The Cleveland Cavaliers screwed the goddamn pooch. They dropped the ball. They shit the bed. They crashed and burned. They were on the ass-end of a trainwreck. They blew it.
In the grand scheme of things, their game against the Golden State Warriors tonight meant very little. These two teams won’t see each other for another four months, if at all, in the NBA Finals.
But the Cavaliers had lost four straight against the Warriors, dating back to their precarious 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals. They wanted to prove themselves, to validate the idea that they would’ve won a championship if only Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had been healthy. Before the game they worked themselves into a huff over Steph Curry saying, “hopefully, [the locker room] still smells a little bit like champagne.”
And then they went out and got a whupping, losing 132-98 after being down by as many as 43 points. Steph Curry didn’t even play the fourth quarter, which frequently happens against lesser teams but shouldn’t against the Cavaliers.
The Warriors offense, as it so often does, found a weakness and ruthlessly exploited it. That weakness was pick-and-roll defense, especially the pick-and-roll defense of the lumbering Love and Timofey Mozgov. Forced as frequently as possible to guard Steph Curry on the switch, Love and Mozgov were embarrassed. Watch Love on this particularly disastrous play:
The Cavaliers were clearly frustrated by the Warriors. J.R. Smith was ejected after plowing through Harrison Barnes on a screen, a mirror image of the flagrant he picked up for doing the same to Draymond Green in the NBA Finals. LeBron James was also called for an offensive foul when he nearly picked up Curry and threw him to the ground. Curry hit a three on the next possession.
The Warriors had been in a bit of a malaise recently, losing two of their past three before facing the Cavaliers, and looking very beatable in the games they did win. But it’s worth noting that their four losses have been on the road, to mediocre or worse teams. They are in an enviable position, able to cruise their way through games against two-thirds of the league and win most of them, and tightening the vise and crushing the league’s best.
Of course, the huge unknown is lurking in the not-so-distant future: the San Antonio Spurs. They’re just two games behind the Warriors, and possess a superior point differential. The Warriors have historically struggled against the Spurs, and they were the only team to beat the Warriors twice in the regular season last year. For all the talk about how lucky the Warriors’ health was, their biggest break was when the Clippers beat the Spurs in the first round.
The Warriors and Spurs meet a week from today and then three more times, including twice in the final week of the season, games that very well could determine home court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. We already knew it, but tonight just proved even further that the Warriors and Spurs are far and away the two best teams in the NBA.
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