CLEVELAND, Ohio — New team. New year. Same result.
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their eighth straight game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night 129-105 — a stretch that goes back to Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
The Warriors have turned a once-feisty rivalry into a lopsided joyride, seemingly toying with the Cavaliers at points in the second half and gesticulating at their expense.
The Cavs couldn’t keep up with the champs even when LeBron James was in town. Without him, forget it.
Prior to the game, players and coaches reminisced about four straight Finals matchups. They talked about their favorite moments. Those memories will live on for both teams and the NBA benefited greatly, but as Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said, rivalries don’t last forever. With James’ departure, both sides seemed ready to put it in the past.
If the rivalry wasn’t over going into the night, the Warriors did their best to bury it Wednesday. Consider this their eulogy.
Inside an arena that wasn’t even completely full — a rarity for this marquee matchup the last four years — and with national television eyes elsewhere, Cleveland hung with Golden State for a half, even leading at the midway point after a furious finish to the second quarter. But it takes more than that against the Warriors. Much more.
“Six point lead at halftime, that’s nothing. That’s absolutely nothing,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve got so, so many weapons and so much firepower and you have to really just sustain as much as you can against them because they keep coming and keep coming and keep coming. They actually wore us down. It’s the reason why they are the defending NBA champs.”
It takes 48 minutes of non-stop communication on the defensive end to stymie their movement-based offense. It takes surgical execution on offense, needing to avoid scoring droughts to keep the pace. It takes a plethora of 3-pointers, matching their long-range bombs. It takes valuing the basketball all night to prevent them from running out in transition. It takes playing with the same intensity from the start of the game until the final whistle.
With the Warriors, there’s very little margin for error. Just like past matchups between these two teams, eventually they become too much over the course of 48 minutes. A competitive game into the third quarter turned into a blowout. That’s how quick it happens.
“Something to learn from. Something to get better at,” Rodney Hood said. “But they are who they are for a reason.”
Kevin Durant was in a malaise for the first half. Then he erupted for a 15-point third quarter, capped by a dagger 3-pointer from 30-plus feet away to rip the game open. He finished one assist shy of a triple-double. Klay Thompson had a terrible shooting night by his standards. He still finished with 16 points after heating up late and scoring 10 in the fourth quarter. After exploding for 25 points in the first half, Steph Curry was silenced in the third quarter. Then returned in the fourth quarter to punctuate the latest clubbing, tallying 42 points.
For the Cavs, Tristan Thompson had another double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. Collin Sexton added 21 points on 7-of-14 from the field.
“You know one thing about Collin, he’s not going to back down,” Drew said.
In all, six players reached double figures in scoring. The Cavs made 11 3-pointers, two fewer than their season-best after listening to Drew’s request to bomb more frequently from deep. The Cavs hustled all night and fought for loose balls, only losing the rebounding battle by five.
All that energy, all that effort, all those positives, especially in the first half, and it was only good enough for a 24-point loss. That’s what happens against the Warriors.
The Cavs know that outcome all too well.
Perhaps it’s because the Warriors were in town, but Drew admitted the Cavs needed to generate — and take — more 3-pointers. In the first half, they went 10-of-20 from beyond the arc. Just as important as the number they made was the amount attempted.
In the previous five games, as the Cavs went 1-4 in that stretch, they were only attempting 22.6 per game, which was tied for the fewest in the league.
The problem: Cleveland made just one triple in the second half, reverting back to long 2′s and ineffective drive attempts.
The Warriors made a few defensive adjustments and when they applied more pressure, the Cavs started running themselves off the 3-point line and passed up more than a few opportunities. Going 1-of-12 from deep in a half isn’t a recipe for success.
Rodney Hood cools off
Hood erupted for 15 points in the first half, only to go scoreless in the second. He finished 6-of-16 from the field and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. The Warriors were smart on defense, putting more bodies in his way and taking away his airspace. With Hood losing that shooting touch, the Cavs had few places to turn for consistent offense and they began to stall.
Finishing with a burst
The Cavs were trailing for a big chunk of the second quarter before hitting the Warriors with an avalanche of 3-pointers prior to halftime. They hit seven of their last eight shots and went 5-of-6 from 3-point range, outscoring Golden State 19-5 to finish the half with a six-point lead, 64-58.
They celebrated Hood’s buzzer-beater, jumping up and down on the bench and storming out to the floor for a little chest-bumping.
The Cavs will continue their three-game homestand on Friday night when they host the Sacramento Kings for the first time this season. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.