The Warriors got lucky, and this might be a series after all

OAKLAND, Calif. -- There are many things the Golden State Warriors need to win games in these NBA Finals, but luck? No, that's not something the best team in the NBA the past four seasons should get an extra helping of.

When the Warriors win, it's usually because their superior talent/depth/experience finally takes over and they overwhelm their opponent.

When they lose, it's usually because their superior talent/depth/experience makes them overconfident and they carelessly give away turnovers, possessions and points to less-talented teams.

Rarely in Golden State's historic run have we seen something like Thursday night's Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers, when the Warriors were outplayed by an opponent and escaped with a win because of some lucky breaks at the end of the game.

"We got lucky," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We got lucky."

A few minutes later, Warriors forward Draymond Green was asked to react to his coach's assessment.

"Sometimes you need a little luck," Green said. "It's good to be lucky sometimes. So I'll take it."

Sure, the Warriors might have won Game 1 of the Finals anyway without JR Smith's mental lapse at the end of regulation or the three controversial calls that went against LeBron James in the fourth quarter.

But after 72 hours of collective dread that the fourth iteration of a Warriors-Cavaliers Finals would be a colossal mismatch, it instead has the makings of a fascinating series.

Most Las Vegas sportsbooks had the Cavaliers as the biggest underdog in at least 16 years. The Cavs were so overlooked, the Western Conference finals might as well have been the real Finals.

And yet, on Thursday night, Cleveland looked like the dynamic team its front office envisioned after a series of widely hailed midseason trades that completely recast half the team. Those trades were supposed to make the Cavs younger, more athletic and faster. For most of the regular season and first round of the playoffs, though, the new players just seemed inexperienced and ill-equipped alongside an all-time great, playing at an all-time peak level like LeBron James has been in the playoffs.

In Game 1, though, forward Larry Nance Jr. was exceptional in his 19 minutes, with nine points and 11 rebounds. Guards George Hill and Jordan Clarkson didn't shoot well, but they added a versatility to the Cavs that hasn't been there in the three previous Finals matchups. But mostly, James' brilliance has just been at another level.

"I've never seen a level like this before," Cavs forward Kevin Love said of James. "He was incredible. And he's been that way throughout the playoffs.

"He said he's felt the best he's ever felt."

James has had exceptional games in the Finals before. Game 7 in 2016 comes to mind. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any game in which he was as good as he was Thursday night, when he scored 51 points on 19-of-32 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished eight assists.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James is the only player in NBA history to score or assist on 70 points in a Finals game and lose. He has now done it twice, both times against the Warriors.

Asked by ESPN Radio what the Warriors can do differently to try to contain James in Game 2, Kevin Durant said simply, "Nothing. He's tough to stop."

Durant was last season's Finals MVP as the Warriors coasted to a five-game series win. He was sublime, and there was a very real debate at the time about whether he was close to passing James as the best player in the league.

That debate has ceased for now. James has been that good. And Durant has been something close to mortal in the past two rounds of the playoffs.

He's still scoring in bunches. Thursday he had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists. But he was an inefficient 8-for-22 from the field, mostly on isolation plays. That has been a recurring theme for Durant lately. During the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets, he admitted to losing confidence at various points in the series, as the Rockets baited him into the iso-heavy offensive game he thought he'd left behind in Oklahoma City two years ago as a free agent.

The Cavs scouted that series heavily and took a lot from Houston's blueprint for disrupting Durant and the Warriors' flow. But Houston didn't have anyone playing at a level like James is now.

"Unbelievable," Nance said. "He's the first one in the gym and the last one in the gym in Year 15. After eight straight Finals. Come on! Still the first and last one in the gym? He's unbelievable."

Whether James can maintain this level of play remains to be seen. He was noticeably upset in the team's huddle after Hill's missed free throw and Smith's mental lapse. The Cavs had played well enough to win the game and steal a win on the road, and then they'd simply blown it.

"We played as well as we have all postseason," James said 90 minutes after the game, still obviously lamenting the golden opportunity that had just slipped away. "We gave ourselves a chance possession after possession after possession. There were just some plays that were kind of taken away from us, simple as that."

The Warriors walked away calling it lucky. The Cavs had far harsher words.

But if the rest of the series is as fascinating as Game 1, there's still a lot left to say.