What’s the point in holding a basketball game if one team never shows up?
In middle school, we called those games a “forfeit.” In the NBA, it’s apparently called a championship rematch between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, though someone new to the sport never would have guessed LeBron James and friends — who lost by 34 points in a 132-98 drubbing — reached the verge of NBA supremacy just months ago.
For the Cavs, none of this really made sense. The Warriors were reeling — at least as much as this incredibly well-rounded team can reel — having recorded 50 percent of their losses last week.
Harrison Barnes just returned from injury. Stephen Curry appears to be playing through an ailment of his own. Night in and night out, the defending champions have a target on their backs. They take the hardest fouls and get everyone’s best efforts, all the while pretending that losing just four games in the first half of your season is something normal and not some incredibly daunting, pressure-filled chase of history.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have been red-hot since losing to the Dubs in Part 1 of the rematch on Christmas Day, winning nine of 11 games and extending their hold atop the Eastern Conference ever since. Kyrie Irving is back. Kevin Love is healthy. This arguably is the deepest roster James has ever played with.
Oh, and Curry was kind enough to throw a subtle, embarrassing jab the Cavs’ way before the game.
This was Cleveland’s game to win, and one they should’ve won with authority.
Instead, the Cavs rolled over and played dead. It’s a funny trick when your dog does it, but when your basketball team is full of the dogs dying, well, not so much.
King James, the best player on the planet, managed just 16 points and had a game-low minus-35 plus-minus rating. Curry, the Warriors’ best player, showed him what that best player title looks like, racking up 35 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and a plus-35 rating.
That means Curry’s team was 70 points better than LeBron’s in comparison with the two on the court. Funny, 70 also happens to be the embarrassing number of points the Cavs allowed in the first half, where they entered the break trailing by 26. (The Warriors scored just 89 in their Christmas Day win.) By then, the game was over.
To put this loss in perspective: Cleveland’s worst home loss ever was a 39-point setback in 2012 to the Chicago Bulls. That roster consisted of guys like Semih Erden, Lester Hudson, Luke Harangody and current Warriors interim coach Luke Walton. Antawn Jamison, at the time a 35-year-old has-been, was the team’s second-best player. They lost 68 percent of their games in that lockout-shortened season.
Monday night, the Cavaliers were on par with that terrible team.
Just because James has been to five straight Finals and the Cavaliers are the defending conference champs doesn’t make them great. If anything, they proved Monday night they’re far from it, and were reminded it’s a long way to the top.
Thumbnail photo via David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jan 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) reacts on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.