There’s one thing we should know about the Golden State Warriors at this point. When you are just about ready to count them out, that’s when they are supremely dangerous.
We saw that when they were down 2-1 in the Memphis series last year, and we saw it when they were down 2-1 to Cleveland in the Finals. They didn’t lose another game in either of those series.
They came into Cleveland Monday in terrible shape, the stress of carrying the NBA’s best record clearly showing. It took them 38 games to lose their first two games, and just three games to lose their next two. Saturday night in Detroit, they played their worst game since Mark Jackson was their coach. Their energy was lacking, which showed up mostly on the defensive end. The offense subsequently suffered as a result of that diminished defense: a lack of easy transition baskets put more strain on Golden State in halfcourt sets.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, were steaming through this part of the schedule (5-1 on a long road trip), and had been pointing at this game since Christmas Day. They had Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving back, and they were going to show everybody what a fluke last year’s Finals were.
I have to say — on behalf of many other people who have agreed with me for the past six months — that this result was pretty satisfying. If you watched the Warriors even semi-seriously over the last year and a half, you knew something that the casual observers, and even a bunch of national media who should know better, didn’t know:
For everything that Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving give to the Cavaliers on offense, they take away at least that much on defense.
There are teams, probably 27 of them, against which this fact can be managed and worked around. These 27 teams can’t repeatedly punish weak defenders until you have to take them off the floor.
The Warriors are not one of those teams.
Kevin Love looked like a duck in a shooting gallery last night. Multiple vines have gone viral in the wake of last night’s 34-point rout, and they all show Love being completely lost trying to defend the Warriors’ pick-and-roll. Irving? Who’s he going to guard? 6-7 Klay Thompson? Steph Curry, who’s the same height as Irving but is the best offensive player in the league?
Most teams have a guard Irving can at least try to cover, but the Warriors don’t. When Shaun Livingston comes off the bench, it actually gets worse for Irving. Livingston is also 6-7, and has an array of low post moves that Irving is helpless to stop.
Love is an even bigger problem for the Cavs. He can’t guard Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes straight up, and the Warriors can also run pick-and-roll plays to get him on Curry, which is comedic.
In short, Love and Irving would have to go for about 60 points between them to give their team a chance against the Warriors, and so far in two games they’ve combined to score 34 (21 for Irving, 13 for Love). That’s an average of 8.5 points per game, per player.
We knew going into this game that there would be a team with something to prove. We just thought it would be Cleveland. It turned out that the Warriors decided this was their chance to put the lingering doubts to rest as to who was the better team last June, and I think they accomplished that.
In fact, I think they were so convincing in that effort that they made clear to themselves AND the Cavs that Cleveland’s best chance for a title is to have the San Antonio Spurs get the Warriors out of the way for them. I don’t know the Spurs well enough to know how they match up with Cleveland, but I don’t see how the Cavs could beat the Warriors four times, especially without home-court advantage.
So let’s send a box of Spurs gear over to the Q for the watch parties to come! The Cavs will put them to good use.