The Golden State Warriors hosted a tilt of titans on MLK Day, as the Cleveland Cavaliers stepped back onto Oracle Arena’s hardwood for the first time since June. Since their Christmas Day collapse, questions buzzed around the Warriors and this matchup like fleas: what’s wrong with Stephen Curry? Are the Cavs an unmullable mental block for the Warriors?
The Warriors calmed their adrenaline jitters in the first few minutes of play and swiftly dominated the Cavaliers 126 - 91 (and silenced the questioners), spearheaded by a flamethrowing Curry (20 pts, 11 asts in 31 mins). The Cavaliers looked toothless on offense and exerted no pressure on the Warriors defensively.
Flawless Execution in First Half
The Warriors won the game entirely in the first half, finishing the first 24 minutes with a 78 - 49 advantage. The Cavs didn’t have a preferred matchup for newly acquired shooter Kyle Korver, yet the Warriors sniffed him out and attacked him in transition like bloodhounds. Korver may be codenamed Jimmer Fredette in the Warriors scouting report.
A shocking, unexpected altercation between LeBron James and Draymond Green resulted in a referee-manufactured swing in the pro-Warriors momentum. Draymond received a soft Flagrant-1 and technical from a defensive swipe in transition on LeBron. Perplexing refereeing was a theme, as the Warriors were awarded three free throws (3.8% of total offense) to the Cavaliers’ 18 FTAs (30.6% of total offense) in the first half.
Outside of the referee-decided category of free throw attempts, the Warriors steamrolled the Cavaliers. Out-ran, out-executed, out-gritted, out-prettied. Andre Iguodala turned the clocks back to 2010; Kevin Durant was the best version of his potent assassin-defender self; Curry was aggressive early and floated through the Cavs’ usual physical-grabby defense.
Can the Cavaliers Hang With these Warriors?
Taking a step back, here: in 96 minutes this season, the Cavaliers have landed two good punches on the Warriors. The final 9:45 of the fourth quarter in Cleveland (+15) and the final ~five minutes of the third quarter tonight (+14, part of a 7:30 field goal drought by the Warriors).
Outside of that +29 in 14:45, the Cavaliers are now -63 in 81:15 against the Warriors.
Overlooked in the fact that THE WARRIORS BLEW A 3-1 LEAD is the fact that the Warriors built a 3-1 lead. It’s useless now to retread the arguments of “injured Curry”, “ejected Curry”, “injured Bogut”, “suspended Green”, blah blah blah. The Cavs bested the Warriors... only after being pushed as far as a team can.
By and large, the Kerr Warriors have owned the LeBron Cavs 2.0. While the Cavs are 8-11 since 2014, three of those victories came in the aforementioned controversial ending to the 2016 Finals. A fourth came on a Durant buzzerbeater-to-be. All told, the Cavs hold a 10.25 margin of victory and an 18.36 margin of defeat against the Warriors. Five of their losses were by more than 20 points, three of them by more than 30.
Tonight was a microcosm of the difficulties the Cavaliers have faced with the Warriors: they’re a house of one-way players built around LeBron, exploitable by the Warriors on one side of the ball or another. LeBron was not superhuman enough tonight to duel with a firebreathing Warriors team.
The Warriors were emotionally locked-in and, as per the norm of the Kerr era, the Cavaliers couldn’t grapple with them if LeBron was merely mortal.