7: 30 p.m.
Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA
TV: CSN BA/HD | Radio: KNBR 680
Buddy blog: Fear The Sword
The last time the Golden State Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers, the point guard matchup lived up to its billing as Kyrie Irving hit a last second shot that sent the game to overtime and Stephen Curry came one rebound short of a triple-double to lead his team to a 108-104 overtime victory in the middle of a 10-game winning streak.
Coincidentally, the Warriors have won 10 of their last 13 games since mid-February as they host the Cavs tonight and - putting Wednesday night's loss to the Clippers aside - are back to looking like they could realize their vision of making noise in the playoffs again. That begins with defense, as described by SB Nation's Dane Carbough.
Their defense has been especially smothering of late, with Andrew Bogut anchoring the paint and Draymond Green playing out of his mind off the bench. The Warriors hold their opponents to the third-worst effective field goal percentage in the NBA and the sixth-worst offensive rebounding percentage.
Golden State's success on both ends relies on their ability to play together as a team.
Defense has certainly been the Warriors calling card when they're at their best this season and often seems like it's a matter of focus and missing personnel rather than lacking ability. But, speaking of Green's play off the bench, the big recent development really is the play of the bench even if the main characters in tonight's game are still Curry and Irving.
Since that December meeting in Cleveland, quite a bit has changed for the Warriors' bench situation that has unquestionably contributed to their recent success. Draymond Green is on fire from beyond the arc in March, shooting 44% from deep in seven games thus far this month. Jermaine O'Neal will be with the team this time around and they've seriously upgraded the bench by adding Steve Blake and Jordan Crawford. And Marreese Speights has been relegated to no more than 14 minutes per game since mid-February, which may or may not be a sign of something.
After many entered the year worrying about how the team would fare without Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jarrett Jack's scoring punch off the bench, part of the team's latest revival has been a matter of finally seeming to find a combination of players that could replace what Jack (and, oft-forgotten Carl Landry) brought to the bench last season. The question now is whether what we're seeing now is sustainable, health aside.
For Jack's part, last season's performance with the Warriors is looking even more like a peak year based on his performance in Cleveland this season. Jack is posting career-lows in PER, TS%, and usage rate playing with a Cavs team that has endured a roller coaster season (and yet they are only five games out of the playoffs.
Although the Cavs have made their share of changes as well - Spencer Hawes is shooting 54.8% from the 3-point line in his 10 games with the team and Luol Deng is still a defensive presence even though he isn't setting the world on fire since ariving in Cleveland - this is a game that we should expect the Warriors to win.
Replacing Klay Thompson's minutes: First, Klay Thompson - who drew the assignment of trying to contain Irving in the fourth quarter - will not be with the team today as he attends the funeral of his grandfather in the Bahamas (and best wishes to his family in coping with the loss). Offensively, that means the team would benefit greatly from a strong performance from Harrison Barnes. Defensively, the question is who will step up to guard Irving this time around in the fourth - thankfully, Andre Iguodala is on our side...?
Containing Irving: The thing about the Cavs is that Irving can keep them in games but he, like most mere mortals, is not going to single-handedly win games. Interestingly, he has two more assists per game in wins than he does in losses; he had nine in that overtime loss to the Warriors in December. He's not going to score 97 points by himself - even if he goes off for a big game again, shutting down everyone else will go a long way to winning this one.
Crash the boards: The Cavs don't shoot particularly well, but they are ranked 6th in offensive rebounding this season, according to Basketball-Reference. Having a full post rotation should allow them to control the boards and keep the Cavs at bay, which should be enough to come away with a big win at Roaracle.