For LeBron James, losing the first game of a playoff series isn’t new.
The last nine times it’s happened, James’ teams have rebounded to win the second game, including Game 2 of last year’s NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
James will need a 10th bounce back in a Game 2 to prevent the Cleveland Cavaliers from falling further behind in this year’s Finals.
“Well, we’ve got to be much better in Game 2, obviously,” James said after the Warriors won Thursday’s opening game 104-89 at Oracle Arena. “… So we look forward to the challenge again. Just two days in between doesn’t help. It doesn’t feel good. But it gives our body a chance to get some rest.”
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The Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both have off nights – they combined for 20 points – but the Cavaliers failed to take advantage.
They committed 17 turnovers that led to 25 points for the Warriors, missed numerous assignments on defense and lacked the ball and player movement needed to beat the favored Warriors. Cleveland had only 17 assists and their offense too often was four players watching James or point guard Kyrie Irving trying to create.
When the Cavaliers rely too much on isolation plays, it makes them easier to defend.
“We’ve definitely got to do a better job getting the ball moving side-to-side, getting their bodies moving,” James said. “They’re a great team. When you have the ball on one side, they’re able to load and do things of that nature.”
James had nine of Cleveland’s 17 assists. Irving, how had four assists, took a game-high 22 shots but made just seven. Power forward Kevin Love, playing in his first NBA Finals game, had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
But the Cavaliers’ offense was too stagnant and they had trouble converting on inside opportunities.
“We missed 28 shots in the paint,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “We didn’t finish around the basket, so we’ve just got to keep playing the same way we were playing. I thought we were fine. I feel good about how we played. The outcome wasn’t great for us, the score, but to get to the basket missing 28 shots in the paint, that’s not us. So we’ll be better next game.”
The Cavaliers also will need players other than James, Irving and Love to play well.
J.R. Smith said he wasn’t bothered by a wrist injury he suffered diving for a ball, but it was unusual for him to take just three shots. Smith isn’t known as a player who has a problem shooting, even when he’s having a bad night, so his lack of offense was glaring.
“They were just staying attached,” Smith said. “Pretty much what we expected and what we really wanted so we could get guys, LeBron and Ky, going downhill. We just missed tough shots at the rim.”
The Cavaliers need to get Smith more involved in the offense. And when reserves are in the game, especially Channing Frye, they have to be more involved, too.
James, Irving and Love always get the bulk of the scoring chances, but Cleveland will have little chance to win if they don’t improve their ball and player movement to force the Warriors to work harder on defense.
“So, you know, we will have a better game plan going into Game 2 for sure offensively,” James said. “Sometimes your offense dictates your defense, and the fact that we had 17 turnovers and that led to 25 points is not a good ingredient for our offense for sure.”
WARRIORS 1, CAVALIERS 0
All games on Ch. 10 at 6 p.m. unless noted
Game 1: Warriors 104, Cavaliers 89
Sunday: at Golden State, 5 p.m.
Wednesday: at Cleveland
June 10: at Cleveland
x-June 13: at Golden State
x-June 16: at Cleveland
x-June 19: at Golden State, 5 p.m.