OAKLAND, Calif. – Draymond Green was cool and calm like he was about to play just another game when he drove to Oracle Arena on Thursday afternoon. But when the Golden State Warriors forward bumped into NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the moment finally hit him: This wasn't another game. This was the NBA Finals.
"When I walked in I saw all the cameras and Adam Silver was sitting right there outside the door of the locker room," Green said. "And it was like, 'Man, we're in the NBA Finals.' It's an amazing feeling."
The Warriors' 108-100 overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals was the franchise's first in the championship series since winning the title in 1975. For Warriors players, it was also the first Finals game of their careers. The Cavaliers had five players with Finals experience.
While the Warriors expect to be in a long, grinding series against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, they were ecstatic to get their first Finals game out of the way. And even happier they won it.
"There are a lot of distractions," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. "Thankfully we got through the first game unscathed. Now we know what to expect for Game 2."
The Warriors advanced to the Finals with a Game 5 victory over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals on May 27. Immediately afterward, their cell phones blew up with family, friends and so-called family and friends hoping to get their hands on Finals tickets. Green and Warriors teammate Stephen Curry tried to focus by limiting their time on Twitter.
Since the West finals ended, Curry had tweeted just twice, wishing former teammate Anthony Tolliver a happy birthday and to promote a headphone company he endorses. But about two hours before game time, Curry couldn't hold back any longer.
Green rented out a six-bedroom, five-bathroom house with a swimming pool for his mother, 11 other family members and three friends to stay through the first two games of the Finals. He also landed four complimentary tickets, but spent more than $10,000 on 11 more to accommodate his party.
Green wants his family and close friends to enjoy this moment with him. He also can't wait to eat his mom's famous tacos.
"They're in a house in the suburbs and I'm in an apartment near Oakland," Green said. "They're living the good life while I'm living raggedy. I can still go home, get a good night's rest, wake up and stay in my routine and then go be with the family when business is handled."
The Warriors players received advice from coach Steve Kerr, a five-time NBA champion, and assistant coach Luke Walton, a two-time NBA champion, about what to expect on and off the court during the Finals. Former NBA player Mychal Thompson, a two-time NBA champion, also was in the ear of his son, Warriors guard Klay Thompson, about what to expect.
But no matter what the players were told, they had to experience it for themselves to understand the magnitude of the Finals.
"My [pregame] shooting time is usually 75 minutes before tipoff," Bogut said. "I went out there, and all you [media] guys were out there. There were 150, 200 reporters out there with cameras and all these annoying lights that affect my eyes. There is definitely a different feel.
"A lot more people. A lot attention. That's what you play for."
The Warriors had their typical sellout crowd of 19,956 fans, though it contained even more celebrities than normal, including Magic Johnson, Floyd Mayweather, Rihanna, Reggie Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, rapper E-40 and Guy Fieri.
Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said his team started the game so nervously that it looked like their preseason opener. James and the Cavaliers took a 29-19 lead after holding the Warriors to 27.3 percent shooting in the opening quarter. The Warriors regained their rhythm in the second quarter by outscoring the Cavs 29-22 in the second quarter to trim their deficit to 51-48 at halftime.
"I had to take a deep breath of relief after the first quarter," Green said. "Everything seemed like it was happening … so fast. So I tried to settle down and tried to gain my composure."
Said Livingston: "Man, the gas was so high. We were so anxious. We wanted everything to be perfect."
The Warriors appeared in good position to win at the end of regulation when Curry broke free for what looked like an easy layup. Only, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving blocked the shot. After a miss by James, Cleveland had one last attempt in regulation to steal the win with a follow by Iman Shumpert that hit the rim and didn't fall.
"Yeah, I was nervous," Warriors general manager Bob Myers told Yahoo Sports. "Anyone could have won that game. I thought Shumpert's shot was going in. From where I was sitting, it looked pretty good. It was two inches away."
Said Kerr: "I didn't even think we were going to have overtime because I thought Iman's follow was going in. It looked good the whole way."
The Warriors and Cavaliers went into OT tied at 98. By then, the newness of the Finals had long since worn off. The Warriors were confident they would win, despite an eventual 44 points from James.
"I told guys, 'We're supposed to win [if Shumpert's shot] don't go in,' " said Livingston, who says he has turned off his cell phone during the Finals. " 'This is our game now.' We're supposed to win because that's their best shot. With what we got with our options and our weapons going into overtime against theirs, we were confident."
Warriors guard Leandro Barbosa yelled, "We got three more," as he ran to the locker room after the win. Livingston followed by saying, "Locked in." Not long after, Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash walked through the doors to hang out in the Warriors' locker room.
When the Finals resume on Sunday, the Warriors don't expect to be blinded by the bright lights again.
"You know the feeling now," Green said. "Going out in Game 2, you won't be as anxious or have any as many jitters. You know what to expect. You know the environment."