OAKLAND — Harrison Barnes didn’t look like someone who had been on the wrong end of a basketball beating.
Long after the Golden State Warriors survived all those blows from the game’s best player, LeBron James scoring 44 points for naught as his Cleveland Cavaliers dropped the first game of these Finals 108-100, the young Warriors forward who spent so much of the night guarding James made the media rounds with a smile on his face and a clear plan in his mind.
“You’ve got to look at it and say, ‘Look, this is what we wanted to do,’” Barnes told USA TODAY Sports about the unenviable task of slowing James. “We iced out most of his teammates. Obviously Kyrie (Irving) got some things going (23 points, seven rebounds, six assists), but (James) is going to have to have big offensive nights for them. If he beats us doing that, and the other guys don’t get going, we’ll live with that. But chances are, I think we’ll be all right.”
They were more than all right, with James forced to heave more shots (38) than he had in any of the 1,084 NBA games in which he played and the Warriors rotation of Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green doing just enough (he made 18) to survive the series opener. And now that Irving’s status is unclear — he re-injured his left knee late in Game 1 — heading into Game 2 on Sunday, there’s suddenly this sense that the Cavs’ best is behind them now.
This notion of James Unleashed was a sight to behold for the viewing audience, a slice of basketball bliss in this matchup that certainly lived up to all the hype. But this is not the LeBron we have to come to know, this Mack truck of a man whose chosen style has always been more Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan. One game does not a Finals make, but the cruel irony is waiting in the wings here: James, having returned to Cleveland from Miami to bring that title to his home region once and for all, finds himself having to do it all this time around just like he did so many years ago.
“We all have to be better, including myself,” James said. “I don’t think I was great. I’ve got to do better things out on the floor to help us be more precise offensively … It’s not about me. It’s not about the next guy. It’s about all of us.”
All of them, quite simply, didn’t get it done.
J.R. Smith wasn’t there for him this time, missing 10 of 13 shots and finishing with nine points. Iman Shumpert (six points) didn’t help on the offensive end, either, with only big man Timofey Mozgov (16 points) stepping up in support. This is what the Warriors had talked about. This is what they want.
“He made a lot of tough jumpers, contested,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. “We’ll live with him shooting a lot of shots and scoring 40, because we feel like the other guys are the key to them winning the series. I honestly don’t think that LeBron wants to shoot 40 times, and I think our defense kind of predicated that a little bit.
“I think he wants to play-make more, and we’re leading with him shooting more. In the Atlanta series, we feel like they might have overhelped a little bit, and then Shumpert and JR Smith started knocking down shots and then are the key to their success. We balanced it pretty well tonight.”