Mariotti: Warriors in 3? After surviving James and watching Irving's latest injury, NBA title may be formality 

click to enlarge BEN MARGOT/AP
  • Ben Margot/AP

OAKLAND —Already, it's tempting to ask if the Bay Bridge, all 8.4 miles, can be made available for the longest championship parade ever. When you see Kyrie Irving leave the arena on crutches with a re-damaged left knee, when you see LeBron James walk off disgustedly after his mysterious two-point overtime performance, when you see a would-be winning circus shot by Cleveland miss by inches and you see the Warriors outslug the Cavaliers after slogging along on an ordinary night by Stephen Curry, well...

"It was great. This is so much fun. This is what we all dream of," said Steve Kerr, who is having the dreamiest rookie coaching season in memory, smiling after the Warriors' joyride continued with a 108-100 victory that had little to do with streamlined, finesse basketball and much more with outlasting an epic four quarters by James.

If it's cliche to suggest the Warriors have been blessed with amazingly good karma — avoiding the Spurs and Clippers in earlier rounds, getting away with only a contusion from a frightening Curry fall, surviving Klay Thompson's kneecap-to-skull concussion, injuries to key opposing players — they arrived in the interview room Thursday night with questions about Irving's possible unavailability in Game 2, if not the rest of the NBA Finals.

"Obviously you can see in the tone of my voice I'm a little worried," Irving said in a gloomy locker room before he literally was lifted into the trainer's room. "It's a natural reaction. I just want to make sure everything is OK. I'm going to take the necessary steps in order to see what's going on.

"All I know is that your body works in mysterious ways, and when something gives out — a hip, right hip — it can lead to your left knee. I don't know exactly what happened, but, it just — I don't know. It's a little different than the other times."

He said his "ACL is fine" and his "MCL is fine." But after an impressive performance as a scorer and defender while outplaying Curry much of the game, the leg gave out with 2:02 left in overtime, and the All-Star guard was left to limp up the tunnel. The Warriors were up by seven points then after Andre Iguodala, the most valuable of a procession of defenders assigned to James, helped force him into two missed jump shots, a missed jump hook and two turnovers until he hit a meaningless shot with a few seconds left — Cleveland's only points in the five-minute period. Basically, the Warriors survived his "beast mode" onslaught — the description an international reporter humorously kept using in questions to James afterward — and while he was typically unstoppable at various intervals of a 44-point night, the Warriors still were thrilled with their defensive effort aganst him. They let him have his points and used just enough from Curry (26 points) and Thompson (21 points after a slow start) to make a statement to Charles Barkley. They do not live or die with three-pointers, making only 10 and getting only two from Curry. And they do win with aggressive, on-ball, old-school defense.

"We have a lot of bodies, and that's what we're going to do the rest of the series: make him work and make him take tough shots," said Iguodala, who has been brilliant the last two weeks and added 15 points in a reminder that he's still a high-caliber player, despite Kerr's gamble to bring him off the bench all season. "You just try to wear teams down, and that's what we've done all year. When you get into a flow, as a kid, you'd play in your socks all the time in your room. So we go back to those days, just playing ball and having fun in your socks. The idea is to make it hard on him. Don't foul him. Make the shots tough and the routes hard."

They succeeded. James spent the night grumbling at the officials — a tell-tale sign that he's uncomfortable — and he didn't take control in OT when 18 million viewers waited for him to elevate his legend again. If it's too early to say he's doomed to lose for the fourth time in the Finals — and for those morons who insist on comparing him to Michael Jordan, consider Jordan won six titles and six MVP awards in his six Finals — you can begin to wonder if these are the beginnings of another doomed moment for Cleveland sports. Is this The Limp?

"It was very tough to see," James said of Irving's latest injury. "I just see how hard he has worked these last eight days just to get himself to play at the level he did tonight. Seeing him walk out of the locker room on crutches just now, that's a real tough blow for our team."

