With 8:37 remaining last night in the fourth quarter and the Golden State Warriors up 29 on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue put in 35-year-old James Jones. A reasonably productive shooter on LeBron James’ Miami Heat teams, Jones played in 48 games for the Cavs this year, averaging 9.6 minutes, 3.7 points and 1 rebounds per contest. In the playoffs, he’s averaged less: 4.6 minutes and 1.1 field goals attempted per game, and no other per game stat crests a whole number. Was the spindly Jones going to turn the tide for Cleveland?
No. Jones was there to lay the wood on Steph Curry and that he did – picking up a personal foul within a minute. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s response was simple: He took Curry out of the game. It didn’t ultimately matter, and the Warriors waltzed to a 33-point depantsing of Cleveland.
They did it, significantly, with defense instead of offense. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson went 4-for-12 from the arc in the first half and ended with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Draymond Green carried the offense through the first half, going 3-for-6 from distance and notching 18 points in just the first half, but it was the defense in the second half that stood out. The Warriors allowed 18 points in the third quarter and then just 15 in the fourth while scoring 30 and 28 in those quarters.
It’s often said that basketball is a game of runs, and while the Warriors had theirs – including a 20-2 run that started with Curry on the bench – the Cavaliers also had theirs, including 6-0 and 7-0 runs to close out the first and second quarters. But the Warriors make these runs feel less like pushback and more like the inhaled breath before concerted effort. They can’t hit on all cylinders at all times, so these runs will happen. But when Golden State looks like they did tonight, it’s Iron Man sloughing off bullets and missile fire.
It’s tempting to say that everything tonight turned on the injury to Kevin Love. In the second quarter, Love took an elbow from Harrison Barnes as Barnes flew in for a rebound.
Cavaliers’ Kevin Love elbowed in the back of the head pic.twitter.com/JwXMVNouzF
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 6, 2016
Love lay crumpled on the floor for the whole next play, and eventually went to the locker room where he was diagnosed with a concussion – a result that means he’ll be out until he fulfills the requirements of the NBA’s concussion protocol. He’s not definitively out for Wednesday’s game in Cleveland, but he’s far from guaranteed. The truth about Love, though, is that the Cavs weren’t looking all that great when he went down. They looked worse after, but the rest of the game made Love’s injury look more like the nail in the coffin than a turning point.
So what does that mean for the Cavaliers? And how do you bounce back from a 33-point drubbing?