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Warriors flex depth in NBA Finals Game 1 win over Cavs

USA TODAY USA TODAY 3/06/2016 Sam Amick

From those courtside seats at Oracle Arena all the way up to the nosebleeds, the yellow T-shirts that made this place look like the surface of the sun on Thursday night carried the same Golden State Warriors message.

“Strength in Numbers.”

The defending champions picked the perfect time to live up to their own motto, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-89 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on the backs of their bench players.

Shaun Livingston, their backup point guard who was signed as a free agent two summers ago, in part, because of his ability to defend the Cavs’ LeBron James, had 20 points on eight of 10 shooting. Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP from a year ago who showed the basketball world how valuable he can be, had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Leandro Barbosa, who signed to a collective yawn in Sept. 2014 when so many believed the shelf life on his career had expired, had 11 points in just 10 minutes. In all, the bench outscored Cleveland's 45-10.

As for the headliners? Curry and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson had just 20 points – combined. And it didn’t matter in the slightest.

Curry did manage to provide the exclamation point, hitting back-to-back three-pointers late in the fourth quarter that kept the Cavs at bay and – after his first three – inspired him to throw his mouthpiece toward the Warriors bench. Curry hit just four of 15 in all, while Thompson was four of 12 from the field.

The Warriors used a 17-4 run from the late third quarter and into the fourth to pull away, one that – coincidentally or not – began just after Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova punched Iguodala below the belt while swiping for the ball. The reserves ran that show, none more than Livingston (10 fourth-quarter points).

All this talk of revenge in this series, with LeBron & Co. eager to right the wrong of the 2015 Finals against Warriors now that they’re finally healthy, and they spent most of the evening looking like a vastly inferior team. They didn’t defend much beyond Curry and Thompson, letting the Warriors shoot 49.4% from the field in all.

They didn’t show poise, giving up 17 turnovers that turned into 25 Warriors points. Theirs was an opposite script, with Cavs stars James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love doing nearly all the damage (56 points, 28 rebounds, 15 assists combined) while Cleveland’s role players were mostly irrelevant. And now, with Game 2 back here on Sunday, it’s fair to wonder if this will be the hard-fought series that so many anticipated coming in.

It only took one quarter to draw at least one conclusion about this matchup: the Warriors, win or lose, have to be relieved not to be playing the Oklahoma City Thunder anymore. Their Western Conference Finals foe was everything the Cavs are not defensively – tenacious, long, versatile, physical, focused. As such, the Warriors led 28-24 after the first quarter in which they hit 12 of 22 shots and enjoyed the rare reappearance of Barnes’ offensive game.

Barnes, who lost his starting job to Andre Iguodala near the end of the Thunder series as a way to slow Kevin Durant, had scored in double figures just seven times in the Warriors’ 17 playoff games. But he had seven early points – driving to the rim on the right, when Andrew Bogut found him from the perimeter with a beautiful pass while Tristan Thompson and James failed to catch up and Barnes finished the three-point play after he was fouled; in the post, where he went around Irving with ease; another drive, this time past J.R. Smith on the right for a 9-7 lead. Golden State, already flush with offensive options, seemed to have rediscovered yet another.

The Warriors, who led 52-43 at halftime, used a 13-3 run midway through the second quarter to take a 43-29 edge that was their biggest before the break. The stretch, more than anything, was a reminder of their incredible depth.

From Livingston’s midrange jumper that started it to the back-to-back Leandro Barbosa buckets (a right-side floater and a corner three) that propelled it, it was Golden State’s role players giving them even more breathing room. Their defense, which turned nine Cavs turnovers into 15 points in the first half, played a big part too.

The Cavs, which entered with a field-goal percentage of 47.5% in the postseason bested only by the Detroit Pistons team that they swept in the first round, misfired on 27 of 42 shots in the first half (33.3%). After averaging 14.4 three-pointers in the first 14 playoff games, they hit just four (on 13 attempts) in the first half. James, who hit four of his first five shots to start, missed his last four while Irving was just three of 12. J.R. Smith took (and missed) just one shot.

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