CLEVELAND – In what was a possible NBA Finals preview, the (37-22) Cleveland Cavaliers sent a clear message to the league-leading (44-11) Golden State Warriors in a 110-99 win.
With temperatures below freezing in downtown Cleveland, a sellout crowd of over 20,000 made it very hot for the visitors from the West Coast. Led by LeBron James’ season-high 42 points and shutdown defense late, the Cavaliers improved to 4-0 since the All-Star break in earning their 18th win in their last 20 games.
Coming into the game, many felt that the Warriors and Cavaliers were a possible prelude to a possible reunion in June, based on Thursday night’s game, it could very well be, despite the final score.
In what was a truly team effort on defense, Cleveland held the Splash Brothers backcourt duo of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to a combined 31 points—14 below their average of 45 points per game.
Splash Brothers? Cleveland’s swarming defense made Curry and Thompson look more like frozen cousins.
The Cavaliers lock-down defense showed up again in holding one of the league’s best shooting teams to 42 percent for the game–5.9 percent below their season average of 47.9 Cleveland also dominated Golden State on the boards, 51-44 and were the more aggressive tam in attempting 35 free throws, as opposed to Golden State’s 19.
Cleveland showed that they were not only the more dominant and aggressive team, in getting under their proverbial skin as head coach Steve Kerr and forward Draymond Green would both draw technical’s.
From a purely observational point of view, Cleveland did a great job in closing out on three-point shooters, and forcing them to go inside, as well as getting physical with them down low. For all of their offensive prowess, one area that I noticed—as well as in their loss at Memphis, ending their 16-game win streak here—is that the Warriors live by the three-point shot, and if their shot is off, or not falling, they tend to get flustered and falter late.
As was the case, once again in bitter-cold Cleveland.
With the win, the Cavaliers not only gained a game on the idle Toronto Raptors—who face the Warriors—tomorrow—but sent a clear message, that they are THE force to be reckoned with.