Kevin Durant drove through the lane untouched for dazzling dunks. He dished off even when he could have slammed it home, and did it all on defense.
Oh, he hit from long range, too.
What a dominant NBA Finals opener with the Warriors.
Durant finished with 38 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to lead Golden State past LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers 113-91 on Thursday night in Oakland, California, in Game 1.
As this highly anticipated rematch tipped off at last, the biggest difference from last year was clear.
“KD,” James said.
Stephen Curry did his share by scoring 28 points with six 3-pointers and 10 assists as this sure-to-be thrilling trilogy began, a long-expected, spectacular grand finale envisioned since that July day Durant left Oklahoma City to join the loaded Warriors.
“We could be a lot better than we were tonight, but in the Finals you get a ‘W,’ we’ll take it,” Durant said.
James wound up with 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists a day after dealing with bigotry far away from basketball. Someone painted a racial slur – the N-word – on the gate of his Los Angeles home, leaving James to address racism rather than his seventh straight Finals appearance or stopping KD. James said he would do his best to be ready for the series opener when his mind was elsewhere, concerned for his wife and children back in Ohio.
“We did a great job of covering the 3-point line, but other than that they played a hell of a game,” James said.
Durant punished Cleveland for leaving him free, taking the ball to the hoop for emphatic dunks as a man on a mission to deliver what he came for: a championship. He had six slams in the first half alone for the Warriors, who at 13-0 are already the first team to go this far in a postseason unblemished.
“They’re the best I’ve ever seen,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “They’re 13-0. They’re constantly breaking records every year.”
Game 2 in the series is Sunday night back at Oracle Arena with its deafening sellout crowd.
Once his night was finally done, Durant found mother Wanda at the end of the Warriors bench and held her in a warm embrace.
He had won the first battle with King James.
“Those are two big household names, so we know you guys and the fans are going to want to see that and pick up on it,” said acting Warriors coach Mike Brown, facing a Cleveland franchise that fired him not once but twice. “I’m sure LeBron probably thinks he could play better, and you tip your hat off to KD.”
Kyrie Irving, who hit the deciding 3-pointer with Curry’s hand in his face last June as Cleveland rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win its first championship, scored 24 points on 10-of-22 shooting. Kevin Love grabbed 21 rebounds and scored 15 points, while Tristan Thompson was held scoreless and to four boards.
Durant’s only other Finals ended at the hands of LeBron and Miami in 2012. He shot 14 for 26 in his fifth 30-point performance this postseason, receiving a rousing ovation when he sat down for good with 2:16 remaining.
Curry sported a fresh haircut for the occasion and the two-time reigning MVP initially wore a black sleeve on his shooting arm to protect a tender elbow that still had some swelling, but he quickly removed it and found his stroke. He shot 11 for 22, 6 of 11 on 3s.
The sleeve didn’t feel right, but Curry joked of his arm wear, “As a little kid I always wanted to be like Allen Iverson and that was the only way I could really come close.”
This marks the first time in NBA history the same two teams played in three straight Finals and just the fourth time it has happened in the four major sports leagues.
Golden State finally warmed up after nine days off, while the Cavs had a six-day break since beating Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
Warriors starting center Zaza Pachulia returned after missing the final two games at San Antonio with a bruised right heel and contributed eight points and six rebounds.
Golden State’s four turnovers tied an NBA Finals low.
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