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Analysis: Warriors earn a 118-108 victory in Cleveland, thanks to an impressive second half

With their four All-Stars leading the way, the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers for the seventh time in their last nine meetings.

Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

For the third game of their five-game road trip, the Warriors traveled to Cleveland to face their three-time NBA Finals opponent: the Cavaliers.

While both teams were shorthanded for this season’s Christmas Day game, this time, both the Warriors and the Cavaliers were at (relatively) full strength. This led to a back-and-forth game on Monday night, which reminded everyone watching how fun it can be when these two teams face off.

Behind a dominant second half on both offense and defense, the Warriors earned the 118-108 victory, the team’s thirteenth-straight road victory this season.

After a first quarter lacking in defense, the Cavaliers hold a two-point lead

Unlike a lot of emotionally-charged marquee matchups, which often feature choppy and slow starts, this game started out fast and furious. The Cavaliers, who have been struggling of late, came out of the gate firing on all cylinders.

The Warriors’ defense was not very good at the beginning of this game and the team did not get stops, allowing LeBron James to score 16 points in the first quarter while going 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. Kevin Love also picked up where he left off in the Christmas Day game against the Warriors, scoring 10 points in the first.

While the Warriors’ defensive struggles were surprising, that the Cavaliers defense didn’t do a great job of slowing down the Warriors was not exactly news. Klay Thompson led the way for the Warriors in the first quarter, scoring 13 points, with nine of those points coming from three-point range.

Beyond Thompson, the other Warriors’ player to really get going in the first quarter was Kevin Durant. Durant scored 8 points in the first quarter while also handing out handing out 4 assists. And, by the way, Durant threw down a thunderous dunk over James.

While Thompson and Durant played well in the first quarter, Stephen Curry struggled a little bit. He only attempted two shots, picked up two early fouls, and ended the quarter with just four points. But even though Curry was largely quiet in the first frame, and the Warriors committed some careless and sloppy turnovers, the team only found itself trailing by two points when the quarter came to an end.

Cavaliers start and end the second quarter strong, extending their lead

The Cavaliers extended their advantage early in the second, leading by as many as nine points. The Warriors’ second unit, which hasn’t been playing as well as it was earlier in the season, was largely to blame for that. David West and Shaun Livingston failed to convert shots that they usually make while Dwyane Wade and Jeff Green kept the Cavaliers’ offense going when James was on the bench.

The Warriors’ lineups that don't include Curry and Durant have been underwhelming recently, marked by a lack of shooting due to the offensive struggles of Andre Iguodala and Patrick McCaw, who often feature prominently in those lineups. Thus, even a defense as suspect as the Cavaliers’ can focus on stopping the one real scoring threat (which, in these lineups, is usually Thompson) and grind things to a halt.

Curry re-entered the game with around seven-and-a-half minutes left to go in the quarter. Curry assisted on a Kevon Looney basket and scored five quick points of his own to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to just two. Three of Curry’s points came on this step-back shot with James guarding him.

While the Warriors were able to get Curry more involved on offense, their defense still left a lot to be desired.

Once James got back into the game, the Cavaliers started running a pick-and-roll with him and Thomas, which the Warriors had a hard time stopping.

The Warriors also ended the half on a particularly rough note. On a lazy pass from Durant to Thompson, Wade made the steal and then lobbed the ball up to Green for the dunk that got Quicken Loans Arena rocking.

The play gave the Cavaliers a 64-57 halftime advantage with James leading the way by scoring 20 points in the first half, pulling down 5 rebounds while also getting 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. The Warriors, meanwhile, were paced by Thompson’s 15 points, Durant’s 13 and Curry’s 11.

It was a first half in which the Cavaliers played about as well as they could — making their shots (56.5% from the field) and taking advantage of an unfocused Warriors’ defense. The Warriors, meanwhile, did not play particularly well in the first half, shooting just 46% from field in the first half, including 35.7% from three-point range, while leaving much to be desired defensively. In that regard, they should have felt lucky that they only trailed by seven points.

Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers
Klay Thompson’s 15 first-half points allowed the Warriors to keep things close with the Cavaliers in the game’s first two quarters.
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Things start to shift as the Warriors reclaim the lead in the third quarter

While the Warriors looked a bit lackadaisical and sloppy in the first half, they came out of the locker room determined and focused, outscoring the Cavaliers by nine points in the third to end that quarter with a two-point lead. Durant was particularly dialed in, scoring 16 points during the third quarter, making three-pointers, as well as driving to the basket for layups and free-throw opportunities.

Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers
Though LeBron James would try, he could not slow down Kevin Durant, who scored 32 points in the Warriors’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Durant’s contributions were not limited to scoring. Durant also had three of his eight assists in the quarter while also playing good defense, as he did here by blocking the diminutive Thomas’ shot.

Durant wasn’t the only Warriors’ player to have an impressive third. Eleven of the Warriors’ 36 points in that quarter came from Curry, nine of which came from long distance. Even after taking a shot from James to a, ahem, very sensitive area, Curry came down and knocked down the 34-foot three-point shot.

Perhaps even more remarkable, Curry’s third quarter also featured a dunk, which was set up by a Durant pass.

While the Warriors looked better in the third, the Cavaliers did not play nearly as well as they did in the first half. The Cavaliers’ hot shooting cooled off, owing to a more focused Warriors’ defensive effort. The Cavaliers were also much more careless with the ball, turning it over. In particular, James was particularly guilty of giving the Warriors extra possessions and shot attempts.

James finished the game with eight turnovers, nearly two times his per-game average. Between the struggles shooting the ball, James’ propensity for turning it over, and Love picking up his fourth foul midway through the quarter, the Warriors were able to claim the slimmest of leads as the game moved into its final frame.

Warriors hold the Cavaliers to just 17 points in the fourth quarter to secure the victory

After a Thomas bucket tied the game at 93 early in the fourth, the Warriors and Cavaliers took turns missing shots and neither team was able to take the lead. Once again, the Warriors’ second unit did not play well, at least at the beginning of the quarter.

But with around nine minutes to go in the game, that same second unit that struggled in the second quarter went on a 12-4 run to give the Warriors an eight-point lead that they would eventually increase to 14 points. After struggling at times on Monday night, West threw down a powerful dunk that increased the Warriors’ advantage and relieved a little frustration.

Draymond Green also turned in an impressive fourth on his way to a near triple-double against the Cavaliers (11 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists) while also setting the tone defensively so that the Warriors could stifle the Cavaliers’ offensive attack. Here are two of Green’s four points in the quarter, with an impressive assist from Livingston.

Green also had a season-high 16 rebounds, capping off a fairly impressive rebounding performance by the Warriors as a team.

In particular, the Warriors’ 13 offensive rebounds (they average 8.5 per game this season) stood out because they allowed the team to get more chances at points and to keep the ball out of James’ hands.

Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers
Green did a little bit of everything on Monday night, nearly earning a triple-double and presenting the Cavaliers with plenty of problems.
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

The Warriors continued their better defensive play in the fourth quarter, holding the Cavaliers to a minuscule 17 points. The combination of the Warriors being sharper on that end of the court, doing a better job of switching and contesting shots, and the Cavaliers seemingly running out of energy allowed the Warriors to put the game away.

One of those second-half blocks came in the fourth, with Thompson doing a good job of preventing Thomas from scoring, which subsequently created a scoring opportunity for Livingston.

The combination of the Cavaliers’ older players having to play too many intense minutes, sapping them of energy, and a better defensive effort from the Warriors spelled doom for the home team’s offense. Much like what happened in Games 3 and 5 of last year’s NBA Finals, the Cavaliers were able to get out to a strong start but could not sustain it over an entire game.

The Cavaliers’ lack of depth, which subsequently requires James to play more minutes which in turn wears him down and (relatively) diminishes his effectiveness, prevents Cleveland from playing four dominant quarters, usually limiting them to just two good ones.

James finished the game with another impressive stat line, though: 32 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals. But no one else contributed down the stretch. Love and Thomas both underwhelmed in the second half and ended the game with 17 and 19 points, respectively — not nearly enough to get the Cavaliers a victory.

The Warriors were led in scoring by Durant, who matched James with 32 points while Curry finished the game with 23 points while shooting 50% from three-point range. Between Thompson’s hot start, Durant’s and Curry’s third quarters, and Green’s play in the fourth, the Warriors were able to get the win in Cleveland and sweep the season series with the Cavaliers.

Only time will tell if the Warriors will face the Cavaliers again this season — specifically, in the NBA Finals once again — but now they are off to Chicago to continue this road trip with a game against the Bulls on Wednesday night.


Who was your Warrior Wonder for the win over the Cavaliers?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Kevin Durant
    (549 votes)
  • 15%
    Stephen Curry
    (130 votes)
  • 6%
    Klay Thompson
    (59 votes)
  • 7%
    Draymond Green
    (64 votes)
  • 5%
    Kevon Looney
    (47 votes)
  • 0%
    Andre Iguodala
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Shaun Livingston
    (8 votes)
858 votes total Vote Now

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