All it took was one long, loud Friday night to change the question on the Golden State Warriors from “Could they beat the all-time great teams?” to “Can they close out a fully stocked Cleveland Cavaliers team?”
Just as it was fair to speculate how the Warriors stacked up against the Lakers, Bulls, Celtics and 76ers teams of yesteryear, as Golden State racked up playoff victory after playoff victory, it’s fair to wonder about these guys against these Cavs.
With the possibility of the first undefeated NBA playoff run before them, the Warriors wound up on the wrong side of history. The Cavaliers had the highest-scoring first quarter (49 points) and first half (86 points) and the most 3-pointers (24) in the NBA Finals. Things were so tilted toward Cleveland that Deron Williams even got his first points in his first Finals after logging 44 scoreless minutes in the series, ending the longest initial scoring drought in NBA Finals history.
“I don’t think there was any concern or thoughts about history,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “ I think it was we played a desperate team on their home floor, a great team, with great players, and they came out and handed it to us. Simple as that.
For added measure, Zaza Pachulia took a swipe at Iman Shumpert’s lower region during a scrum on the floor, bringing back memories of Draymond Green’s turning-point punch at LeBron James that brought on a one-game suspension last year.
It was one of a number of physical and verbal altercations in the game, by far the edgiest of the series.
“It was just an incredibly physical game,” Kerr said. “That was obvious from the beginning. Ton of fouls called early, a lot of holding and grabbing and pushing and shoving. It got out of hand a little bit, and the third quarter it seemed like the game was stopping every time.”
Green was in the middle of more controversy Friday night, as, at one point, he appeared to get ejected with his second technical foul before it was determined that an earlier tech was actually given to Warriors coach Steve Kerr instead. His mother tweeted her displeasure with the officiating, saying “These OFFICIALS HAVE BEEN OFFICIALLY PAID!” It was reminiscent of Stephen Curry’s wife tweeting that the Finals were rigged last year.
So, yeah, there’s all of that going on. More drama than good basketball from the Warriors. Kevin Durant had 35 points, but they came on less efficient 9-of-22 shooting. The Splash Brothers were outscored 40-27 by Kyrie Irving.
The Warriors’ defensive schemes that denied the Cavaliers’ 3-point shots all series and kept Tristan Thompson off the boards all melted away.
Here we are again, Warriors up 3-1 heading home to Oracle Arena.
“Different team, man,” Stephen Curry said after the Warriors lost for the first time since April 10. “Obviously we haven’t felt this feeling, walking off the court with a loss, in a while. But we have done a good job of bouncing back and being resilient all year and obviously learning from all different experiences we have been through.”
The Warriors keep insisting things are different this year, thanks to the memories of last year’s blown 3-1 lead and the addition of Kevin Durant. They still have to prove it.