In their first meeting since last June's NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors outlasted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for an 89–83 victory. Stephen Curry emerged late, but he had plenty of help in this one from Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston.
For 41 minutes, the biggest game of a still-young season was defined more by what hadn’t happened. Golden State hadn’t really started running, LeBron James hadn’t imposed his will, Stephen Curry hadn’t cooked, Matthew Dellavedova had yet to ignite a scuffle, and the things we’d gotten so used to were notably missing in favor of errant passing and easy misses. And so the Christmas delivery came late, but just in time, as Luke Walton and David Blatt traded substitutions with just under seven minutes left and the Warriors narrowly leading, 71–67.
Each team employed the sorts of perimeter-driven, center-less lineups you’d test on Christmas after unwrapping the latest video game. Instead, they• dictated the most critical moves and ushered in a rematch of June’s Finals that ultimately became a rehashing of what everyone saw six months ago, 89–83 in favor of the defending champion Warriors.
As evidenced by its resumé, Golden State is perhaps the best basketball team on the planet when it comes to dictating an uptempo, favorable pace, and it once again imposed its style of basketball down the final stretch. It didn’t come without some big moments from James (25 points and nine rebounds), who strung together a dunk-block-dunk sequence in the final two minutes to cut the game to two possessions. But on the flipside, James's two missed free throws with 90 seconds remaining loomed large.
From there, it was Stephen Curry’s turn. With a pair of dazzling bursts to the rim, the reigning MVP negated J.R. Smith's late three-pointer. Playing through a calf strain that briefly forced him to the locker room in the second quarter, Curry came through when it counted. Although he finished with just 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting, he converted the two biggest baskets of the game. A missed three from James with 12.7 seconds to go initiated fouling and signaled the end of this heavyweight rematch, one that left us wanting more.
The Warriors move to 28–1 with their 32nd home win in a row. The Cavaliers drop to 19–8.
Naughty: Kevin Love, Cavaliers. One of Cleveland’s two major absences during the Finals, Love was present for the rematch but failed to make a difference offensively and didn't convince anyone that the Cavs would have been better off with him in a seven-game set. He shot just 5-of-16 from the field, including a number of tasty looks from distance, and scored 10 points. Some of that was on Cleveland’s inability to find Love comfortable shots around the basket, but a player of his talent level can’t disappear if the Cavs hope to change their luck against the Warriors going forward.
Nice: Draymond Green, Warriors. Green keyed a quality start to the game for the Warriors, with Curry quiet by his own lofty standards. His 10 points, six rebounds and three assists after one quarter became 22, 15 and seven on the night, toeing triple-double territory and galvanizing Golden State throughout. Honorable mention: Shaun Livingston, who contributed 16 points off the bench, helping the Warriors hold a lead while the starters rested and played during the pivotal final stretch.
Style watch: All the custom sneaker colorways were good and well, but LeBron stole Christmas, for better or worse, with what appears to be a festive onesie and du-rag combo (never mind that nicely-tailored suit). If you squint hard enough, those might be two-piece pajamas. Does that say “Fa la la la la?” It also looked like he shaved his mustache to some degree. Tim Duncan could show up to the Spurs game in a hot pink Old Navy fit and he still wouldn’t get people talking like Bron Bron. Well, actually, on second thought …
Biggest takeaway: We can list Golden State’s statistical superlatives or, you know, mention that ridiculous win streak, or chronicle Cleveland’s early inconsistencies, but we had to see them head-to-head again, and neither gave much. No matter what happened tonight, this one was about June, past and future. That said, Golden State’s lowest-scoring effort of the season couldn't slow its resolve to close a game filled with missed opportunities that could have swung either way for the majority of 48 minutes. The Warriors turned it over 16 times in their third-worst shooting performance of the season, and still came away largely unscathed. It wasn’t the grandest of statement victories, but the Warriors sent a message nonetheless.