Thompson: Curry, Durant, Warriors’ stars out shined badly in Cleveland
By Marcus Thompson II
CLEVELAND — This one’s on the superstars. The Warriors’ embarrassment of talent cost them a chance at perfection by playing far from perfect.
No doubt, they get one of those. They’ve earned it, having won every game they’ve played for two months. But one is all they can have.
Because another performance like the 137-116 loss in Game 4 changes everything. Warriors fans are already a bit uneasy, and the Cavaliers emboldened, since this won’t be the first time they go to Oakland facing elimination in Game 5. The last time didn’t go so well for Golden State.
But this team is different, the Warriors are quick to remind everyone.
“Obviously we haven’t felt this feeling walking off the court with a loss in a while,” Stephen Curry said. “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. I love the vibe we had in the locker room after the game … We like the fact that we can correct a lot of things going into Game 5 and just put a better foot forward.”
It starts with their quartet of stars. Because even though the storyline through the first three games of The Finals was how LeBron James didn’t have enough help, Friday the Warriors looked like the overmatched team.
Cleveland’s Big Three — James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — completely outplayed the Warriors’ Big Four. And it felt like a few of the other beatdowns the Warriors have endured at Quicken Loans Arena.
With a championship on the line and a chance to make history, the heavily favored visitors didn’t get big games from their future Hall of Famers. Kevin Durant had 35, but he was 9-for-22 shooting and did most of his damage at the free-throw line and was mostly discombobulated. And he was not good on defense.
James had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and looked as comfortable as he’s looked all series, running the show and getting where he wants. The Cavaliers outscored the Warriors by 32 points with James on the floor.
Curry was even more off his game. He finished with 14 points on 13 shots. He had another 10-assist game, but was never a notable force. He spent a lot of time off the ball, enduring the physicality of the Cavaliers. Early turnovers didn’t help his rhythm, and he didn’t make up for it with a scoring outburst. He missed seven of his nine 3-pointers.
Draymond Green had another subpar game. A couple early fouls took him out of the game mentally. His 16 points and 14 rebounds don’t underscore how he hurt the Warriors. He left Love open so many times — a big reason Love made six threes and finished with 23 points — and Green tried to force several passes that killed opportunities for the Warriors. The wide-open 3s the Cavaliers gave him? He was 1-for-6 on those.
Klay Thompson didn’t save them either. His 13 points came on 11 shots and Irving lit up him for a game-high 41 points.
The Cavaliers’ three All-Stars: 94 points on 52.4 percent shooting.
The Warriors’ four All-Stars: 78 points on 40.3 percent shooting.
“We played a desperate team on their home floor,” Steve Kerr said. “Great team. Great players. And they came out and handed it to us. Simple as that.”
This wasn’t just about the offense, though. The Warriors got torched defensively. They were slow — rotating poorly, getting beat easily off the dribble and doing a lot of reaching. The referees were calling it close and the Cavaliers benefitted most, attempting 20 free throws in the first quarter.
But what really hurt the Warriors was the Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting. They made a record 24, more than double the Warriors’ total. Every time the Warriors got within striking distance, sending a nervous wave through the arena that an onslaught was coming, the Cavaliers would get an open three and drill it.
The Cavaliers, who have refused to slow the pace, shifted into a higher gear. They beat the Warriors at the Warriors’ game — transition, ball-movement, passing, shooting. And the visitors couldn’t keep up this night, even with all of their firepower.
And now they go back home, up 3-1. Not long ago, everyone was talking 16-0 and how the Warriors were just too good. Now, in the back of everyone’s mind is what happened last year, when the Cavaliers’ came to Oakland and took Game 5 as LeBron and Kyrie dominated.
But Curry was unhealthy then, limited by a sprained knee ligament. Klay Thompson had his hands full with Kyrie. And the third scoring option, Harrison Barnes — the one who was open most while the Cavaliers’ trapped Curry — was ice cold. And Green was sitting in a suite at the A’s game with Marshawn Lynch, serving his one-game suspension.
This time it should be different. Curry is healthy. Barnes has been replaced by Durant. And Green is not facing suspension.
Hey, he said the Warriors would have won a championship if he’d been on the floor. He will be.
The Warriors have everything they need to finish this off. Even if LeBron and Kyrie put together another epic performance, it shouldn’t be enough — if the Warriors stars play better.