And to think James could have closed it out in the final seconds of regulation if he'd made a stepback jumper. He missed, but teammate Iman Shumpert, in a wild shot out of Curry's repertoire, nearly made a wild shot from the baseline at the buzzer. Guess who was on James? "Last year, he beat us on a shot similar to that at home in the regular season," Iguodala said. "So you kind of get a feel for guys, what they want to do. I knew what play he wanted to get into. Just going left, step back — and I was right there on him. At that point, you want the percentages to kick in."

They did. As may another — 71 percent of teams that win Game 1 go on to win the NBA championship.

"We had so many opportunities to win this game. We didn't," James said. "We couldn't get nothing to drop, including myself. We all have to be better, including myself. 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. I've got to communicate a little more defensively to help our team to get over the hump."

Translated, he's getting no help and will have to be an even bigger one-man gang than he already has been this posteason. James can get by Chicago and Atlanta and the Eastern weaklings in solo mode. The Warriors have too much talent, depth and coaching brainpower. "He did attack and play and perform at the highest level on the biggest stage in this game, which is appropriate for him," Cavs coach David Blatt said. "We've got to do more around him."

Such as, not having J.R. Smith kill them with bad shots in overtime. Before the game, the notorious Smith warmed up in a hoodie that completely covered his new fade hair style, as if waiting to introduce it to us during the game. We really don't care. And now that Irving will be limited at best — and remember, Games 3, 4 and 5 will be played in a five-night span — where is this help coming from? Matthew Dellavedova, pride of St. Mary's, cannot guard me or you, much less Curry.

"It's something you hate to see. I never like to see anybody get injured on either team," Kerr said. "I want everybody healthy. And I hope he can play. I mean that. You probably don't believe me, but this is the dream of every player, to come to the NBA Finals and perform and compete. So I hope he's OK."

He was not crossing his fingers and holding his hands behind his head. Kerr doesn't want anyone saying a Warriors title would deserve an asterisk because of an injury. But the reality is stark. "We sort of dropped off the map there in overtime," Blatt said.

And maybe out of the NBA Finals, just as they're starting.

On a night when Adam Silver all but described Oracle Arena as a dump with outdated "infrastructure," jumping out in front as a league commissioner does in pushing for a new San Francisco arena, the Warriors started the game like they were back at the Cow Palace. Had Curry turned into Jeff Mullins? His big plays were not backbreaking, crazy three-pointers but crafty plays where he drew fouls in overtime. "We stuck to our game plan. LeBron is going to dominate the ball and make plays, but we have to make it tough on him every possession," Curry said. "Don't let him have easy buckets, and don't let anyone else get into a rhythm."

And drawing those fouls that led to four critical free throws — not stuff that will make the YouTube roll call but stuff that wins games? "Just reading the situation," Curry said. "I was able to slow the game down and get to the free-throw line. But it all doesn't work out if we don't get stops. So that's what fueled it, the stops."

You will hear today about Silver appearing in Oakland at a league-sanctioned event with Warriors owner Joe Lacob and others from the organization. This will create an impetus for the new arena in Mission Bay, which does have the usual local opposition. Isn't Silver concerned about losing the raging atmosphere at Oracle?

"No, it doesn't concern me because, one, the team needs a new building. I think that's apparent every time I come here," he said. "It's apparent when we bring in big events like the Finals and we need to accommodate 1,800 members of the media and broadcast crews and everything else.

"We think it's important, of course, the team stay in this area."

Um, is that a threat? During the first NBA Finals in these parts in 40 years?

"I am going to take a look at the site while I'm here in town," Silver said of Mission Bay. "I don't know, exactly, frankly, where it stands in terms of progress. Ultimately this team needs a new arena. There is no doubt about that. This is one of the oldest arenas in the league and can't support long-term the NBA infrastructure. So I will take the opportunity, while I'm in town the next few days, to better educate myself on it."

Here's some education: If this is the end of Oracle — and face it, they Warriors do need new digs that take economic advantage of San Francisco's tech boom — their fans are being treated to one of the most charmed seasons in the history of this wonderful sports region.

"I didn't even think we were going to have overtime," Kerr said, "because I thought Iman's follow was going in."

Of course, it did not.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at

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Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at
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