CLEVELAND – Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had an idea of what could come on Monday night.
He was willing to look beyond the recent Cleveland Cavaliers clashes even though they had lost eight of 11, including consecutive explosions in Minnesota and Toronto. It did not matter that his 29th defense was in ruins and they were in the process of integrating a player who switched offenses in Isaiah Thomas. It did not even matter that the Warriors had not lost on the road since November 22, a streak that extended to 13 consecutive games, one about to tie their franchise record.
The history between these two teams – three consecutive unprecedented NBA Finals – not to mention the presence of LeBron James, he told him.
"Sometimes this is the best thing for a team that is fighting, a game of rivalry, it drains the blood," Kerr said.
Kerr was right for the most part as the Cavs competed better than in the past few weeks, but the Warriors and their third defense blocked Cleveland late to win 118-108. Down 93-91, the Cavs started the fourth quarter 2-of-17 from the field when the Warriors pulled away. Golden State kept the Cavs to only 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Durant (32), Steph Curry (23) and Klay Thompson (17) combined for 72 points, and the Warriors scored 31 assists in 41 field goals. It was a pass clinic, and it showed why any team, much less just the Cavaliers, needed a strong defense to face the Warriors.
Despite 32 points, eight rebounds and six assists, LeBron James 'eight turnovers were devastating to the Cavs' efforts.
Even with the result they wanted and a final message sent before a possible June rematch, Kerr did not want to extrapolate what a victory in January in Cleveland could mean.
"Anyone who has been in the league knows that whatever happens now has nothing to do with what happens in June," Kerr said slyly. But with both Curry and Thomas relatively healthy after each foul Warriors Christmas Day victory, it was not hard to imagine another showdown in the Finals.
For a team that had been scorched in recent losses to the Rabbis and the Timberwolves, the Cavs played a renewed defensive effort during the first three quarters, celebrating on the court after their long road trip. There are not two encapsulated plays better than James' two blocks, the first against Durant and the second against Curry.
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The Cavs reached the halftime 64 -57, the beneficiary of 56% shooting while keeping the Warriors at 47% of the field. James was 20 at the break, including several Thomas Feeds alley-ups, a testament to the attention the defenses will have to pay to the new Cavs point guard once he fully acclimates.
The centerpiece of the Cavs overproduction Last summer is not entirely healthy after only five games. Thomas finished with 19 points in 32 minutes but seemed stiff at times and did not have the agility he showed in Boston last season. If these teams meet in June, it will also be a defensive responsibility and a confrontation that the Warriors can not wait to exploit. The Cavs tried to hide Thomas in Curry and Thompson, which yielded mixed results, but if the Cavs want to compete with the explosive offense of the Warriors, they have no choice but to live with Thomas' defense.
James saw Monday's duel with a healthy amount of skepticism, and he was not going to pick up much, win or lose.
"No, because IT is not where it will be when the time comes for the playoffs," he said Monday. "We are not the team we would like to be when the playoffs begin, the playoffs can start tomorrow for them and I think they will be ready, for us, I do not think we're ready to leave now."