The Warriors overcame a dominant 44-point performance from LeBron James to beat the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night.
Facing the Warriors’ top-ranked defence, LeBron took over for large portions of the game, willing his team through four quarters before the Cavs eventually crumbled in overtime.
And while James’ dominance nearly won the game for the Cavs, the Warriors are willing to live with him scoring 44 points on 38 shots, so long as his teammates aren’t getting in on the action.
As ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote, this is part of the Warriors plan: let LeBron dominate and shut down his teammates. Make LeBron win a game by himself. Strauss wrote, “They want a game in which James shoots 38 times, with only four of those tries coming in the restricted area… If LeBron beats Golden State with floaters and step-back jumpers, those are the breaks.”
Warriors center Andrew Bogut clarified the philosophy, saying, “He made a lot of tough jumpers that were contested and we’ll live with him shooting a lot of shots and scoring 40 because we feel like a lot of guys who are key to them winning a series don’t get touches and don’t get going.”
While James hasn’t been efficient in isolations this postseason, scoring just 0.68 points per possession and shooting 32.5% on shots out of isolation, he still powered to 20 points on isolations Thursday night, according to SportVU.
Despite putting talented defenders like Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson on him, LeBron bullied and tumbled his way to the basket, tossing up a variety of tough floaters and fadeaways:
The Warriors will concede this tough move from LeBron, because they’re denying the rest of the Cavs:
Eventually, James wore down, missing five of his final six shots, and as Bogut suggested, the rest of his teammates were out-of-sync on offence. The Cavs missed 12 consecutive shots in a stretch from the fourth quarter to overtime, with J.R. Smith missing his final four shots in that stretch and Timofey Mozgov missing his final two shots.
Worsening matters for Cleveland is that James will have to carry an even heavier load after his best supporting cast member, Kyrie Irving, left the game early with a knee injury. Irving had 23 points on 10-22 shooting last night and can make James’ life easier as a playmaker or spot-up shooter.
The Warriors’ philosophy of letting LeBron just dominate could bite them at some point. LeBron nearly carried the Cavs to a win in Game 1, and he’s certainly done it on his own in the past. However, the Warriors are hedging a bet that James doesn’t have enough 40-point explosions in him to beat them four times, and it paid off in Game 1.
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