There's good news and bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers following their 113-91 loss last night to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Their bad news first.
Their good news? The reasons they lost were pretty clear. Meaning they don't have to dig too deeply to understand what they have to correct for Game 2. Or try to correct.
Cleveland turned the ball over 20 times. Compared to four for the Warriors.
"Twenty turnovers in the Finals definitely is not going to get it done," said Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving.
Perhaps the Cavs should listen to Golden State point guard Steph Curry explain his team's low turnover rate.
"Keepin' it simple man," Curry said. "Making the pass that's in front of you. Turnovers happen when you get away from the simple play. [When you] try to do too much or rush."
Cleveland gave up 56 points in the paint. Meaning the Warriors scored half their points near the basket, where, in theory, it's easier to score. Cleveland has to defend near the basket better.
Part of the problem is Cleveland also has to defend against Golden State's superlative long-range, three-point shooters as well. That draws defenders away from the basket.
No one said it's easy to guard Golden State.
And then this – Cleveland had nine fast-break points. Golden State had 27.
Cavaliers knew what was coming
Go back and look at any Finals preview, and you'll hear the Cavs talk about the need to limit Golden State's ability to run with the basketball. That's where the Warriors are deadliest, on the run, and in Game 1 Cleveland couldn't slow down the express.
The Cavs gave the Warriors running opportunities by turning the ball over and by missing a lot of shots, which can ignite a fast break the other way.
So Cleveland's Game 2 mission is clear – on offense, don't turn the ball over and make shots. On defense, stop the Warriors from scoring close in and don't forget to defend them closely at the three-point line and stop them from running.
Oh and while they're at it, maybe figure out what to do about Kevin Durant.
Asked after the game if there was one thing that stood out for the Warriors — their speed or anything else — Cavs star Lebron James answered with two letters.
Durant, one of the NBA's most versatile scoring machines, had quite the coming-out party in his first Finals game with his new team (he signed with them last July). He scored 38 points, 23 in the first half, and a number of those points came on wide-open, unguarded slam dunks.
How many times did we look up and see Durant's 6' 11" body looking more like 20 feet as he flew to the hoop for a thunderous finish?
When asked why Durant was so open so often in the first half, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue implied there were mistakes on defense.
"When Kevin Durant has the ball you don't want to leave him for [other] shooters. You can't give a great scorer like Durant easy baskets."
Sang-froid from the defending champions
So in the action/reaction world of playoff series basketball, it's Cleveland's turn to react. But know this – there's not even a hint of panic with the Cavaliers.
First, it's a best four-out-of-seven game series. And the Cavaliers have a special bit of history on their side. Last year, they became the first team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals. Against these Warriors.
Well OK, not exactly these Warriors. Last year Golden State didn't have Kevin Durant. But still, the 3-1 comeback is the Cavs' ultimate comfort card.
And it works both ways.
Golden State knows never to get complacent. Steph Curry gave a nod to that last night.
"The goal is to lock in," he said, "every 48 minutes. It should be very easy for us to do, all things considered."
It's the Warriors' biggest challenge. Not to marvel at themselves the way the outside world does. After the game, the Cavs' Lue was asked to weigh-in on how good the Warriors are right now.
"They're the best I've ever seen," he said.
There were titters at the press conference. Was he joking?
He was asked to elaborate.
"No other team has done this, right?" He was referring to Golden State's 13-0 record in these playoffs.
"They constantly break records – last year being 73-9 [a regular season record]; this year starting the playoffs 13-0. So, they're playing good basketball. But we can play better."
Yes, Cleveland can. And believe it or not, Golden State can, too. Or so Kevin Durant and Steph Curry said after last night's game.
Anything to stay locked in. Said Durant, "That's all this is about."