Time to finalize the Bay Area parade route, right?
No way, say the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even though the Cavaliers have lost All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for the rest of the NBA Finals because of a fractured left kneecap, the Warriors aren’t talking championship, and the Cavaliers aren’t fretting entering Game 2 Sunday at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors still have the best team in the NBA, but the Cavaliers still have the league’s best player, LeBron James. And had Iman Shumpert’s shot at the regulation buzzer gone in Thursday, Cleveland would have won Game 1.
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Irving was injured with 2:23 left in overtime, and Golden State won 108-100.
“If we have a letdown in the Finals, there is something fundamentally flawed with us each individually and as a team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “There is no way that can possibly happen, right? I mean, we’re lucky to be up 1-0. We’re 1 inch away from being down 0-1. Shumpert’s shot looked like it was in the whole way. We made a ton of mistakes in Game 1.”
The Warriors can take solace knowing they escaped with a win and can play much better. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers maintain they haven’t heard or paid attention to talk of their eventual downfall.
Irving is out. Kevin Love has been out since the first round of the playoffs against Boston because of a shoulder injury. At full strength, the Warriors have a deeper team, and Cleveland must figure out how to get the most out of a squad that used only eight players in Game 1.
“With Kyrie being out, people are writing us off,” James said. “That’s fine. I’m motivated to get our guys ready to go (Sunday), and we will be ready.”
The Cavaliers won two games in the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta without Irving, so the Warriors can use that as a reminder they cannot take Cleveland lightly.
James took over by scoring, rebounding and facilitating at a rate few players can duplicate. He had 44 points in Game 1 against the Warriors, but he took 38 shots and had only six assists.
“I’ve seen games obviously in the Eastern Conference finals and even in the semis where (James) had 30 (points), 13 assists and he’s able to impact the game both ways,” Golden State guard Stephen Curry said. “We don’t want to let him do that. So we have to stay disciplined on the other guys around him knowing that they’re talented.”
James can be the best scorer or facilitator on the court, depending on what his team needs. The Cavaliers will need both to have a chance of upsetting the Warriors.
But Cleveland also needs more from James’ supporting cast. The Cavaliers had only nine bench points in Game 1, and now that Matthew Dellavedova will start for Irving, only two bench players who appeared in Game 1 are available: J.R. Smith and James Jones.
“You know, we did win those games without Kyrie and Kev by playing together, by defending at a high level,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “By getting a little bit more out of ourselves as a unit and with guys just stepping up and taking responsibility and raising their level to help the team win.”
That still might not be enough to topple the Warriors. But Golden State has concerns entering Game 2.
Cleveland dominated with its frontcourt size at times, with power forward Tristan Thompson grabbing 15 rebounds and center Timofey Mozgov scoring 16 points.
But the Cavaliers made just 1 of 11 shots on second-chance attempts. If one more of those shots had gone in, the Warriors could be down in the series.
“This is a team that got to the Finals beating the No. 1 seed in the East without Kyrie for a couple games,” Kerr said. “The challenge is still enormous. There’s still so much for us to cover and deal with.”