The Golden State Warriors handed the Cleveland Cavaliers a 132-98 beatdown Monday night in one of the NBA’s most anticipated games.
Now, halfway through the NBA season, the Warriors-Cavs’ regular season series is over, with the Warriors winning it decisively, 2-0.
In doing so, the Warriors not only sent a message to a potential NBA Finals opponent, should they return in June, but to critics who say the Warriors were lucky to win last year’s Finals.
In the epic, six-game series Finals last season, the Warriors took down a severely short-handed Cavs team, despite LeBron James’ inhuman performance. The Cavs had been without Kevin Love since the first round of the playoffs, and they lost Kyrie Irving to knee injury in Game 1. Additionally, the Warriors managed to skirt the Spurs and Clippers in the Western Conference playoffs (through no fault of their own), leaving some people to say the Warriors got lucky by avoiding the game’s toughest opponents while also playing at full health against a diminished Cavs team.
The Warriors’ dominant win over the Cavs Monday night helped put a hole in that argument. While it’s only one game, the Warriors have twice beaten the Cavs at full health. While their first rematch, on Christmas Day, was a closer affair, and Kyrie Irving only had two games under his belt at that point, the Cavs still basically had their full cast of characters.
Now, almost a month later, there’s little doubt that the Warriors didn’t just get lucky — they’re a better team. They spot a better record than the Cavs — 38-4 to 28-11 — and a better offence and defence, statistically.
The Cavs’ Big Three of LeBron James, Love, and Irving was vastly outplayed by the Warriors’ Big Three of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. James, Love, and Irving combined for 27 points on 34% shooting with six turnovers while Curry, Green, and Thompson combined for 66 points on 56% shooting with just three turnovers.
Basketball comes down to more than just three players, of course, but one would imagine Cleveland would be a little more prepared for one of their most meaningful regular season games. Instead, the Warriors carved up the full-strength Cavs, even exposing some of the Cavs’ weaknesses in having Irving and Love on the court.
The Warriors are a confounding defensive assignment for all teams, but the Cavs aren’t helped when they have Irving and Love guarding Curry and Green. Here, Steph loses Irving on a simple off-ball cut.
And this play made its rounds on the internet, as Love failed to play defence even semi-competently here:
In the Finals, the Cavs were forced to play more defensive-minded, gritty players like Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson bigger minutes, even if it came with sacrifices on offence due to their limited scoring repertoires.
Love and Irving are undoubtedly two huge pieces for the Cavs, but their defensive vulnerabilities can be snuffed out by the best teams — the Spurs exposed them just five days ago.
One game does not spell doom for the Cavs, nor does it conclude a championship for the Warriors. The Warriors still have to play the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder several times this season — tests that may be even greater than the Finals rematches.
Nonetheless, regardless of opponent, the Warriors are proving that their championship was no fluke, and the Cavs have but a flimsy argument to stand on that they’re even in Golden State’s overall class of talent.
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