OAKLAND, Calif. — Stephen Curry’s “Strength In Numbers” supporting cast made all the timely shots and all the difference for the defending champions in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Draymond Green had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Shaun Livingston scored a personal postseason best of 20 and Golden State’s bench came up big as the Warriors beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-89 on Thursday night to move three wins away from a repeat title.
Curry, the MVP, and Splash Brother Klay Thompson? They totaled — gasp! — 20 points between them on 8-for-27 shooting, each knocking down a late 3-pointer.
“Steph just had one of those nights, just wasn’t going in. He had some turnovers. It happens,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Even the best players in the world have bad nights. But it didn’t hurt us, because of our bench and our overall play with our defensive effort and taking care of the ball.”
It didn’t matter this time. Golden State’s bench outscored the Cavs’ reserves 45-10 in the opener of this finals rematch.
In a series with so much star power on both sides, this was a night for Livingston and fellow reserves Leandro Barbosa and Andre Iguodala. Barbosa returned from a minor back injury to shoot 5 for 5, while 2015 finals MVP Iguodala had 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and some stingy defense on James.
It made for a strong start while surrounded by the yellow “Strength in Numbers” shirts that hung on seats throughout the arena.
“That’s our motto. That’s what we believe in,” Livingston said. “We pick each other up. We believe in each other and we just fight.”
James kicked off his sixth straight finals with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but cold-shooting Cleveland went 38.1 percent from the floor. Kyrie Irving, lost to a knee injury in Game 1 last year, scored 26 points, 11 on free throws.
Iguodala showed he can handle any role — if coach Steve Kerr decides to start him or bring him off the bench. Iguodala didn’t let an aggravating, hard hit to the groin by Matthew Dellavedova derail his focus for the final quarter.
Kerr stuck with regular starter Harrison Barnes, and he delivered 13 points. Curry had 11 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Thompson scored nine points.
Iguodala had moved back into the starting lineup Monday for the Game 7 clincher against Oklahoma City with a primary duty of defending Kevin Durant, shining in that role, and again came off the bench to play 36 minutes Thursday. He shook his head in delight after a two-handed slam off a pass from Curry with 5:44 left.
Cleveland emerged from halftime with a newfound energy, zipping passes every which way, going hard to the basket whenever possible and swarming Curry and the others on the defensive end to create turnovers and poor decisions.
Kevin Love’s basket with 3:57 left in the third put the Cavs ahead before Green’s dunk moments later.
Love made an impressive finals debut with 17 points and 13 rebounds after missing last year’s run with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery.
With 34.1 seconds left in the third, Iguodala took issue with Dellavedova’s swat into his groin that after review was ruled a personal foul and not flagrant. Iguodala knocked down a 3-pointer less than 8 seconds later and Golden State took a 74-68 lead into the final 12 minutes and never backed down no matter who played.
Livingston, whose remarkable comeback from a potentially career-ending left knee injury nine years ago has so inspired Kerr and many others, made a key follow shot late in the third on the way to his first 20-point performance in the postseason, then Curry pulled off a pretty drive the next time down.
James has scored 20 or more points in a career-best 25 straight playoff games, topping his previous mark of 24 in a row from May 12, 2008, to April 25, 2010.