NBA Finals: How the Warriors' Bench Won Game 1

The Warriors' bench sparked a much-needed rally in the second half to claim Game 1.

If the first stat you heard about Game 1 of the NBA Finals was Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting, your inclination would be to say the Warriors lost Game 1 for the second straight series.

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Golden State's supporting cast stepped up in grand fashion to save the day and hold home court in the Finals, while leading the Warriors to a 104-89 victory.

Golden State led for essentially the entire first half Thursday night, opening up their first double-digit lead midway through the second quarter. Cleveland chipped away, finally taking the lead, 64-63, with a 12-4 spurt midway through the third.

Then the Warriors' bench took over.

The Run

Starting at the 1:30 mark of the third quarter, with the Warriors down one, the Golden State bench put the game out of reach. Over the next eight minutes of game action, the Warriors outscored Cleveland 29-8 behind the efforts of Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, and Harrison Barnes, who combined for 25 points on 11-for-11 shooting.

The group was strong defensively as well, holding the Cavaliers to 4-for-13 shooting and forcing three turnovers against a lineup that had Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love in for the majority of the time.

According to numberFire Live, the Warriors' win probability jumped from 60 percent to 99 percent during this stretch.

GS Cle G1 Win Probability

Where Golden State Won Game 1

The big difference was the production of Golden State's bench versus anybody on Cleveland not named James, Irving, Love, or Tristan Thompson.

Bench Production Minutes Points Rebounds Assists FGM-FGA (FG%)
Cleveland (Plus J.R. Smith) 93 13 7 2 4-13 (30.7%)
Golden State 94 45 16 10 19-32 (59.4%)

According to numberFire Live, Shaun Livingston was the game's MVP with a performance score of 95 out of 100. Livingston scored 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting and contributed 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 27 minutes. Barbosa also added 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting.

In addition to the bench, Draymond Green had an efficient game on both ends, posting 16 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals while holding Cleveland to 4-for-17 shooting when defending the rim.

As a team, the Warriors shot 55 percent on contested shots while the Cavaliers only shot 37 percent.

Where Cleveland Needs to Improve in Game 2

The trio of James, Irving, and Love posted very high Usage Rates and played a relatively inefficient game as a group, even though LeBron nearly posted a triple-double.

Player Minutes Usage Rate Points Rebounds Assists FGM-FGA (FG%)
LeBron James 41 27.6% 23 12 9 9-21 (43%)
Kyrie Irving 38 35.6% 26 3 4 7-22 (32%)
Kevin Love 37 24.6% 17 13 2 7-17 (41%)

The Cavs will need bigger contributions from J.R. Smith and Channing Frye in Game 2 if they want to take down Golden State.

Smith took only 3 shots in 36 minutes while Frye played only 7 minutes. The two are shooting 46 percent and 56 percent, respectively, from three during this year's playoffs. Their ability to stretch the defense would help atone for the 28 paint misses Cleveland had in Game 1.

Irving had an inefficient game when taking into consideration his high Usage Rate. While his point total was saved by hitting 11 of his 12 free throws, Kyrie used more possessions than James while posting a slightly better point total and a way lower shooting percentage.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, Irving shot 1-for-9 in the half court when bringing the ball up and not passing. In tandem with that, Irving and James combined for 6-for-18 shooting on uncontested shots.

The Takeaway From Game 1

Cleveland had a clear opportunity to steal Game 1 and blew a chance to take home court advantage Golden State. With the struggles of Curry and Thompson, and the Cavs holding a lead within the last 14 minutes of the game, it is hard to believe Cleveland lost by 15.

If Kyrie did not get to the free throw line as much as he did, he would be in the same boat as the Splash Brothers today. The Cavaliers cannot count on Curry and Thompson playing like that again in the series. Then again, the Warriors can't count on their bench producing at such a high level in Game 2.

In order for Cleveland to have a chance of winning Game 2, Irving will need to be more efficient, and they will have to get others more involved. Outside of the big three and Tristan Thompson, nobody on the Cavs scored more than three points. That cannot happen if Cleveland wants to even the series heading back to Ohio.

Our algorithms give the Warriors an 81.4% chance to win the series.