson combined to score 20 points while shooting 8 for 27 from the field, and Thompson spent most of the first half saddled with foul trouble. Shaun Livingston, meanwhile, came off the bench for a team-high 20 points, making eight of his 10 shots from the field. Andre Iguodala (12 points) and Leandro Barbosa (11) also played key roles.
“I don’t know why,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said presciently before the game, “[but] it’s kind of a time-honored NBA tradition [that] role players play better at home than they do on the road. That seems to be the case for most teams.”
Clearly Kerr wouldn’t have mapped out the game the way it played out for his team. Not only did Curry and Thompson both play far below their standards, but the Warriors put the game away with both of them sitting on the bench.
“It was a strange game for us,” Kerr said afterward. “We’re not used to Steph and Klay being off like that. Our bench, obviously, gave us a huge lift.”
The game turned at the end of the third quarter, and with the third incident involving a blow below-the-belt within the last two weeks involving these teams. With 34 seconds remaining in the quarter, Iguodala was bringing the ball up the court when Matthew Dellavedova came up behind Iguodala and, in a cursory attempt at a steal, swiped at the ball, his hand instead landing a shot directly between Iguodala’s legs. That led to an immediate reaction from Iguodala, who was quickly separated from Dellavedova, and a lengthy review by the officials.
It was determined that Dellavedova had only committed a common foul – a surprising call, given the furor surrounding his teammate, Dahntay Jones, striking Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo in the same region in the Eastern Conference finals, and Draymond Green for kicking Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
But Iguodala got his version of revenge for the play with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, giving Golden State a 74-68 lead after three quarters.
“Andre is a brilliant basketball player. He doesn’t get nearly enough credit,” Kerr said. “His line never tells the story. Twelve points, seven rebounds, six assists, no turnovers and great defense. That’s who he is for us. He is the adult in the room. He always settles us down.”
With Curry and Thompson watching from the bench, the Warriors opened the fourth with a 22-8 run – the first 20 of which came from Livingston, Harrison Barnes, Barbosa and Iguodala. By the time the run was over, the game was out of reach.
While Kerr chose to reinsert Barnes into the starting lineup in place of Iguodala, who started the final few games of the Western Conference finals, Iguodala picked up right where he left off last spring, when he was named Finals MVP in helping Golden State beat Cleveland.
Cleveland briefly tried to make it interesting, twice cutting Golden State’s lead to 11 late in the fourth. But that’s when Curry and Thompson finally made their mark, burying back-to-back 3-pointers that caused Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue to call a timeout and remove his starters from the game.
The Cavaliers came into this series as the rested team, having played just 14 games over the past six weeks, and having avoided the bruising battle between the Warriors and Thunder in the Western Conference finals. But while Cleveland got plenty of production from its stars – 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists from LeBron James, 26 points from Kyrie Irving and even 17 points and 13 rebounds from Kevin Love – its bench was a combined 3 for 10. Cleveland also wasn’t helped by its 17 turnovers, which led to 25 Golden State points.