This is what the NBA dreams of for its premier regular-season date – the biggest stars on the best teams matched up in the biggest moments.
Durant stuck with LeBron and blocked his shot at the rim after some contact during the drive. Though a referee signaled Cleveland would keep the ball, which had gone out of bounds, Durant aggressively nodded, pounded his chest and pointed for possession to go the other way.
LeBron, still smarting about losing the ball out of bounds amid far more uncalled Durant contact on previous possession, briefly raised his arms incredulously. Then, he retreated back on to his defensive end as a review ultimately proved Durant correct.
The Cavs hope they’ll have another opportunity to challenge Golden State’s supremacy in a fourth straight NBA Finals meeting, but it didn’t happen today.
The Warriors bested Cleveland, 99-92, in the lowest scoring game between these teams in their eight matchups dating back to their Christmas classic last year.
Golden State held the Cavaliers to 13-of-52 shooting on 2-pointers (25%) behind an imposing frontline of Durant, Draymond Green and Jordan Bell. Led by Durant’s five, the Warriors blocked eight shots, keeping them near the all-time record. Golden State has blocked 8.65 shots per game, behind only the 1985-86 Washington Bullets’ 8.73.
Durant’s transformation has been key.
“He takes on every challenge,” Green said. “With LeBron driving to the hole, it’s hard for anyone to stop that play one-on-one. He was able to get us the ball back. That’s one of the things that makes our defense great, is, when Kevin is flying around active as he is, we’re hard to score on.”
Green – the reigning Defensive Player of the Year himself – had a triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Durant led the Warriors with 25 points, and Klay Thompson added 24 to make up for an injured Stephen Curry.
LeBron (20 points, six rebounds, six assists and seven turnovers) looked relatively pedestrian for his superstar standards. Kevin Love (31 points and 18 rebounds) came up big, and Cleveland hung around by sinking 3-pointers, crashing the glass and even defending energetically.
Still, the Warriors left the Cavs flustered once again.
These teams will play again Jan. 15 in Cleveland, and that game will draw significant attention. But it’s tough to escape that these regular-season games are merely a prelude to the main even in June.