Most of us probably assumed that tonight's Golden State Warriors' game would be a win before it began and there was plenty of reason for that assumption to turn into a pretty solid belief after a dominant first quarter performance.
Unfortunately, a promising start gave way to a disappointing outcome as the Warriors blew a 16-point first quarter lead and eventually lost 103-94 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. And in a cruel twist of fate, Jarrett Jack was a driving force in the Cavaliers' turnaround at Oracle Arena just as he had been so many time for the Warriors last season.
Jack did all of his scoring and assisting in the middle two quarters when the Cavs outscored the Warriors 68-39 to erase the early deficit. Jack recorded all four of his assists in the second quarter and eight of his nine points on that familiar mid-range jumper in the third quarter. With Jack re-discovering his shooting touch at Oracle in the third quarter, the Cavs went on a 20-7 run over the final five minutes of the third quarter to head into the fourth with a 84-71 lead that the Warriors were never able to recover from.
And moreso than pining for the days when Jack was on our team, that third quarter run epitomized what was hardly a playoff-worthy defensive performance from the Warriors.
Jack has been having a sub-par season and reverted to better days in Oakland, so maybe you take his string of jumpers and move on. But Spencer Hawes dropping a team-high 22 (and season-high as a member of the Cavs) on you on your own floor, primarily on weakly challenged or uncontested jumpers, to go with a game-high 13 rebounds has to be seen as unacceptable. Warriors defenders struggled to stop Luol Deng and Dion Waiters on the perimeter, allowing them to score 16 and 18 points, respectively. And, oh yeah, Kyrie Irving - the 2014 NBA All-Star Game MVP - helped finish the Warriors off by going 3-for-5 from the 3-point line in the second half with hands in his face.
It was a disastrous defensive performance with the Warriors seemingly incapable of either stopping the Cavs' dribble penetration or finding open shooters off ball rotations, pick-and-rolls, or just standing around.
Key statistic: Cavaliers shot 55.3% from the field in the second and third quarters
Maybe you could say this was "just one of those games" where an opponent got hot and those do happen in the NBA. Maybe you could put some of this loss on Klay Thompson's absence because his defensive presence might have alleviated some of the pressure for others to perform defensively.
But the Cavs are not nearly as good offensively as they showed in those middle two quarters tonight - they entered the night ranked 24th in the league in offensive efficiency and 30th in effective field goal percentage, according to Basketball-Reference - and that makes this loss particularly disappointing. Kyrie Irving should be expected to get his, but you can't expect to beat this team if three other players score as much or more than him. Making matters worse, is that nobody could seem to guard anyone on the Warriors.
Of course there's a temptation to focus on blaming individual players after a loss like that - David Lee has his share of Lee moments and Steve Blake's -28 stands out in the boxscore - but the reality is it was a mix of everyone failing to defend: late or non-existent closeouts, fouling due simply to not moving their feet, and just poor decision-making was rampant.
All of that is before we even get to the self-inflicted harm-by-turnover - 11 of their 17 for the game came in those middle two quarters, which the Cavs turned into 20 points off turnovers.
You can't win ball games that way, no matter what the records are or who you have on your own team.
Cavs 103, GSW 92 ... Nice present for Steph, y'all. @ Oracle Arena http://t.co/ksFMjnLQWC— Jessica Lantz (@j_lantz) March 15, 2014
Warrior Wonder: Steph Curry gets game-highs of 27 points and 8 assists on his birthday
There really weren't many bright spots for this one outside of the first quarter, but Stephen Curry continues to be the guy that gives you hope that this team can find a way to a win by way of three point bombs when nothing else is going right. He did his best with 22 of his game-high 27 in the second half, but his four turnovers were as painful as anyone else's and there wasn't much the team could do to overcome those defensive struggles.
I can't blame anyone for panicking after a loss like that, if not about this team falling out of the playoff picture then certainly about their ability to advance - the type of lapses they had tonight were not only unacceptable for a team with (Western Conference) playoff aspirations but also fit into many of the same patterns that have plagued the game all season (one thought I had is that this game was like the inverse of their win in Detroit, with them having the last run rather than the opponents).
But the game was also a showcase of what makes it easy to hold on to hope about this team: as disappointing an outcome as this was, it was also a showcase for the best (a 32-16 first quarter) and the absolute worst (lacking defensive focus and turnovers) that this team has to offer. It's what makes this team so frustrating because they have not found away to avoid nights like tonight's game.
With Thompson back in the lineup and an opponent that doesn't lend itself to relaxing much, could we see more of the best and less of the worst? Let's hope so because this is becoming a really tiresome act.