OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry realizes every last man on the bench can mean so much to winning a championship.
As he and Klay Thompson endured rare off nights that even featured Curry tossing his mouthpiece in frustration, the MVP’s “Strength In Numbers” supporting cast made all the timely shots and all the difference for the defending champions in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Draymond Green had 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Shaun Livingston scored a personal postseason best of 20 and Golden State’s bench came up big as the Warriors beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-89 on Thursday night to move three wins from a repeat title.
The Splash Brothers? They totaled — gasp! — 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting, each knocking down a late 3-pointer.
“You don’t win championships without the entire squad coming in and making an impact on games,” Curry said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Golden State’s bench outscored the Cavs’ reserves 45-10 in the opener of this finals rematch, which the Warriors reached even with Curry missing six games with injuries in the postseason.
Game 2 is Sunday night back at Oracle Arena, and James knows Cleveland must adjust immediately.
“When you get outscored 45-10 on the bench and give up 25 points off 17 turnovers, no matter what someone does or doesn’t do, it’s going to be hard to win, especially on the road,” James said. “Don’t matter what you do with Steph and Klay, don’t matter what you do with Draymond.”
In a series with so much star power on both sides, this was a night for Livingston and fellow reserves Leandro Barbosa and Andre Iguodala. Barbosa returned from a minor back injury to shoot 5 for 5 on the way to 11 points, while 2015 finals MVP Iguodala had 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and some stingy defense on James.
“We play a lot of people, and we feel like we have a lot of talent on the bench that can come in and score when we need it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “So it’s a great sign, obviously, that we can win in the finals without those two guys having big games, but it’s not really that surprising to us. This has been our team the last couple of years.”
It made for a strong start while surrounded by those thousands of golden yellow “Strength in Numbers” T-shirts worn by the raucous fans throughout sold-out Oracle.
“That’s our motto. That’s what we believe in,” Livingston said. “We pick each other up. We believe in each other and we just fight.”
James kicked off his sixth straight finals with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, but cold-shooting Cleveland went 38.1 percent from the floor. Kyrie Irving, lost to a devastating knee injury in a Game 1 overtime defeat last year, scored 26 points, 11 on free throws.
Iguodala had moved into the starting lineup Monday for the Game 7 clincher against Oklahoma City with a primary duty of defending Kevin Durant, but went back to the bench and played 36 minutes Thursday. He shook his head in delight after a two-handed slam off a pass from Curry with 5:44 left and didn’t let an aggravating, hard hit to the groin by Matthew Dellavedova derail his focus for the final quarter.
Kerr stuck with regular starter Harrison Barnes, and he delivered 13 points. Curry had 11 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Thompson scored nine points.
“I thought our guys did a great job of locking into those guys,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “Their bench played well. So we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to take those guys out of the game.”
Kevin Love made an impressive finals debut with 17 points and 13 rebounds after missing last year’s run with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. His basket with 3:57 left in the third put the Cavs ahead before Green’s dunk moments later.
With 34.1 seconds left in the third, Iguodala took issue with Dellavedova’s swat into his groin that after review was ruled a personal foul and no flagrant. Iguodala knocked down a 3-pointer less than 8 seconds later and Golden State took a 74-68 lead into the final 12 minutes.
Livingston, whose remarkable comeback from a potentially career-ending left knee injury nine years ago has so inspired Kerr and many others, made a key follow shot late in the third on the way to his first 20-point performance in the postseason.
James has scored 20 or more points in a career-best 25 straight playoff games, topping his previous mark of 24 in a row from May 12, 2008, to April 25, 2010.
Kerr karate chopped his white clipboard in half in the third quarter, frustrated how his team came out of the break as the Cavs grabbed some momentum.
He felt better afterward.
“Destruction tends to ease some of the anger,” the Coach of the Year said. “So I try to take it out on a clipboard instead of a player. So it’s better that way.”
Cavaliers: The Cavs, who were allowing 94.3 points per game, dropped to 12-3 this postseason and 5-3 on the road. … Averaging a playoffs-high 14.4 3s per game, the Cavs shot 7 of 21 from beyond the arc.
Warriors: Longtime Cavs big man Anderson Varejao got on the floor in the opening quarter for the Warriors, the first player to have been on both finals teams in the same season. … Andrew Bogut scored 10 points, his entire total from last year’s finals. … Curry has made a 3 in a record 52 straight postseason games.
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