WARRIORSWORK OT INWILD GAME 1WIN

Dubs dodge sev­eral bul­lets, 51 from LeBron, as Curry leads the way to 1-0 lead

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Di­eter Kurten­bach Colum­nist

OAK­LAND » Head­ing into Game 1 of the fourth con­sec­u­tive War­riorsCavs NBA Fi­nals matchup, there was talk of bore­dom, dis­in­ter­est, and fa­tigue. Peo­ple were sick of the same two teams go­ing at it for basketball’s ul­ti­mate prize. So much so that there were tick­ets avail­able at the Or­a­cle Arena box of­fice as the game tipped off.

I doubt any­one is push­ing that nar­ra­tive af­ter the War­riors’ 124-114 over­time vic­tory Thurs­day.

Game 1 was thrilling, up­set­ting, ex­em­plary, con­tro­ver­sial and down­right wacky.

We saw the War­riors at their best and the War­riors at their most dis- en­gaged. Not even the Fi­nals could get this team to put for­ward a con­certed, full 48-minute ef­fort.

We saw what looked like the end of Klay Thomp­son’s sea­son, as he twisted he knee in a nasty col­li­sion with J.R. Smith, only to see him come back into the game and score 24 points, most of them with a limp.

We saw the great­est player of a gen­er­a­tion — per­haps the great­est player in his­tory — LeBron James, turn in one of the finest per­for-

mances of his ca­reer, scor­ing 51 points, drag­ging the Cavs, al­most sin­gle­hand­edly, to a vic­tory.

We saw Cleve­land’s enig­matic J.R. Smith pass up a game-win­ning, open layup in the fi­nal sec­onds of a tied game to drib­ble to­ward half­court and run out the clock, think­ing the Cavs were up by at least one point.

We saw the War­riors take ad­van­tage of that in­cred­i­ble blun­der by outscor­ing the Cavs 17-7 in the over­time pe­riod.

And then we saw the two fierce ri­vals push and shove each other in the fi­nal sec­onds of the game, with Tris­tan Thomp­son be­ing ejected for a cheap­shot foul on Shaun Liv­ingston with 2.6 sec­onds re­main­ing.

In other words, Thurs­day’s game was any­thing but bor­ing.

And make no mis­take, the War­riors were lucky to escape Game 1 of the NBA Fi­nals with a win.

But at the same time, there’s no doubt in my mind that the War­riors are far and away the bet­ter team in this se­ries and that will bear out over the next few games.

Such is the greatness of James that the Cavs stood a shot in Game 1. Such was the lan­guor of the War­riors that they gave James a chance to make things close.

Kevin Du­rant had a down­right bad game — shoot­ing 8 of 22 from the field in the con­test and missing all four of his field-goal at­tempts in the fi­nal quar­ter to help let James and the Cavs take a lead in the fi­nal minute of reg­u­la­tion.

That, paired with the Cavs’ prodi­gious of­fen­sive re­bound­ing (Cleve­land had 19 on the night — Golden State had four), the War­riors’ av­er­age 3-point shoot­ing and James’ ex­cep­tional per­for­mance made Game 1 in­ter­est­ing.

It’s not a for­mula the Cavs should feel com­fort­able they can re- cre­ate in Games 2 and be­yond.

The con­di­tions were per­fect for Cleve­land to steal a game. And if James could steal one, you could be that he would take two — forc­ing a Game 6 in Cleve­land with a chance to push the se­ries to seven games.

Thurs­day was the Cavs’ op­por­tu­nity; the mas­sive un­der­dogs threaded the nee­dle.

So for the War­riors to claim Game 1 and take con­trol of the se­ries — in the man­ner that they did — is a gut-punch of the high­est or­der.

The War­riors will clean up the mess they cre­ated. They’ll de­vise a plan to neu­tral­ize the Cavs’ of­fen­sive re­bound­ing and will de­vise a scheme that blends Du­rant iso­la­tion plays with the Stephen Curry-led mo­tion of­fense.

And you can bet af­ter the scare of Game 1, they’ll be en­gaged for Game 2.

There’s noth­ing the War­riors can do to stop James, but go­ing into the se­ries, they had con­ceded the fact that The King could score at will.

“We held back a lot of strat­egy tonight. We have so many things up our sleeve,” Kerr said, his tongue firmly in his cheek.

But the War­riors be­lieved that James’ team­mates wouldn’t be able to com­bine to score another 60.

And against the Cavs’ por­ous de­fense, the War­riors felt ex­tremely com­fort­able that they could score more than 110 points.

The Cavs did — more or less — ex­actly what the War­riors were con­tent with them do­ing. James scored his 50 and the other Cavs needed an over­time pe­riod to get more than 60. It was nearly un­canny how it hap­pened.

The War­riors sim­ply couldn’t find their of­fen­sive verve Thurs­day — they didn’t up­hold their end of the bar­gain. Still, they won.

You have to feel bad for James. He de­served bet­ter than that.

It was an all-time great in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance done in by an all-time blun­der.

And now, the Cavs are play­ing from be­hind against a team they shouldn’t have got­ten a chance to take the lead against.

What more could James have pos­si­bly done to win the game? Can he pos­si­bly do that again for four, five, six more games? As a basketball fan, it seems like such a waste, even if it would have only been a foot­note in his­tory.

Alas, the War­riors cer­tainly won’t com­plain about their good for­tune, and they’re un­likely to squan­der it, ei­ther.

So sa­vor the en­ter­tain­ment now. Thurs­day’s Game 1 might be as good as it gets.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The War­riors’ Dray­mond Green fouls the Cava­liers’ LeBron James in the sec­ond quar­ter of Game 1of the NBA Fi­nals at Or­a­cle Arena in Oak­land on Thurs­day. Green re­ceived a tech­ni­cal on the play. The War­riors won Game 1in over­time.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The War­riors’ Steph Curry and Shaun Liv­ingston de­fend against the Cava­liers’ LeBron James in over­time of Game 1of the NBA Fi­nals at Or­a­cle Arena.

JOSE CAR­LOS FA­JARDO — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

The Cava­liers’ LeBron James re­acts af­ter be­ing called for a foul against the War­riors’ Kevin Du­rant dur­ing the fourth quar­ter of Game 1of the NBA Fi­nals at Or­a­cle Arena in Oak­land on Thurs­day. James fin­ished with 51points.

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