Struggling with turnovers and defensive communication, the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are counting on learning from their mistakes to fight their way back in the NBA Finals.
Powered by 38 points from Kevin Durant and 28 from Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors ripped Cleveland 113-91 in Thursday’s opener of the best-of-seven championship series, aided by 20 Cavaliers turnovers to only four for the hosts.
“A lot of our actions on the defensive end, a lot of our communication, we’re just going to have to dig our feet in and be able to guard the basketball,” Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving said.
“It’s more or less a heart thing, a prideful thing. Going into game two we’ll be a lot more settled in, a lot better on the defensive end. We’ll get better.”
The Cavaliers can level the series by winning Game 2 Sunday before the series shifts to Cleveland for two games next week.
And while the Cavs rallied from 3-1 down to win last year’s crown in the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, it’s not a hole they want to get into again, especially with the Warriors on a 13-0 run to match the NBA’s record playoff long win streak.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “They capitalized. And we get a couple days to see what they did and see what we did wrong and how we can be better in game two. We know we’re capable of playing a lot better.”
Golden State scored 21 points off Cavaliers turnovers while making only four giveaways, matching a one-game NBA Finals record low. The speedy Warriors fast break proved more than Cleveland could silence.
“When you turn the ball over, that’s when they become very dangerous because those guys, they sprint down the lane, they sprint to the 3-point line, they put a lot of pressure on your defense,” James said.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue dubbed the Warriors “the best I ever seen,” but added: “They’re playing good basketball. But we can play better.”
Durant dominated early with dunks when the Cavs tried to silence 3-point sharpshooters, only to have Curry catch fire in a 13-0 run that opened the second half and put Cleveland down double digits for good.
“We’ve got to make it much tougher on him,” Lue said of Durant. “Can’t give a great scorer like Durant easy baskets. We’ve got to do a better job taking that away.
“We can play better. We will play better. But we got to do a better job putting the ball in the basket.”
– ‘Going to be a boxing match’ –
Cavaliers forward Kevin Love says greater effort will be coming in game two.
“We kept fighting and fighting, but they never looked back,” Love said. “We had a ton of turnovers. Some of our lack of communication led to mistakes and led to buckets.
“There were certain points where they were getting hands on balls, deflections, and being first to the 50-50 balls. That’s something we can definitely clean up. We will be ready to go on Sunday.”
Cavaliers reserve Richard Jefferson compares it to a boxing bout, with the Cavs rising from a knockdown.
“This is going to be a boxing match,” he said. “Going to be punch, counterpunch. They did a really good job of putting us in a position to turn the ball over.
“So for us, it’s just about how we’re going to answer the call. It’s never about how you get knocked down. It’s about how you answer that. As a group we’re very confident in our ability to answer as the series progresses.”
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