On the NBA’s biggest stage, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both flexed their muscles in a tough, hard-fought Christmas Day contest.
Despite hanging with the Warriors all game, the Cavaliers failed to execute down the stretch and lost 99-92 to their rivals out West.
An overall good game will be largely remembered for what took place in the final few minutes.
After a Klay Thompson three-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 95-92, LeBron James would be denied two consecutive times by Kevin Durant. Both drives by James were controversial no-calls, where both times it appeared he was fouled by Durant.
During his postgame interview James looked and sounded frustrated with what transpired down the stretch of the game.
“He fouled me twice,” James told reporters postgame. “But, whatever. What are you going to do about it?”
Cleveland actually started the game out looking like the stronger team, forcing the Warriors to turn the ball over seven times in the first quarter. In addition to that, Golden State were in the referees ear early on as they disagreed with many of the calls.
Durant and Draymond Green both were assessed technical fouls in the first quarter for arguing with the officials.
However, the Cavaliers poor shooting would allow Golden State to hang around early. After the first quarter Cleveland only led by four, 28-24.
In the second quarter Cleveland’s shooting woes would be on full display. The Cavaliers would shoot just 3-24 (12.5 percent) in the quarter. What is more remarkable is that at the end of the first half the Warriors only led by one point, 46-45.
For the game, the Cavaliers shot 28-88 (31.8 percent) from the floor, but shot 15-36 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc. So overall that means Cleveland made just 13 shots (13-52) from inside the three-point line.
Golden State’s shooting story for the game was the opposite of Cleveland’s. The Warriors shot well overall from the floor, 38-82 (46.3 percent) but shot just 27 percent (10-37) from beyond the arc.
The one member of the Cavaliers who performed well against the Warriors yesterday was Kevin Love. Love shot 9-25 from the floor and 6-11 from beyond the arc for his game-high 31 points. Love also pulled down a season-high 18 rebounds.
Love scored 15 of his 31 points in the third quarter to keep the Cavaliers alive, as LeBron did not record one shot attempt in the third.
What may work for the Cavaliers further down the road is putting Love at the center position. When Love plays the center position, this usually means Cleveland has five shooters on the floor, which makes it difficult for the Warriors at times on the defensive end.
The Warriors were missing Steph Curry and Zaza Pachulia, but Golden State hardly missed a step. Their reserves, especially Patrick McCaw and Jordan Bell, filled in and provided energy for the Warriors and their crowd throughout the game.
Isaiah Thomas was suited up for the Cavaliers but remained on the bench all game. He is expected to make his debut within the next week and will be ready to go for the Cavaliers next matchup against the Warriors on Jan. 15 in Cleveland.
After Durant hit a three to put the Warriors up 90-81, the game could have easily been over, but the Cavaliers were resilient and went on an 11-2 run to tie the game. But a mix of poor shooting and a couple of questionable calls did the Cavaliers in down the stretch.
Durant scored 25 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and recorded 5 blocks while Klay scored 24 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and made four three-pointers. Draymond recorded his first triple-double of the season with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
LeBron posted a subpar stat line for his standards, 20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists on 7-18 shooting. Golden State had the right game plan to contain James, and that was to get the ball out of his hands and force the other players on the Cavaliers to beat them.
Jae Crowder performed well throughout the game on both ends of the floor. Crowder defended Durant well and scored 15 points. Dwyane Wade scored 13 points but was just 4-11 shooting.
Jeff Green and Kyle Korver were non-factors in this game. Each scored just three points and combined the two shot 2-9 from the floor. J.R. Smith was also a no-show, scoring just two points and missing all five shots he took.
For Cleveland to have any success against the Warriors moving forward, their bench will have to step up. So far this season the bench is averaging nearly 41 points per game, but against the Warriors the Cavaliers bench was held to just 21 points.
While it was an exciting matchup, the outcome of this game will not mean much moving forward. Both teams were missing key players and will have different look if the two teams meet again in the Finals.
The biggest takeaway from this game should be the fact that the Cavaliers shot poorly the entire game, and still had a chance to win in the final two minutes. Cleveland can hang with the Warriors, which will make a potential Finals rematch all the more exciting.