In Warriors’ Rout of Cavaliers, a Big Dose of Catharsis

Stephen Curry of the Warriors driving to the basket in Golden State’s 126-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena on Monday. Credit Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

OAKLAND, Calif. — An evening of collective catharsis for many basketball fans here reached its most satisfying apex in the form of a forearm shiver.

Midway through the second quarter, Draymond Green, no stranger to contact or controversy, prevented the forward progress of LeBron James by throwing the full weight of his 230-pound frame into the general vicinity of James’s sternum. James tumbled to the court at Oracle Arena on Monday with all the finesse of a sack of potatoes. Green stalked away in disbelief, fully convinced that James had flopped.

Green (Golden State Warriors) and James (Cleveland Cavaliers) are high-profile representatives of two of the finest teams in the N.B.A., and it was impossible to miss the symbolism of their collision.

“Two strong forces coming together,” the Warriors’ Stephen Curry said.

Fans inside the building reacted as if James, already unpopular among the Bay Area populace, refuses to compost his trash. Their boos were almost lusty in their disdain for him. The officials assessed Green with a flagrant foul, but it turned out to be a mere speed bump for the Warriors, who continued to go about their business of pulverizing the Cavaliers.

Nobody would be surprised to see these two teams reunite in the N.B.A. finals some four-and-a-half months from now. Monday’s result — a 126-91 victory by the Warriors — will probably mean little in the long run. But there is no question that it provided a psychological lift for the Warriors, a superpower that is not immune to the lingering effects of history.

“We all remember that,” said the Warriors coach, Steve Kerr. “I didn’t have to say anything.”

He was referring, of course, to last season’s N.B.A. finals, when the Warriors blew a three-games-to-one series lead and watched the Cavaliers dance away with their first championship. It was, in a less significant way, more of the same when the Warriors faced the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, only to let a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter evaporate in a 1-point loss.

On Monday, the Warriors (35-6) were not about to let that happen again. They scored 78 points in the first half and led by as many as 39. The Cavaliers (29-11) looked as if they were wearing concrete sneakers and lofting jump shots into a stiff breeze.

“They put it on us,” James said of the Warriors. “They put it on us real good.”

It should be noted that the Cavaliers had spent nearly two weeks on the road. Their visit to Oakland was the sixth and final stop of a grueling trip. The Warriors, on the other hand, have been relishing an extended stretch in Northern California. They had not played since Thursday. They were well rested and played like it.

“Well, we wanted to win,” Kerr said, adding: “Anytime you’re facing a team that you know is one of the best in the league, you’re going to be up for it. We were definitely up for it.”

At the same time, Kerr cautioned against reading too much into it. He recalled how the Warriors demolished the Cavaliers in a regular-season game last January.

“Everyone counted them out and said we were in their heads,” Kerr said. “And then they won the whole thing.”

Still, the result was satisfying for the Warriors. Satisfying to limit the Cavaliers to 35.2 percent shooting. Satisfying to outrebound them by 23. Satisfying to block 11 of their shots. Satisfying to beat them for the first time in seven months.

During his news conference, Curry was briefly interrupted by a few stanzas from the song “Good Feeling” by the rapper Flo Rida. Curry bobbed his head.

“That’s my mood right now,” he said. “I’m feeling good.”

Curry has had his struggles against the Cavaliers. In last season’s finals, he averaged 22.6 points a game while shooting 40.3 percent from the field, which was substandard production for him. On Christmas Day, he put together another (relative) clunker: 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

With that in mind, he sounded as if he had found some solace in Monday’s win. He did not shoot well — he went 7 of 20 from the field and scored 20 points — but he collected 10 of his 11 assists by halftime and was aggressive from the start.

“You can feel the atmosphere when you get out there,” Curry said. “Anytime you play a team like Cleveland, or other top teams in the league, you know it’s going to take an A-plus game to get a win, and a lot of energy, physicality and focus. We sensed that early in the game and grabbed the momentum and never really let it go. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Before Monday’s game, James played down the suggestion that the Cavaliers had a full-fledged rivalry with the Warriors. Green, for one, disagreed.

“I think it’s a rivalry,” Green said, adding: “Regardless of Bron thinking this is a rivalry, I know he wants to beat us. And we want to beat them. And that’s enough in itself.”

The Cavaliers and the Warriors will not face each other again in the regular season. Given the intensity of these games, Green said that two meetings were enough.

“I think the fact that you only play two times a year makes it more exciting, because you only get two cracks at it,” Green said. “If you want to play each other again, then try to get to the N.B.A. finals.”

For two teams that do not like each other, that, at least, is a goal they can share.

Source: NYTimes