The Warriors set an early tone in the NBA Finals by beating the Cavaliers 113-91 in Game 1.

OAKLAND — Just for a second on Thursday night, as LeBron James trod the carpet linking Oracle Arena’s tunnel and the visitors’ locker room and tried to put Game 1 in his rearview mirror, his head tilted downwards.

In that instant, almost as soon as it happened, he snapped it back upward again, staring straight ahead as he headed behind closed doors to reflect on the Cleveland Cavaliers opening game surrender in the NBA Finals.

James knew he was beaten on this night, the Cavaliers having been battered by Kevin Durant’s aerial dynamics and an early second-half run that allowed the Golden State Warriors to ease to a 113-91 triumph.

But, consciously it seemed, he sure as heck wasn’t going to carry himself in a way that belied defeat. Maybe he is a student of body language, maybe he wasn’t even aware he was doing it, but for much of the next hour James kept himself in positions that were various variations of upright. That head didn’t drop again.

He kept his phone in front of his face as he scrolled through messages by his locker, feet dunked in a huge black bucket of ice and large frozen packs strapped to each knee.

The expression was stoic, unflinching, unsmiling and the few utterances he offered to nearby teammates gave the impression of a man who was seriously pissed off by the events that had just transpired.

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Yet he didn’t mope toward the shower, instead grabbing a towel and walking tall in the direction of the stalls. Later, dressed and ready to face the media, he again had that icy, vertical stance, giving no sign of acknowledgement as Stephen Curry wandered by in the opposite direction.

He was anything but happy, but the chin was up, all the time. Read into that what you will.

“Just get focused on Game 2,” is the message he will pass on to his colleagues ahead of Sunday’s second installment. “We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really that needs to be said. We didn’t play as well as we are capable of so we look forward to the next one.”

Look forward, literally, he did. And look forward he will. Going down 1-0, especially in such a lopsided manner, was never part of the game plan, but James has been here before – right here – and ended that story by flipping the script.

A year ago the same floor produced a similar result, with the Warriors dominating Game 1 and doing so again with even more emphasis three nights later, before an epic comeback ensued.


While Golden State looks to be a different beast this time around, a four-headed one thanks to the addition of Durant, to James it is a puzzle to solve rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

“K.D.,” James said, when asked what stood out to him about the pacing and efficiency of the Cavaliers’ rival. “No ifs and buts. It is what it is. We (have) got to figure out how to combat that, which is going to be a tough challenge for us.”

James spoke critically of himself, admitting that too many turnovers had laid the foundation for the Warriors to gain a foothold in the game and ultimately run away with it. He thought he could have been better on the night, and didn’t promise self-improvement because the expectation of it is obvious. If a revival is to happen he will need greater assistance. James and Kyrie Irving combined for 52 points and it wasn’t close to being enough.

Now there are two days off to reflect and recoup, to concoct a way to stem the tide, to unlock the secrets of Oracle like they did in the second half of last year’s Finals and not the first.

They were “victims” on Thursday, James said, both of a devastating Warriors burst but also of their own turnover generosity. The build-up to the next installment will demand much of him as a leader, and he knows it.

These are times to lead by example, and just as his Cavaliers colleagues knew enough to leave James alone in the locker room it didn’t mean they weren’t paying attention to how he reacted.

They take cues from their chief on court and away from it and the message, its tone and delivery, is vital.

Things will need to change for Cleveland to get competitive in this series.

“Play with effort, play with energy,” James added, detailing what he will ask of his teammates. “Play with their minds, play with their bodies, understand what we are trying to accomplish.”

Experience tells us that as comprehensive a Golden State win as this was, so much so that all drama was sapped out of it, it is too early to say that James and his Cavaliers are looking like they’re downtrodden, beaten down, or down and out.

Not when James has improvement on his mind, not when he refuses to even look down at all.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers on Twitter @mrogersUSAT

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