The Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team in the Eastern Conference and will likely play in the NBA Finals again this season. However, they should probably forget about winning the Larry O'Brien Trophy if the Golden State Warriors are there waiting for them.
Stephen Curry and the rest of the defending champions walked into Cleveland on Monday night and obliterated the Cavs, 132-98. Curry finished with 35 points and hit seven three-pointers, and the game was essentially over after the first quarter.
Golden State started the game with a clear purpose, as though it wanted to remind the Cavaliers how dominant it can be when playing its best basketball. Five players scored in double figures, and the defense forced 15 Cleveland turnovers. The Warriors even minimized LeBron James' contributions, holding the King to a humanlike 16 points on 16 field-goal attempts.
At least the Cavaliers can take solace in the fact that the Warriors are in the Western Conference and won't prevent them from hanging another Eastern Conference championship banner in the rafters.
Mike Prada of SB Nation had an answer for anyone who thought the Cavaliers would have won last season's NBA Finals with a fully healthy roster:
Hey so maybe Kyrie and Love would have just been two weak defenders for the Warriors to pick on in last year’s Finals.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) January 19, 2016
The Warriors wasted little time in telling Cleveland where it sits in the NBA pecking order when they made their first five shots en route to a 12-2 lead. Among those shots was this long-range bomb by Curry, per the NBA on TNT:
The Warriors kept rolling throughout the opening 12 minutes and established a 34-21 lead. Curry hit four threes in the first quarter alone on his way to 16 points, and John Dickinson of 95.7 The Game in the Bay Area realized the visitors were not messing around in this hyped matchup:
#Warriors up 34-21 after 1. GSW essentially un-guardable right now. Knocking down shots, moving the ball at will for dunks, Curry on fire.— John Dickinson (@JDJohnDickinson) January 19, 2016
SB Nation summarized the first quarter:
LOL Steph already.— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 19, 2016
The visitors didn't slow down in the second quarter, and an Andre Iguodala dunk made it 52-32 with 5:52 remaining until halftime. ESPN's Bomani Jones pointed out the result made sense when juxtaposed with comments James made early in the season:
in other news, lebron started the year saying the warriors were hungrier than the cavs. score’s 52-32 right now.— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) January 19, 2016
Perhaps the only positive thing that happened for Cleveland in the first half was Curry's third personal foul, which sent him to the bench for the final minutes before intermission. Still, the Warriors pushed their lead to 30 before taking a 70-44 advantage into the locker room, and SportsCenter noted the beatdown was historic:
This is only the 2nd time ever that the Cavs have trailed by 25+ in a game in which LeBron, Kyrie & Love all played. pic.twitter.com/uOxaRx37md— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 19, 2016
HBO's Bill Simmons reflected on Golden State's 26-point halftime lead:
I know it's reg. season but SA was creeping closer + closer to GSW and GSW needed to kick a contender's ass to retain alphadogness... so...— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 19, 2016
Things took another turn for the worse for Cleveland in the opening minutes of the third quarter, when the officials ejected J.R. Smith for plowing through a Harrison Barnes screen, handing Smith a flagrant-2 foul. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com described how problematic that was for the home team, considering the guard's 14 points were Cleveland's lone bright spot:
J.R. Smith with the flagrant-2 foul after a review. He's tossed. He was the Cavs leading scorer. They're down 32 pts after the technical FTs— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 19, 2016
Golden State built its lead to 84-51 halfway through the third quarter, and Matt Moore of CBS Sports found another way to describe how bad it was for the Cavaliers:
The Cavaliers have made 2 3-pointers on the floor tonight. Steve Kerr made one this morning.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 19, 2016
The Warriors steamrolled their way to a 104-67 lead after the third quarter and sent many of the Cleveland fans toward the exits. Former Grantland writer Shea Serrano offered his take on the game:
the cavs are the favorites to make it to the finals out the east and they're losing by 40 right now --- the warriors are stupid good— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) January 19, 2016
The Cavaliers seemed ready to go home during the second half, but Michael Pina of Bleacher Report noted one reason why the Warriors are more effective than the majority of the league:
Draymond Green is busting his ass up 30 points in the middle of January. His team is about to be 38-4. Different breed.— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) January 19, 2016
The fans were leaving, and the key players were on the bench. But at least Cleveland's Twitter account knew that it was time to finish strong in the fourth quarter:
The disparity between the Warriors and Cavaliers was painfully obvious for fans of the losers Monday, and Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk started to look at the big picture as Golden State's second unit continued to add to the stunning margin:
January games don't decide June games, this is only a benchmark. But after losses to Spurs and Warriors, Cavs have serious questions.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) January 19, 2016
The Warriors built their lead to 114-71, which marked a low point in James' career, as ESPN Stats & Info highlighted:
In fact, the 43-point deficit is the largest deficit LeBron James has faced in any game in his career (1,127 games)! https://t.co/8fkI4Iryfe— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 19, 2016
Bleacher Report weighed in on the laugher:
Recap of tonight’s Cavs-Warriors game https://t.co/0W85Ay3cu6— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 19, 2016
Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports provided a glimpse at some of the remaining crowd members in the waning minutes of Golden State's dominant victory:
Cleveland never threatened in the listless fourth quarter as both teams rested their primary contributors, and Golden State wrapped up the statement win, 132-98.
At 38-4, the Warriors are within striking distance of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time record of 72-10. They did lose two of three coming into Monday's contest, which is why the victory was important, especially with a difficult stretch on the horizon.
Golden State will travel to Chicago on Wednesday to face the 24-16 Bulls and then play home games against the 22-19 Indiana Pacers and 36-6 San Antonio Spurs on Friday and Monday, respectively. The contest against the Spurs stands out because the two teams are battling for home-court advantage in the Western Conference and appear to be on a collision course for a postseason showdown.
As for the Cavaliers, they'll catch a brief break with a Wednesday matchup against the 11-31 Brooklyn Nets before a difficult two-game stretch against the Los Angeles Clippers and Bulls.
It is easy to draw conclusions from Monday's effort, but it was only one game in a long season. As long as Cleveland takes care of business against Eastern Conference foes such as the Nets and Bulls, it will be in position to challenge for the title in June.
But the Cavs better hope someone upsets the Warriors in the Western Conference playoffs before the NBA Finals start.
The discussion in the Cavaliers’ locker room after the game was about how far they are from Golden State’s level. Coach David Blatt said, per McMenamin, “I can't sit here with an honest heart and tell you anything (to explain the result). We got beat down.”
James added, per McMenamin, “Tonight was an example of how far we have to go to be a championship team.”
James reflected on the recent two losses to the Spurs and Warriors, per Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post: “Against the top teams, you want to play well ... so far, we haven't done that.”
Bontemps also noted that James said the Cavs are a young team, but “still don’t have a lot of time together.”
As for the victorious Warriors, Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group said that Curry called the bounce-back effort “classic us.”
It was classic Warriors, which is why the rest of the NBA should be absolutely terrified as they lock in on a run at a second consecutive championship.