Watching the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day showed that both teams may have changed slightly, but their qualities and the results remain the same.
The Warriors and Cavaliers were able to keep millions on the edge of their seats in four quarters of action-packed basketball. The Warriors led the game for the large majority but led the win slip between their fingers in the final moments, the Cavs pulling off a 109-108 come-from-behind victory.
There were stark comparisons between Sunday’s game and the 2016 Finals. The Cavaliers were the underdog with essentially the same squad (and they even had JR Smith out). The Warriors led the series and the Xmas Day clash, yet blew a 3-1 lead and a double-digit lead in the final minutes respectively. The decisive dagger in Game 7 and their most recent showdown was shot by Kyrie Irving.
Steph Curry was held down to 15 points and 2-for-7 three-point shooting, and it seems that Irving has mastered the art of guarding one of the ‘Splash Brothers’ consistently. With only 3 assists, Curry played one of his worst games. Not to take credit away from Kyrie’s defense, but going 2-for-7 from three when the Warriors’ offense is structured to set you up for 3-point success is not clutch.
Many thought Kevin Durant was the missing link to take the Warriors far past the Cavaliers, but Sunday night showed otherwise. Durant played extraordinarily well, almost to the point of OKC Finals, with 36 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 assists. You’d think with this level of gameplay, the Warriors should have blown virtually the same exact Cavaliers squad as last year, but no. The Warriors have the tools; it’s up to them how they use them in the following games.
— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2016
Klay Thompson hit five three-pointers, a few of them back-to-back that invigorated the Warriors for a short period.
Andre Iguodala played a stinker of a game with 2 turnovers and 0 points. I remember watching Iggy as one of the best players on the 76ers, so it’s strange to watch him play so poorly as a bench player with the Warriors.
As a trio, LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love combined for 76 points. That’s almost 70% of the Cavaliers’ total points. This also was with intense defense from the Warriors. What really put the Cavaliers in the ballgame was their bench. The Cavaliers’ bench scored 25 and the Warriors scored 13. The Cavaliers only used three of their bench players, whereas the Warriors used all but one.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 25, 2016
Golden State had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, but were unable to contain the steaming Cavaliers, who took the game by one point. The Warriors had three seconds to try to make a shot, but Kevin Durant fell over with the ball as the time ran out, a dark demerit on an otherwise phenomenal individual performance.
So the Warriors picked up Kevin Durant to beat the Cavs and this happens pic.twitter.com/fp9VCzchas
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) December 25, 2016
Overall, the Warriors have a lot of kinks to work out. If not for Durant’s shiny performance, they would have been blown out by the Cavaliers. The lack of depth on the Warriors’ bench should be unsettling for any Golden State fans out there. When you match Golden State and the Cavaliers top three for top three, it could go either way.
LeBron has been stealing Durant’s thunder as the best player in the NBA for over a decade. Kyrie is locking down Steph and landing more clutch shots than Steph’s reputation has him doing. Kevin Love, when not concussed, has the potential to shut down Klay Thompson or Draymond Green in a physical game, but also put points on the board.
The Golden State Warriors have just about mastered basketball except for the simplest rule of them all: win. It doesn’t matter how many superstars you have on your team, or by how many points you lead, or by how many season records you set – ultimately all that matters is who is up when that clock hits 0.