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Cleveland looks to even NBA championship

Golden State no doubt made a statement in outplaying Cleveland in Thursday’s game one of the NBA finals on its home court, with game two Sunday night also at the Oracle Arena                              

Warriors well prepared this time with Kevin Durant in their lineup, but must not take the opener for granted

Arnie Leshin

By Arnie Leshin

Wishful thinking, but maybe it would have been better for the Cleveland Cavaliers to not win last year’s seven-game NBA finals.

You know the story, you beat me and I’m waiting for you this time, meaning the defending champion Golden State Warriors want to reverse things this time, want their title back, and they’re close to doing so if they continue their quest in the manner they did in the opening contest.

In game one on Thursday, the Cavs played like they had already won the city’s first NBA title, as well as the city’s first major championship in 52 years, and were content with that.

Of course it would be nice to win it again, but last year was history and Golden State welcomed game one at home by dismantling Cleveland, 113-91, before a loud, deafening sell-out packed crowd at Oracle Arena.

Such is the attitude that the top-seeded Warriors brought to this record third-straight finals matching the two. It was only one game, but it was a clear indication that the celebration might swing back to them if they can continue the domination provided in just one game.

Remember, Golden State also opened the finals last year at home and took the first two games before heading to Cleveland. There, it got a split and returned home with a 3-1 advantage that looked like one more and the chance to again hoist the championship trophy.

But superstar LeBron James, in his sixth-straight NBA finals, made yet another statement. His versatility rallied his team to winning game four on the road, return home and miraculously tying the series at 3-3, and on point guard Kyrie Irving’s buzzer-beater before the stunned Golden State crowd, it was celebration time for the visitors who found a way to win in Oakland not once, but twice.

Obviously, it was a learning experience for the Warriors. It would have made a difference if they had won a second-straight title, but losing it, especially at home, gave them a year to remember. Thus, they came in well prepared this time.

Their offense hit from inside and outside, their passing game was outstanding, they kept Cleveland from matching them from the outside and kept it out of the paint. Their offense was so good, it had answers every time the Cavaliers made a run, and their four turnovers tied an NBA finals low.

James wound up with 28 points, 15 rebounds and handed out eight assists, but in the second half was blocked out of taking down rebounds, his defense wasn’t sharp, and his teammates had no response, especially down the stretch when the home team rolled and the capacity crowd cheered.

Last year, Irving had come back from injuries, same with teammate Kevin Love, and still managed to find a way to win. But last year, Kevin Durant was playing for Oklahoma City, now he was an All-Star in Golden State’s lineup and he played out-of-sight in his first NBA finals since the Thunder lost to James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

This time, he shot 14-for-16 in his fifth 30-point performance this postseason, and received a rousing ovation when he came out with 2:16 remaining.

It was only one game, and not to say the Cavs can’t make it happen again, but having Durant makes a huge difference and the Warriors would be pleased to again win the first two at home and again put the pressure on James and company. Golden State has yet to lose a game in these playoffs and Cleveland has to figure out a way to stop this.

If it loses game three at home, it could become a sweep for the Western Conference Warriors over their rivals representing the Eastern Conference.

And the way the 6-foot-10 Durant, who signed with them back in July to provide him with the best shot at winning a title, took charge in game one, and could be just what Golden State had in mind.

Time after time, as Cleveland tried to offset the Warriors’ sharpshooting from outside, Durant would drive down the middle and dunk the ball. Time after time he did this, and wound up with the game-high 38 points to go with eight rebounds and the same number of assists.

Stephen Curry was also on target. He came away with 28 points that included six 3-pointers, and added 10 assists.

Meanwhile, Irving and Love did not have bad games, but neither could find the answers that would put a dent in Golden State’s continued surge. Irving tossed in 24 points on 10-for-22 shooting and the 6-10 Love scrubbed the boards for the game-high 21 rebounds and scored 15 point. But the 7-foot

Tristan Thompson was held scoreless and could grab only five rebounds.

Not only is this the first time in NBA history that the same two teams have met in the finals three times in a row, but it is just the fourth time it has occurred in the four major sports leagues.

Yes, it was only one game, but if Golden State continues to control things, it could avenge last year’s stunning setback. Cleveland might not be able to match its motivation from last season’s finals, plus who knows how the ball bounces in game two.

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