Barry: Warriors’ bench is difference in opener 

click to enlarge Support from players on the Warriors bench, like Marreese Speights, right, helped the team take Game 1 on Thursday. - BEN MARGOT/AP
  • Ben Margot/ap
  • Support from players on the Warriors bench, like Marreese Speights, right, helped the team take Game 1 on Thursday.

What a great start to the NBA Finals!

For the last week, I have been saying the only way the Cleveland Cavaliers could beat the Warriors was if the Dubs didn't shoot well, committed excessive turnovers or didn't play tough defense. Well, in the first quarter, two of those occurred, as the Warriors played bad defense and shot poorly from the field. The result was a 29-19 deficit, but I was even more concerned because LeBron James had gotten off to a great start.

Fortunately for the Warriors, the first half was a tale of two quarters as the Warriors shot better and improved their defense in the second quarter much like they did in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets in the last series.

Going into the Finals, one of my biggest concerns was how the Warriors would fare against a taller and bigger front line. When Cleveland won the rebound battle in the playoffs, it won the game. But the Cavaliers were outrebounded 48-45 in the opener.

As has happened so often in the regular season and in the playoffs, the Warriors' bench came through. The reserves for Golden State proved to be the difference in the game, outscoring their counterparts 38-9. The only bench player for the Cavaliers scoring any points was J. R. Smith with nine points, all coming in the first half. For the Warriors, the bench stars were Marreese Speights and Andre Iguodala. After an injury in the first series, Speights returned to the court for the first time and provided instant offense. Iguodala also provided 15 points and played outstanding defense on James late in the fourth quarter and in the overtime.

Now the Cavaliers are in trouble, especially if Kyrie Irving's overtime injury prevents him from playing in the next game. Already playing injured, Irving had a great game with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. James had his best finals playoff game, scoring 44 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists. The Warriors were fortunate to overcome these two outstanding performances to prevail in overtime.

They say that defense wins championships. The Warriors proved they have what it takes when their focus and intensity increased late in the fourth quarter and overtime, forcing nine missed shots in 10 tries. They needed this type of effort because the Splash Brothers shot below their normal, stellar 3-point percentage.

If the first game is any indication of the competitive nature of the series, I can hardly wait for Game 2 on Sunday.

Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.

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