It was the game that everybody had circled on their calendars, the first matchup of the season between the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the team they’ve faced in the Finals the past three seasons—the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though some of the luster of this meeting between the teams had worn off because of Stephen Curry’s absence, it still promised to me an exciting game of basketball. Though not the most beautifully executed game, the Warriors and Cavaliers gave the Christmas Day audience some excitement as the Warriors pulled out the 99-92 victory.
Turnovers and poor execution plague the Warriors in the first
Not surprisingly, in this game that featured two teams that have played against each other in the past three NBA Finals, there were definitely high emotions that in turn led to some pretty sloppy play.
McCaw heard the footsteps pic.twitter.com/XKpnIgToI5— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 25, 2017
The entire Warriors team played a bit like Patrick McCaw there at the beginning of the game, a bit jittery but also very excited, and this manifested itself in that great issue of the Warriors season thus far—turnovers. The Warriors were careless with the basketball, in the first half but particularly in the first quarter, and that led to them not getting off to a good start to this game.
Warriors down 19-12 with 4:38 left in Q1. Golden State is 5-for-9 from the field, but has committed six turnovers.— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) December 25, 2017
Another factor in the Warriors shaky start to this game were some questionable calls by the officials and, more importantly, how the Warriors reacted to them. Both Durant and Draymond Green had issues with a couple of calls (or lack thereof) in the first quarter and both were hit with technicals. Though the Cavaliers only converted one of the two free throws, it added a layer of tension to the game early in the proceedings.
However, while the Warriors were not playing their crispest and most polished basketball, they were able to take advantage of the Cavs defense, as we see in this play that ends with a Kevin Durant layup.
Even after a made Cavaliers basket, the Warriors were able to get out in transition for the Durant basket, earning him two of his nine first-quarter points.
At the end of the first, the Warriors were down four, largely because of Durant and Klay Thompson, who also scored nine points in the quarter and finished the game with 24. The Cavaliers, unsurprisingly, were led by LeBron James who scored 9 points in the first quarter to help the Cavaliers to their early lead.
The Warriors defense allows them to claim the lead in the second
The ragged play continued into the second quarter, with the Cavaliers not making shots and the Warriors continuing to turn the ball over. Even though the Warriors were able to erase the Cavaliers lead and tie the game, they could not wrestle control of the game away from the Cavaliers.
Cavaliers only shooting 32%, but Warriors have 10 turnovers in 1.5 quarters. Game tied.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 25, 2017
The game went back and forth until there was a little over three minutes left. At that point, the Warriors were able to take the lead on a Durant 3-point shot, one of three he made in Monday’s game.
At the end of the first half, the Warriors held a 46-44 lead over the Cavaliers with Durant contributing 14 points (which led all scorers) and 6 rebounds. Beyond Durant and Thompson’s offensive contributions, the other reason the Warriors were able to pull ahead was their defense.
Cavs, who have taken 6 more shots than the Warriors, get 45 points on 28.6 percent shooting. Crazy Warriors' defense.— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) December 25, 2017
In particular, the starting front court of Durant, Green, and Jordan Bell made life very difficult for the Cavaliers shooters as they contested their shots by making good use of their exceptional length on the defensive end.
With that length on the court, contesting shots (particularly those in two-point range), the Warriors were able to hold the Cavaliers, one of the better offenses in the league this season, to just 16 second-quarter points. The Warriors also continued their impressive rim protection, with one instance coming on this Green block of a driving James.
Green and Iguodala do the little things in the third
The Warriors added to their lead in the third quarter, in part from Green’s all-around great play. Green had 3 of his 11 assists in the third quarter, including one on this alley-oop to the rookie Bell early in the quarter.
Green finished the game with 12 points, 11 assists, and 12 rebounds, earning his first triple-double of the season all while playing the typically great defense to which we’ve all become so accustomed.
Another player who played well in the third was Andre Iguodala. Iguodala scored 4 of his 9 points in the quarter, both coming off of defensive rebounds like this play.
Iguodala finished the game with a game-high +12 in 24 minutes of action. Even though he did not fill up the stat sheet, the veteran wing made plays that helped his team, showing once again why he’s such a valuable player to have particularly against a team like the Cavaliers.
Even though the Warriors looked poised to run away with the game in the third quarter, the Cavaliers were able to keep pace, largely due to the play of Kevin Love.
Love singlehandedly keeping Cavs in the game in the 3rd pic.twitter.com/FpFvGtN14H— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 25, 2017
Love scored 15 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter, keeping the Cavaliers in the game even when James wasn’t having one of his usual great performances. The Cavaliers needed that kind of performance from Love, along with contributions from Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade, to compensate for a (relatively) pedestrian effort from James.
Love’s 3-point shooting in the quarter, making all three of his shots from long-range, provided the Cavaliers with an offensive boost, allowing them to make up for their poor shooting from two-point range. This allowed the Cavaliers keep up with the Warriors despite those struggles as they trailed by just four points heading into the final frame.
Tough defense and timely shooting allow the Warriors hold on in the fourth for the victory
The Warriors extended their lead over the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter, pushing it to a six-point advantage on this bit of defense leading into offense.
Incredible block by Green and KD scores on yet another easy transition bucket pic.twitter.com/saGlBSUmcI— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 25, 2017
The lead got as big as nine points with five minutes to go in the game, with Durant hitting a three-point shot that appeared to be the final nail in the coffin. But the Cavaliers had an answer, eventually tying the game on a James bucket with just under two minutes to go.
On the next sequence, Bell made a crucial offensive rebound, keeping the play alive and allowing Thompson to drain his final 3-pointer of the night to give the Warriors the lead again.
After making mistakes on a couple of the previous possessions that allowed the Cavaliers to erase the Warriors lead, Bell makes the clutch play in getting the offensive rebound that gave the Warriors another chance to convert.
The Cavaliers made one last attempt to steal the game, trying to cut the lead to just one point as James drove to the basket with Durant defending him.
How the refs missed THIS one, I have no idea pic.twitter.com/fvCDoXOc42— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 25, 2017
This play was the cause of much consternation, particularly among Cavaliers partisans. While it could have been called a foul, it was not clear as the play happened live and could certainly fall under the heading of “the refs were letting them play.”
But while one could argue whether or not that was clearly a foul (and might want to), the fact of the matter is that Durant’s defense in the fourth quarter on James overall was outstanding.
LeBron did not score against Durant in the past three possessions they have matched up in the fourth— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 25, 2017
Durant finished the game with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and an astounding 5 blocks, while guarding one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA for large chunks of the game.
Led by Durant’s outstanding play on both offense and defense, picking up right where he left off against the Cavaliers when he was the 2017 Finals MVP, the Warriors earned a victory against one of the top teams of the league. For all Warriors fans, the sight of Durant and Green blocking Cavaliers shots, Thompson knocking down 3-pointers and Durant slashing to the hoop for a dunk made for a most merry of Christmases throughout DubNation.
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