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NBA Finals: Cavaliers’ turnovers, transition D costly in Game 1

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on June 1, 2017 in Oakland. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

OAKLAND — A year ago, the Cavaliers earned the right to call themselves No. 1 when they upset the Warriors for the NBA title. But after their 113-91 Game 1 loss Thursday night at Oracle Arena, the Cavs looked at the ugly numbers scattered across the boxscore and saw a bunch of blinking red lights.

Coach Tyronn Lue pointed to his team’s 20 turnovers leading to 21 Warriors points and 20 more shots than the Cavs took. “You can’t give them 20 more shots than you have,” Lue said. “Having 20 turnovers and not being able to get back and get your defense set, they really take advantage of that, especially at home.”

LeBron James cited the turnover numbers, blaming himself foremost for committing a game-high eight turnovers (which is why he also was a game-worst minus-22). But James also noted the Warriors’ 56-30 advantage on points in the paint and their 27-9 margin in fast-break points, which destroyed the Cavs’ transition defense.

“First of all, we got to stop the ball in transition,” James said. “There were a few times we fanned out to the three-point line [to guard perimeter shooters] and let guys just go right down the middle for a dunk. I believe [Kevin Durant] had two or three of those.

“When you turn the ball over, that’s when they become very dangerous because those guys sprint down the lane, they sprint to the three-point line, they put a lot of pressure on your defense. But the ball is the number one thing. We got to stop the ball first and then fan out to the three-point line if those guys go there.”

For Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the most important numbers of the game were the 13-0 run by the Warriors that began the third quarter and pushed an eight-point lead to 21.

“We had done a good job of limiting them to certain things going into halftime,” Irving said. “Coming out of halftime, they just jump on us. Great teams do that. They go on a run, and it goes from eight to 16 in a matter of literally a two-minute span.”

Love agreed that was the point that the defending champions simply got steamrolled.

“They played great downhill,” Love said of the Warriors’ momentum. “Some of our lack of communication led to mistakes and led to buckets. They got downhill to the spots they wanted to get to. A lot of things will be telling when we watch film today.”

If there was one thing for which the Cavs were grateful, it’s that they have two days before Game 2 on Sunday to analyze what went wrong and work to fix it. Lue clearly indicated that the Cavs will focus on stopping the ball in transition, especially when it’s in the hands of Durant (38 points in Game 1), before they worry about the Warriors’ three-point shooters.

The other thing the Cavs must keep reminding themselves is that it was just one game. They all said it’s impossible to simulate what the Warriors do in practice. Now that they’ve seen it up close, they hope to settle down and handle it better.

“A loss is a loss, whether you lose by two or by 25,” Richard Jefferson said. “We feel there are things we can do better and that were somewhat unforced, and we just have to improve on them.

“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 never about how badly you lose one game. It’s about how you answer that. As a group, we’re very confident in our ability to answer as the series progresses.”

New York Sports