This game meant something.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day match between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers has been circled on fans’ calendars ever since the Cavaliers orchestrated a come-back victory over the Warriors on Christmas Day.
But unlike that last game, the Warriors kept their foot on the gas from start to finish. The result — a 126-91 blowout by Golden State.
With the regular season series split at 1-1, these two teams can’t face each other again until the playoffs. Unless and until that happens, these two games (as well as their past two playoff series) will no doubt be the source of great discussion for fans and pundits alike.
There is too much history, too much emotion and too much media coverage for this to have been just another regular season game. So yeah, this game meant something.
The basketball answer
There are a few things we learned from this game.
The Warriors proved they can put a team away early and not let them back into the game. And they did it at the perfect time.
There’s not much to complain about with the Warriors’ performance. Kevin Durant was effective on both sides of the floor and played within the system. Klay Thompson’s shot was on target and he made Kyle Korver work all night. Draymond Green was a defensive force and imposed his will on the game with his unique all-around style. Stephen Curry was a good mix of aggressor and facilitator, leading to some of the most exciting plays of the game.
As for the Cavaliers, LeBron James didn’t play his best game but there were several plays that reminded us that he’s one of the hardest players to guard when he drives towards the hoop full-steam ahead. Kyrie Irving was able to slice into the lane but missed an uncharacteristic number of layups.
The Warriors did a fantastic job of containing James and Irving — this time. But that doesn’t change the fact that both of those players have the ability to go supernova and carry a team on their backs for sustained stretches of play.
Despite what we may have learned from this game, like so many players and fans like to say, this was a regular season game. It doesn’t mean that the Warriors will win, much less get to, the NBA Finals. It doesn’t mean the Warriors will win every game against the Cavaliers from now on. It doesn’t even mean they will win the next quarter against the Cavaliers.
In the end, in terms of basketball, all it means is that the Warriors get one more in the win column and the Cavaliers get one more in the loss column.
Nothing more, nothing less.
The emotional answer
The emotional components of wins and losses can be much more significant than the basketball ramifications.
Just read what Stephen Curry had to say about last season’s championship loss:
“I can go back to that moment a lot just knowing the terrible feeling that it was ... And there’s something powerful about just being on the court, not getting the job done, watching the other team celebrate.”
Or what LeBron James said about coming back to Oracle Arena:
“I think when you walk into the building, you’ll initially have some thoughts of it. I think all of us will, no matter where you were at that time and place. If you're at that arena, you’re just going to remember where you were back in June.”
As a fan, there is, admittedly, a certain catharsis that comes with victory. Not to mention we gain a bragging rights’ chip. But, truth be told, fans assign meaning to games much more than players do.
People hem-and-haw over statistics, previous games and projected performances. But changes in health, rosters, player development and plain ol’ luck make each season, and each game, different. That’s why sports are fun — anything can happen!
Can we really say that this game, or any other, will dictate what happens in June?
Yes, a win can provide a mental edge. But a loss can create a mental hurdle. Teams have to be able to withstand the highs and lows of a game and a season; it’s a balancing act at which the best teams excel. But, how?
David West gave an insight into this when he was asked about this game:
“This is a very important game for us because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys ... The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals ...
“But for us, every game means something. That’s probably another driving force of why I wanted to be a part of this team. And why I chose San Antonio last year. When you’re playing with a group of this caliber, with these types of expectations, every game, every night, means something. There’s no dropoff or letdown and no room to let up ...
“We need to win this; we need to win them all.”
Look at what he’s saying here. West stresses the importance of the Cavaliers’ game but then says, “every game, every night, means something.” They want to win them all.
You may think that good teams really only care about beating the “real” competition. But one of the biggest criticisms of the Warriors during the Mark Jackson era was that they played up, and down, to the level of the competition.
What separates the elite teams from the rest of the pack is that drive and desire to win them all.
Everything and nothing
Yes, I’m sure the Warriors are happy they beat the Cavaliers. And I’d guess it will elate them for the next day or so. But then it’s on to the next game, which means something too. And the next. And the next. And the one after that.
So, for us fans, we get another game to argue over. Another game to assign value to. Another game to cheer up our week or rain on our parade, depending on who you root for.
But for the Warriors, this victory means everything and it means nothing.
To that, I say, “Let’s go Dubs!”