Few things about the 2016 NBA Finals are certain, but one fact would be hard to dispute: Game 2 between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will look nothing like the series opener.
No one could have predicted Game 1 would play out the way it did. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to have their worst games of the season, scoring a shared total of 20 points on 27 shots. But the Warriors still managed to win by 15 points as Shaun Livingston provided a huge lift, needing just 10 shots to score 20 points, in addition to his four rebounds and three assists.
For the Cavaliers, LeBron James put up his expected numbers, falling just one assist shy of a triple-double. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving totaled 43 points on subpar shooting performances, and Tristan Thompson had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. But the rest of the Cavaliers were nonexistent, and the bench scored just 10 points to Golden State’s 45 bench points.
"Don't matter what you do with Steph and Klay, don't matter what you do with Draymond [Green]," James said in the postgame press conference. "Give up 45 points off the bench and 25 points off turnovers on the road, it's not a good ingredient to win."
The series returns to Oracle Arena for Game 2 on Sunday night, and though the final result might be the same, the way the teams get there could be completely different. Curry will score more than 11 points — his lowest total when playing at least 20 minutes this season — and Thompson should have a better shooting night. Livingston isn’t going to have another 20-point performance, considering he tallied just 27 points in seven games against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But Golden State did improve to 3-0 against Cleveland this year, and their defense has been consistently good against the Cavs, who usually don’t have trouble scoring. Cleveland was held to 83 points by Golden State on Christmas Day, and they only managed to score 98 points when they allowed 132 to the Warriors a few weeks later. The champs have done a good job protecting the rim against the Cavs, and that could be a problem in Game 2.
The Cavaliers breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and though a large part of that was the level of their competition, the team was playing its best basketball of the season. Tyronn Lue’s up-tempo style helped the Cavs better utilize their offensive weapons, and Cleveland shot 3-pointers at an historic rate.
Cleveland wasn’t going to remain lights out from behind the arc for the entire postseason, but Game 2 may seen an improvement on the 7-21 shooting performance they had on Thursday night. The Warriors did a good job of helping on James in the final three quarters, but for the most part, he didn’t have much trouble getting to the rim. James knows it’s important for the Cavs to steal a game in Golden State, and he might be more assertive on Sunday, which could be a problem for the Warriors.
The turning point in Game 1 came after the Cavs took a 68-67 lead, and the Warriors responded by scoring 15 unanswered points. Cleveland might not let Game 2 unravel with another spurt by Golden State’s bench, and the contest could have a closer finish, much like the first two games of last year's finals that went into overtime.
The Warriors are 6.5-point favorites, via VegasInsider.com, making for a nearly identical betting line as Game 1. Game 2 is expected to feature more points with the over/under set at 207.
It should come as no surprise, however, that Golden State cruised to victory on Thursday, and they’ll likely head to Cleveland for Game 3 with a 2-0 series lead.
It’s easy to forget because they were on the brink of elimination in the Western Conference finals, but the Warriors have been extremely consistent for a large portion of the regular season and playoffs. Thursday’s win put them at 86-14 in the regular season and playoffs combined this year, and they improved to 49-3 at home.
Golden State is just the better team, and with Curry sure to play better, Cleveland faces a tall order on Sunday.
Prediction: Golden State over Cleveland, 107-103