we waited six months for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers to share a basketball court again and it was everything we could have asked for. Golden State beat Cleveland 89-83 on Christmas Day in a game that felt like it was straight from last June’s NBA Finals series between the two.
Golden State led for most of the game, but their 10-point lead in the fourth quarter was cut to just three points in the final minuteÂ after LeBron James took over. Despite limiting Golden State to their lowest point total all season, though, Cleveland couldn’t produce enough offensively to retake a lead. James finished with a hard-earned 25 points on 10-of-26 shooting.
Cleveland was able to stay in the game playing that same grinding, physical style that helped them push Golden State to six games last summer. The Warriors tied a season-low with 45 points in the first 24 minutes, helped by the fact that Curry only played 17 minutes. He briefly retreated to the locker room with a calf injury, although he still managed 10 points at the half.
The third quarter brought more of the same, as the Cavaliers did a fantastic job getting back defensively every time Golden State tried to run and extend their lead. The Warriors found a few of their usual quality looks in the fourth quarter, led by Draymond Green, who scored 22 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished seven assists overall. Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting as Golden State improved to 28-1, the best start ever in NBA history.
While low-scoring games can be boring or could indicate poor execution, that wasn’t the case here. This sure looked like a Finals preview, and if these two teams end up facing each other again in June, please give us seven games.
1. Don’t believe LeBron. This game mattered to him.
James said what he needed to before this game: that this game is just one of 82, that no game mattered any more than the others until the playoffs started, you know, all that. It’s exactly what he needed to say. The Warriors love anything resembling bulletin board material, after all.
But come on, this game mattered just a little bit more. How could it not? There was an early emphasis to pound the ball down to James in the post. He had a couple defensive plays, too, catching up to block or prevent easy Warriors transition layups. When you see James start casually dribbling then going to the hole like this, you know he’s about to get very serious.
While Cleveland was never going to play him a Herculean 46 minutes like they did in last year’s Finals, James clearly picked his game up a notch playing in the most important regular season game of the year.
2. The defenses both ways were incredible
The Warriors and the Cavaliers entered Christmas Day with the fifth- and sixth-best defensive ratings, respectively, and they were both playing at peak efficiency in a game that basically picked up where these two teams had left each other in June. It wasn’t just James but all of the Cavaliers truly committing to making Golden State feel them on every set they ran. It was a bump here or a hip check there. It was Tristan Thompsontagging Draymond Green every time he tried to create offense on a roll down the lane.
While the Cavaliers don’t quite present the same defense-altering challenge as Golden State’s top-notch shooting, especially as Kyrie Irving continues to find his rhythm, the Warriors also deserve credit for their defensive effort. They made much of Cleveland’s offense come through difficult one-on-one shots. This really was a Finals throwback in every possible way.
3. Shaun Livingston is a perfect Warrior
He’s the antithesis of the Warriors’ two star guards, barely taking any three-pointers all season, but Livingston really is perfect off the bench for Golden State. On Friday, he was blistering from the mid-range, hitting 8-of-9 shots for 16 points in 22 minutes .His usual long-limbed defense also helped the Warriors smother Cleveland.