The chatter the last few days leading up to this 126-91 Warriors pummeling of the defending champs was that it was going to be treated as any other game.
Both teams talked in clichés about how it was just another regular season contest, but the intensity Golden State (35-6) played with told a different story.
Zaza Pachulia, who finished with an important 13 boards, said that it was evident this game was big for the team:
“It’s been on our mind since we lost the game Christmas Day, this game was kind of bothering us the way we lost over there. You could feel the energy we started the game with. You could tell that even though we wouldn’t talk about it as much, guys were thinking about this game.”
Every basket, every defensive stop seemed like more and more demons of the last four games between these teams were being exorcised, finally culminating in this cathartic dunk by Kevin Durant amid a huge Golden State second-quarter run.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 17, 2017
You could feel the souls being sucked out of the Cavs (29-11) and into the Warriors’ bodies like Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat. It was like the ghosts of the Finals and that blown 14-point lead on Christmas Day were vanquished in one fell swoop.
Klay Thompson, who had 26 points himself, said that this game went a long way to make up for their recent shortcomings against the Cavs:
“They beat us four straight times and it’s never fun when a team has your number for four games so it felt good to redeem ourselves from our last effort in Cleveland… We beat them twice last year in the regular season and you know what the story is.”
Stephen Curry had one of his best games of the year despite shooting just 7-of-19 from the field.
He finished with 20 points, 11 assists and four steals and was back to being the catalyst of the team offensively. He put the defense on its heels with his constant attacks, both from the 3-point line and at the bucket and constantly found the open man.
Curry said this wasn’t about silencing critics, but just having a solid, aggressive game on both ends:
“Obviously I wanted to play well. I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I wanted to, some shots I usually make didn’t go down. But I can live with that knowing that I took care of the other stuff that I was supposed to do on the floor.”
The last meeting between these teams, on Christmas Day, Curry took just 11 shots and scored 15 points. Since then he has averaged 20 shots per game and been noticeably more aggressive offensively.
But while much has been made about Curry and his increase in shot attempts, this game perfectly illustrates his ability to be aggressive while not hoisting a huge amount of shots. Although he had his share of those too, like this dagger to end the quarter.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 17, 2017
Green didn’t have much to say about the whole thing after the game, but was quick to call this a rivalry:
“It’s definitely a rivalry. A team that you’ve beat and has beat you, it’s definitely fun. But I don’t really care if anyone else see the game like I see it… Regardless if ‘Bron thinks this is a rivalry or not, I know he want to beat us, and we want to beat them, and that’s enough.”
Golden State was up 17 when the collision near mid-court occurred, and after what felt like a 20-minute review, all the flow of the game had been killed — exactly what the Cavs want to do against this team.
It was reminiscent of the game-changing James-Green dustup of the Finals. But this time, the Warriors were able to keep their composure.
The delay slowed the machine that was the Warriors down for a bit, but Golden State pushed through, not buckling but increasing their lead to 29 at the half.
Green used it to fuel him, not let it overtake him and finished with an absurd 11 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and five blocks with his usual smothering defense.
James and Kyrie Irving shot a combined 12-of-37 and were harassed all night, with little to no outlets from their teammates.
New Cavs weapon Kyle Korver looked like the player he was all year in Atlanta shooting just 4-of-10 from the field for 11 points and routinely getting abused on defense.
He was hailed as a difference-maker when the Cavs traded for him a little less than 10 days ago, but looked anything but in his first action at Oracle as a member of the Cavs.
He’ll obviously need to get acclimated to their system and will be a different player come June, but very well may be washed at this point in his career.
The Warriors offense looked more potent than it has all season, effortlessly creating and finding open looks, with the exception of an awful stretch during the third quarter. They racked up 37 assists, while Cleveland had 11 total.
Andre Iguodala had his best game of the season, tallying 14 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field with five assists.
Steve Kerr used an abbreviated rotation, perhaps giving everyone a glimpse of what’s to come in the playoffs, leaning more heavily than usual on Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Kerr was rewarded for it, as the duo combined for 27 points with just one missed field goal.
Kerr said that their presence was huge for the team:
“Both those guys are big-time players. We’re incredibly lucky to have the kind of depth that we do, but when they play with that kind of force off the bench it really changes everything.”
It was just an overall dominant performance from a team needing and wanting to make a statement against their recent kryptonite. No matter what they said before.
The Warriors’ reward for passing their biggest test in one of the most anticipated matchups of the year? The Oklahoma City Thunder coming back to town Wednesday in what could be another emotionally-draining game for the Warriors and Kevin Durant. Although they didn’t have a problem earlier this year when they won by 26 and Durant went for 39 points.
The Warriors scored over 100 points for the 39th time this season. The have failed to reach the century mark just twice all year, in losses to the Grizzlies December 10 and Lakers November 4. They lead the league in points per game averaging just over 117 per contest. … Kevon Looney was recalled from the D-League after one game in a Santa Cruz Warriors uniform. He scored 18 points while pulling in 20 rebounds in just 24 minutes in a 113-104 Santa Cruz win. …The Warriors finished the game with 37 assists, which marks the 28th time this season the team has had 30 or more assists. That leads the league and no other team in the NBA has more than eight such games. …Kevin Love left the game at halftime with a back issue and did not return. He finished with three points and three rebounds.