Columns & Blogs

NBA Finals may not make it back from Cleveland

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, right, is guarded by Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and guard Iman Shumpert (4) during the second half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 2, 2016.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, right, is guarded by Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and guard Iman Shumpert (4) during the second half of Game 1 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, June 2, 2016. The Associated Press

LeBron James looked like a cop going after a kid who stole an apple off a fruit stand the way he went after the Warriors’ Stephen Curry on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the guy who robbed the bank strolled down Broadway with a song whistling off his lips, and every once in a while he stopped to stick an 18-footer in the eye of James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.

Shaun Livingston has played 11 seasons in the NBA and has had some big games, as recently as last year in the third and sixth games of the Finals. His work off the bench helped turn around and finish off the series in favor of the Warriors.

Thursday night, Livingston’s 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting rocked Oracle Arena. Curry and Splash sibling Klay Thompson had off-nights because of the Cavaliers’ defense, which left it up to Livingston and the bench to win the game 104-89.

A year ago, the feeling after the Warriors’ overtime win in Game 1 against the Cavaliers was that the world had a basketball war on its hands.

Yes, the Cavaliers lost point guard Kyrie Irving in the opener to a wrecked knee, but they played so tough, you knew the injury would make everybody else play tougher. Sure enough, they won the next two and had the Warriors feeling woozy while Cleveland fans packed East Fourth Street in wall-to-wall jubilation.

There’s not the same feeling this year.

The Warriors went ahead by 20 points with 5:43 to go in the fourth quarter Thursday, and it’s hard to see how Cleveland can keep up with everybody Golden State throws out there, even though only five on each side can play at once.

The Warriors’ bench was so much better than the Cavaliers’. Strength in Numbers put up 45 points compared with 10 for Not Quite Enough.

If Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue can’t get more out of his bench, this series will not come back from Lake Erie next week.

Even though Game 2 won’t be played until Sunday, it’s kind of late in the season for the Cavaliers to come up with an answer to the Warriors’ reserves. They’ve only had a year to work on it.

You’ve got to like spunkmeister Matthew Dellavedova, unless you hate him for his irritating antics like the grab shot below the belt on the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala, although it was not deemed “a hostile act” under official NBA terminology.

The Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson was terrific in his day, Channing Frye was an intriguing midseason acquisition, and Iman Shumpert is finishing the first season of his four-year, $40 million contract.

But they and the rest of the bench got outscored 45-10.

Maybe Lue should play James all 48 minutes in Game 2. Same with Irving, and even forward Keith Love.

Will J.R. Smith arrive for the Finals on Sunday? He appeared to have missed his BART stop Thursday. He took only three shots and made one, and that wasn’t until the Cavaliers were down 17 with 4:43 to go in the fourth quarter.

The Warriors’ bench made up for Curry and Thompson, who were a combined 8 of 27. Thompson, who scored 41 in the Game 6 road win over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, couldn’t crack double figures Tuesday.

But Livingston sure did.

The tall, skinny 30-year-old out of Peoria, Ill. – who played for the Clippers, Miami, Oklahoma City, Washington, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Brooklyn before the Warriors picked him up last year – even looked like a leader.

When the Cavs cut a 20-point lead to 11 in the final three minutes, Draymond Green stole the ball from James, and the Warriors rushed up the floor in a frenzy. Without the ball, Livingston raised his arms with that rafter-reaching wing span and flapped downward. The gesture told everybody to please calm down.

A relaxed Curry drew a deep breath and lofted up a three-ball that went in. Game over.

Afterward, Warriors coach Steve Kerr gushed over the play of his more noted bench man, Iguodala, who bothers LeBron James with his defense.

Besides slowing James, Iguodala stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and didn’t commit a turnover.

Kerr quoted Warriors TV guy Bob Fitzgerald as describing Iguodala as Golden State’s “adult in the room.”

What did that make Livingston?

It wouldn’t be nice at his advanced basketball age to call him the team grandpa, but he did come through like a good one does for his kids’ kids. Only this time, the 20 points he contributed were not one of life’s little something extras; his contribution was essential to the cause.

Grandparents always have been known to come through in the clutch, and the help is never needed more than when Mom and Dad – or, in this case, the Splash Brothers – aren’t getting it done.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo