Cavs' role players go silent, outdone by Warriors' depth in Game 1

Cavs' role players go silent, outdone by Warriors' depth in Game 1

OAKLAND -- The Cavs trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love went from being a Big 3, to an only three Thursday evening at Oracle Arena. 
As Zaza Pachulia spun circus shots off the glass for buckets, Tristan Thompson went 0-for-3 from the field, finishing with with zero points and four rebounds. Klay Thompson had one of the worst shooting performances of his career and still managed to outscore J.R. Smith 6-3. 
With the Warriors getting contributions from almost every player that stepped on the floor, the Cavs secondary pieces stayed quiet in Game 1 of the Finals. 
When asked about the lack of support from the complimentary players, James sent a positive message to his teammates.
“Play with energy, play with effort, play with their mind and their bodies and understand what we’re trying to accomplish,” James told a packed room of media members following the game.
James stuffed the stat sheet for the reigning champs, dropping in 28 points, 15 rebounds and dishing eight assists. He also added a game-high eight turnovers for Cleveland, which doubled the Warriors entire team total for the game. 
Despite the turnovers, James’ numbers sound incredible. That is until you compare them to Kevin Durant’s 38-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist night, zero-turnover evening. 
When asked what stood out to him in the loss, James pointed directly towards Durant, who wasn’t a member of the Warriors last season when Cleveland erased a 3-1 deficit and took home the title.
“You take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year that we saw in the regular season and the postseason and then in the offseason you add a high-powered offensive talent like that, with a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” James said. “There’s no if, ands or buts. It is what is what it is. We’ve got to figure out how to combat that which will be a tough challenge for us.”
While the Cavs rushed to guard the 3-point line in transition, Durant looked like he was all alone attacking the rim. The former MVP put on a highlight reel of dunks in the first half, most of which came without a single Cleveland player in the frame.
“We’ve got to make it much tougher on,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “Can’t give a great scorer like Durant easy baskets like that, especially in transition, especially early. So we got to do a better job of taking that away.”
It was a gut punch for the Cavs. They were outclassed in almost every aspect of the game. Golden State outshot them 42.5 percent to 34.9 percent. They turned the ball over just four times as a team, compared to 20 for the Cavs. The Warriors dished out 31 assists to just 15 for Cleveland and Golden State held a 27-9 advantage in fast break points.
“There’s no time to be disappointed,” Irving said. “I think that just thinking about the next game, things that we can correct going forward. They capitalized on a lot of our mistakes, a lot of transition, easy baskets that we can’t allow going into Game 2.”
Irving was one of the few Cleveland players to have a solid game. He attacked the rim, scoring 24 points on 10-for-22 shooting, but like James, he was outdone by his counterpart. 
Stephen Curry knocked down 6-for-11 from behind the arc on his way to 28 points and 10 assists. He was electric in the third, scoring 14 points in the quarter as the Warriors ran away from the Cavs.
For every big performance, the Warriors had a counter and then some. 
Love struggled from the field, but still managed to post 15 points and 21 rebounds. No other player scored in double figures for Cleveland. 
Only Durant and Curry notched double figures for Golden State, but Pachulia, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee all had moments where they effected the game in a positive way. All 13 players that entered the game finished with a positive plus/minus and each of them scored with the exception of Patrick McCaw, who played just three minutes.
“No other team has done this, right?” Lue asked. “So 13-0, and they’re constantly breaking records every year - last year being 73-9, this year starting the playoffs 13-0. So they’re playing good basketball. But we can play better.”
The Warriors have star power, just like the Cavs. They also have a group of hungry role players trying to forget about last season’s collapse. If Cleveland has any chance of making this a series, they’ll need someone other than their Big 3 to show up come Sunday. Even then, they are facing a team that cut through every other opponent like a buzzsaw. 

Warriors' promised focus yet to arrive as bad habits linger in playoffs

Warriors' promised focus yet to arrive as bad habits linger in playoffs

OAKLAND -- They shrugged off those spasms of regular-season lethargy resulting in several puzzling losses, usually at Oracle Arena, with the same message, sometimes literally, other times implicitly.

We know what’s important to win, and it’s not the regular season. We’ll be fine.

The playoffs. Yes, the playoffs. That’s what matters, they said, vowing to be better.

The playoffs arrived 12 days ago. The Warriors, however, are still in transit.

And Oracle does not provide the shift into overdrive it once did.

That much was abundantly evident Wednesday night, when the defending NBA champs took the floor at Oracle for Game 5 with a chance to oust the Los Angeles Clippers and got precisely what their half-hearted effort earned, a 129-121 loss that extends the first-round series to Game 6 on Friday in LA.

This falls squarely on the defense, which all too often was a collective yawn. The Warriors gave up 37 points in the first quarter, 34 more in the second and spent the rest of the evening trying to use offense to catch up. They did, ever so briefly, though LA never really stopped scoring, shooting 56.0 percent in the first half and 51.4 in the second.

“It’s very disappointing, and that falls on me,” Draymond Green said. “If I bring the intensity from the start, everybody else usually falls in line on that side of the ball. That’s my fault. I’ve got to do better.”

Well, actually, there was plenty of fault to go around. Aside from Kevin Durant’s sizzling 45-point night, not much else went well for the Warriors.

Asked if he put some of the responsibility on himself, Stephen Curry said, “For sure.”

Klay Thompson also pointed at himself, conceding that he was looking past the Clippers to the next series, with the Warriors learning before tipoff that the Houston Rockets will be waiting.

[RELATED: Rockets' Capela declares he wants Warriors in second round]

“Start with me. I was,” he said. “I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.”

That also applies to this postseason, in which the Warriors, hard as this is to believe, have stumbled into by losing two of three to the No. 8 seed in the building that has been such an advantage in recent postseasons. In their first four postseasons under coach Steve Kerr, they were 39-6 at Oracle.

They’re now 40-8, which still is impressive, but the losses have come in back-to-back games, the first with the Warriors blowing a 31-point third-quarter lead and the second with them watching a parade of Clippers blow by them to the basket.

“I just think we let our guard down,” Kerr said. “I didn’t have them ready to fight, obviously, because we didn’t fight.”

Only once before under Kerr have the Warriors lost back-to-back playoff games at home. That was in the 2016 Finals, which ended with LeBron James orchestrating a championship parade through the streets of Cleveland.

This is different, though. Those Warriors were hungry but hampered by the suspension of Green. These Warriors seem more, well, comfortable. They most certainly are not as hungry as the Clippers, who are driven as much by desire as talent.

“Everything we did in LA, we did not do tonight,” Kerr said, referring to victories in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. “We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK. But I said it before the game, that this Clippers team has been scrapping and clawing all year.”

There was a time when the Warriors scratched and clawed, when it was a part of their identity. It was visible last postseason, never more than in the Finals, when they swept the Cavaliers, with three of the four wins by double digits.

The Warriors say they still have that in them. They’re confident they’ll respond Friday. And maybe they will.

But after so many uneven performances, this one in the playoffs, nothing is certain anymore.

Warriors' identity is their defense, and it abandoned them in Game 5 loss

Warriors' identity is their defense, and it abandoned them in Game 5 loss

OAKLAND — Minutes after his team blew Game 5 to the Clippers on Wednesday night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr walked into his league-mandated press conference seething, holding back anger at another subpar defensive performance by the defending NBA champs. 

"Not good," Kerr said following the 129-121 loss at Oracle Arena.

Since training camp opened in September, Golden State's quest for a third consecutive title has been marred by inconsistency, uncertainty and a promise that a championship switch could be flipped. After two image-restoring wins in Los Angeles, the Warriors had a chance to rectify their consistency problems, but like much of the regular season, they failed to finish the job. 

In a game where the Warriors needed superior energy, they came out flat, allowing the Clippers to shoot 54.1 percent from the field. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell combined for 83 points. 

The performance was reminiscent of the sleepwalking act Golden State displayed in the second half of the Game 2 loss,?when the Warriors were outscored 85-58, squandering a 31-point lead. In Game 5, they were outscored 34-22 in the second quarter, and falling behind by as many as 15 points in the second half.  

Wednesday's performance seemed curious, considering the Warriors dominated the Clippers in Games 3 and 4, holding Williams to 28 percent shooting from the field over that stretch. On Sunday, they even overcame a Clippers third-quarter burst to take control of the best-of-seven playoff series. 

"Everything we did in L.A. we did not do tonight," Kerr said. "... And you knew they weren't going to go down without a fight."

Seeds of Wednesday's performance have been sprinkled throughout the season. Following a 10-1 start, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7. After the All-Star break, they stumbled again, with curious home losses to the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns, who finished their season with the worst record in the league. Each curious loss was met with the promise the Warriors will turn it around, that a switch could be flipped, that they've done this before and turned out OK. 

But Wednesday’s loss again proved that the Warriors, while great, aren't invincible.

"When we get a nice lead, we just tend to relax a little bit," said Kevin Durant, who finished with 45 points, six rebounds and six assists. "I said it before, teams are looking for something just to get them back into the game. If we foul a 3-point shooter or turn the rock over or we shoot a few bad shots in a row, teams get going, they'll build some confidence." 

Prior to the game, a television tucked away inside the Warriors’ training room had the channel turned to Game 5 of the Rockets-Jazz first-round series with a number of players intently watching. For much of the season, the Rockets and Warriors have been destined to collide in the postseason. The Warriors know this and, while not outright admitting it, have looked ahead to the potential second-round matchup. 

"Yup, start with me, I was," Warriors guard Klay Thompson admitted. "I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn't go as planned. We're still in a great position with hopefully only 48 minutes left to close these guys out."

But before a second-round series can commence, the Warriors have to find a consistent focus that has eluded them this season. Just before Kerr walked off the podium late Wednesday night, he was asked by a reporter what the identity of his team is going into Game 6.

Kerr, almost taken aback, let out the frustration he'd been holding for much of the session. 

"What's the identity of our club?" Kerr asked back. "Back-to-back champions.

[RELATED: Bad habits linger in the playoffs]

"Like, we're really good. I mean, we're hanging banners. What's our identity? We play fast. We play defense. I don't know. Maybe we should do an instructional video later, and we'll send it to you."

With the Warriors now on the ropes, it's time for Kerr and his team to follow their own credo.