Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals went pretty smoothly for the Golden State Warriors. They earned a 113-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to improve to 13-0 overall this postseason.
Leading the way was star forward Kevin Durant, who is in his first year with the Warriors after coming over from the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason. KD dropped a game-high 38 points and also added eight rebounds and eight assists in the win.
The Cavaliers simply had no answer for Durant, who dominated in every aspect on the offensive end. Whether in transition, beyond the three-point arc, in the pick-and-roll offense or at the free-throw line, KD was in rare form on Thursday night.
After the game, even LeBron James - one of the best players ever to play the game - was at a loss when asked how to stop the Warriors, and KD in particular, telling ESPN.com that Cleveland needs to figure something out soon:
"I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the postseason, and then in the offseason, you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that's what stands out," James said.
"I mean, it's no ifs, ands or buts. It is what it is. We got to figure out how to combat that, which is going to be a tough challenge for us."
A tough challenge, indeed. Here, we take a look at three ways Durant dominated the Cleveland defense on Thursday night.
Pick and Rolls
Last year, the Warriors tried to run pick-and-roll plays with Steph Curry and Draymond Green. However, Green isn't a great one-on-one scorer, so the Cavaliers could simply sag off of him and stay tight on Curry.
This year, the Dubs are running the same play, but with Durant in Green's spot. That makes them a much more lethal offense, as Durant is one of the best pure scorers in NBA history.
Making things even more difficult for the Cavs is that, with KD and Curry running the pick and roll, Green is free to move to an open spot on the floor to receive a kick-out pass if the Cavs do successfully stop the original play.
Though he only made one of his five three-point attempts on Thursday, leaving Green open beyond the arc is a recipe for disaster moving forward.
When Durant gets out on a fast break, he's one of the toughest players in the league to defend (along with LeBron). KD had six dunks in the first half of Thursday's game, and most of them came in transition.
The Cavs didn't do themselves any favors, though, as they often failed to stop the ball when it was in Durant's hands on a fast break. In the video below, J.R. Smith simply runs out of KD's way, giving the Warriors an easy dunk:
It's hard to fault Smith too much, as he left Durant to guard Curry on the three-point line. If he had stuck with KD, Durant would have likely kicked it out to his teammate for a wide-open three.
However, letting KD cruise to the basket for an easy and emphatic slam isn't exactly a good choice, either. The Cavs need to make more of a team effort to get back on defense or else Durant and Curry will continue to make them look foolish.
The Cavaliers have only one defender with even a slim chance of limiting Durant's offensive output - LeBron James. However, LeBron is so valuable to the Cavs on the offensive end that they'd prefer to keep him from having to expend so much energy defensively.
Kevin Love can't stick with Durant when he puts the ball on the floor and Tristan Thompson can't defend KD out near the three-point line, so neither of them can be trusted to matchup with the star forward.
Even LeBron has trouble sticking with KD, though, as shown by the first play in the video below, where James moves forward to guard what he thinks is a pick and roll. Instead, Durant makes a back-door cut to the basket, where he throws down an easy alley-oop:
Granted, that play isn't all LeBron's fault, as the Cavs had exactly zero rim protection on the play, but it just goes to show how versatile, quick and difficult to guard Durant truly is on a play-by-play basis.
With Game 2 on Sunday night, the Cavs have a couple of days to try to come up with a better defensive strategy. However, as we've seen already this series, keeping KD from scoring is much easier said than done.