There are those that think the Cleveland Cavaliers, mostly LeBron James, obsessed over the Golden State Warriors after last season's NBA Finals, through the offseason, and now nearly a third through the regular season. James got in better shape during the offseason. James has tried to appear so focused and has had to go to drastic measures to make sure his team is doing the same. Banning pregame dancing, hoverboards, and calling them out repeatedly during bad performances in meaningless November games? Certainly sounds like a person infatuated with something. Of course, that something is the defending champions and the team LeBron James can't seem to beat right now.
On Christmas Day, nearly 3 hours before gametime, James was the first person on the floor, practicing post-ups, jumpers, and free throws. Like most superstars, he gets his work in before anybody is there to even witness what's going on. With huge Bose headphones perched on his head, he went about his work, yelling at himself on misses while mixing in lyrics on makes. If the Warriors are etched into his brain before and after games, you couldn't notice it.
Except once the game started, the Warriors and LeBron did the same dance again. Now victorious over the Cavaliers the last 4 games, there wasn't much difference in the overall aesthetic in the victories. The Cavs slowed the game down to a crawl. They took the ball out of Curry's hands as much as possible, forcing everyone else to beat them. They crashed the offensive boards until Luke Walton played James Michael McAdoo over Brandon Rush for size. The Cavs got open looks with LeBron posting up and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. With Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa hurt, Curry moving at a snail's pace with an injury, the Warriors looked to be in trouble. And yet, the story remained the same.
At a certain point, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to run of excuses. After the game, ESPN immediately started talking about how the Cavs hadn't played together with this healthy lineup and the lack of chemistry for now. In the Cleveland locker room, the Cavs were downright giddy as LeBron said that he was proud of the defense they played. J.R. Smith chimed in saying Kyrie Irving wouldn't shoot like that again. Kevin Love also agreed in pointing out their porous shooting numbers and how unsustainable it is. All of it makes sense. It really does. Although at this point, it all sounds more like a wish and a prayer more than the process-over-results mindset. The Cavs locker room, unlike the one during the NBA Finals Game 1 loss which sounded like a funeral, was more upbeat this time around.
The Cavs lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals when Kyrie was healthy. Love was dismantled by Green and that won't change barring some miraculous physical change in Love's mindset and body. Curry was literally jogging the entire second half. Without Harry B, the Warriors played nary a second with the league's best lineup. So while the Cavs harp over and over again about how much better they can play and how solid they looked in another loss, how much does it really matter if their best remains unachievable? Or worse yet, not good enough regardless?
Kyrie musing on the Warriors, "We want what they have. We're not stopping until we go get it."
And for now, that it certainly is further away from the Cavaliers that they might want to admit.
1. I didn't spend much time in the GSW locker room as I chose to cover the Cavs this time around. From what I saw during the end, the GSW media scrum is getting more and more ridiculous. There was a step ladder for some media members so they could ask questions from above the mob. I can't even imagine if the Warriors had stayed undefeated through the New Year. There was also around 25 people huddle around Stephen Curry after the game. Just a few feet away was Andrew Bogut. How many people were talking to him? About 5.
2. Walton is not going to go away from the two-big lineups. Without Harrison Barnes, who he admits is a key factor for those backup forward minutes, and also a game or so away, the Warriors will just have to live with the struggle. 28-1. It's so difficult.
3. Draymond Green is a monster. He went right at Tristan Thompson in transition more than several times. He didn't win every trip but there's a fearlessness about him that the team feeds off of especially in huge moments. Green in transition is second only to Steph pulling up from 3 as the scariest GSW aspect of a basketball team.
4. GSW incessantly posted up all game. It worked just enough as Shaun Livingston repeatedly shot over the small Cavs guards. Livingston also got to wherever he wanted to off the PNRs and nailed every single midrange J he took. More Love defense for you.
5. Superb crowd on Christmas Day as they stood at the onset of the game and got loud throughout what was a rather boring game until the last 6 minutes.
6. The Warriors went small in the last 6 minutes and the pace blew up to their liking. Guys like Smith, Iman Shumpert, and even Kyrie will take dumb shots, thus pushing the pace. The Cavs are still susceptible to those moments and one of the reasons why they can't beat the Warriors. The discipline just isn't there.