Warriors Need Overtime to Cover Game 1; Irving Injured
It wasn’t quite the way their bettors envisioned it, but the Golden State Warriors covered the 5.5-point spread (at –105 juice) in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Warriors played catch-up for most of Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they were able to take Cleveland into overtime tied at 98-98. Then the Cavs completely fell apart as Golden State prevailed 108-100.
If that wasn’t bad enough for Cleveland, Kyrie Irving appeared to re-aggravate the tendinitis in his left knee with about two minutes left to go in overtime. Golden State was already up 105-98 at that point, but losing Irving didn’t help Cleveland’s cause. If Irving isn’t able to suit up for Game 2 on Sunday (8:00 PM ET, ABC), this could be a very short series.
LeBron James is already doing as much as he can. He scored 44 points Thursday night, shooting a reasonable 18-of-38 against the top defensive team in the league. Most of those points were scored in isolation; James only shot 2-of-8 from long distance, and the Cavs as a team were 9-of-31 (29%). Even if Irving can play Sunday, this inside-outside imbalance can’t continue if Cleveland is going to win its first-ever championship.
The obvious adjustment for the Cavaliers in Game 2 would be to play more smallball and run fewer isolation plays. However, the fear is that Cleveland would be giving up too much on defense in order to generate offense. Tristan Thompson, for example, had a very good game for the Cavs, playing a team-high 47 minutes and grabbing 15 rebounds – six of them on the offensive glass. But he also scored just two points on four shots.
A Little Help Here
This is where the difference in depth between the two teams becomes painfully obvious. The Cavaliers only used three bench players, and most of those minutes went to JR Smith, who scored just nine points on 3-of-13 shooting. James Jones (17 minutes) and Matthew Dellavedova (nine minutes) didn’t score at all; Jones missed his only attempt, and Dellavedova didn’t even shoot.
The Warriors, on the other hand, used five of their reserves, and all five were plus-players at the end of the night. In his return from the injured list, Marreese Speights helped Golden State cut into an early deficit, finishing with eight points in nine minutes. Festus Ezeli (five points, five boards in 12 minutes) played physical defense in relief of Andrew Bogut. And for a man who claims his jump shot is “broken,” sixth-man Andre Iguodala seemed just fine, shooting 6-of-8 for 15 points.
This disparity in depth will only be more pronounced if Irving can’t play in Game 2. Somebody has to replace the 23 points he scored in the opener. You can’t expect James to score 60 points on Sunday. Would it surprise anyone if he did? No, but it wouldn’t be a very smart bet, either.
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