Monday night saw one of the games that NBA fans had circled on their calendar as must see — Golden State returning to the champagne-soaked locker room in Cleveland. But that ended up being about the least interesting or entertaining game of the day. Here’s what you need to know from a Martin Luther King Jr. Monday around the NBA.
1) Golden State thrashed Cleveland, shows Cavaliers where the bar is set. The Cavs have work to do. Games in January do not tell us who would win a seven-game series between those two teams in June. Games in the middle of the season are simply benchmarks. Tests if you will. They show a team where they stand, what needs to be worked on for the next six months to be ready for the games that matter.
The Cavaliers have a lot of work to do. Beating up on the East does not have them ready for the true contenders out of the West.
Last week, Cleveland played the San Antonio Spurs close, but down the stretch of that game the Cavaliers struggled with their execution while the Spurs did what they always do. Monday night, the Golden State Warriors returned to Quicken Loans Arena and gave the Cavaliers a beat down. A spanking. A thrashing. Golden State took Cleveland to the woodshed. I could go on, but the point has been made. Golden State started the game on a 12-2 run, led by 30 in the second quarter, 40 in the third, and coasted to a 132-98 statement win. Stephen Curry led the way with 35 points. Cleveland sees where the bar is set, and they have to get a lot better to clear it. LeBron’s goal is to bring a title to Northeast Ohio and right now there is no evidence to support the idea that his team could beat the Spurs or especially the Warriors in a seven-game series.
Here are three quick takeaways from the game of the night.
• Cleveland’s defense, particularly it’s pick-and-roll defense, needs to get a lot better. No doubt the Warriors were hitting their shots on Monday evening — they shot 51.8 percent on contested shots as a team, Curry was 6-of-9 on contested looks, according to NBA.com — but they were getting the shots they wanted. Cleveland couldn’t slow the pick-and-roll at all — they even blitzed it with three guys at one point. Whatever big man from Cleveland was pulled into the pick-and-roll, they got abused — Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson, and especially Kevin Love. This sequence may best sum up just how Love’s defensive night went.
Love only got five shots in the game as well. If these teams meet in the Finals again, it’s fair to wonder how many minutes David Blatt can afford to play Love a night.
• The Cavaliers need a lot more out of Kyrie Irving. Hopefully, this game ends the “if Irving and Love had been healthy it would have been a different Finals” discussion. That talk was always moot anyway. Irving was 3-of-11 overall on the night and 0-of-3 in the paint — he wasn’t breaking down the Warriors defense, and when he got in the lane he didn’t finish. I’m not sure that the Cavaliers can count on more out of Love come the NBA Finals (he will get exposed on defense by whichever team comes out of the West), but they have to get more out of Irving to compete with the elite.
• Stephen Curry sure looked like the best player in the world. Curry isn’t as good a defender as LeBron James, he can’t do everything LeBron can do on the court, and no doubt LeBron is more gifted. But for my money, the question is simply “Who impacts the game the most?” Right now, that’s Curry.
The Cavaliers need to find someone to slow Curry or, at least, make him work for his points, and that man is not Matthew Dellavedova. Cleveland had no answer for Draymond Green, either. If the Cavs don’t tighten up their defense and find answers for Green and Curry, the 2016 Finals may not last six games.
2) The Knicks need ‘Melo three, double overtime to beat Sixers in a game that was more entertaining than it should have been. For a while it looked like New York would be coasting to another win, up 18 in the third. But you can say this about the Sixers: However flawed, they play hard. The Knicks, on the other hand, with their comfortable lead reverted to the sloppy, lazy version of themselves that gets in trouble. The result was the Sixers stormed back, and New York needed a Carmelo three just to get to overtime.
It looked like the Knicks would win with just five extra minutes of work, but Robert Covington had other ideas, called bank on a three (not really) and forced a second OT. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a sore foot (suffered in the fourth quarter, but not serious), the Knicks battled, got some strong play from Langston Galloway and Arron Afflalo when they needed it, and got the win. Barely. It was dramatic and entertaining, if not a game where the tape should be sent to the Hall of Fame. For the Knicks, it’s a win they need if they still harbor playoff dreams.
3) Kemba Walker goes off for 52 in Hornets’ double overtime win. It’s dangerous to attack the rim against Utah when Rudy Gobert is patrolling the paint, and that’s why only eight of Kemba Walker’s 34 shots came within eight feet of the rim Monday (and he only hit three of those). But his jumper was falling, and that is how he scored 52 and led the Hornets to a double-overtime win at home against Utah.
4) Even the Simpsons got in a dig at the Sixers this week. Sunday night in a new Simpsons episode from season 2,496 (or whatever they are up to), the Harvard-trained Simpsons writers got a dig at the struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers. Well played… except for the fact the Sixers have been better of late. They are 4-8 since bringing Ish Smith in to give them a respectable point guard, and Monday they even pushed the Knicks to double overtime before falling. Still, this is pretty funny.
5) J.J. Redick scores 40, drains nine threes to lead Clippers past Houston in overtime. The Clippers were up 15 with a little more than four minutes to go in this one, but the Rockets stormed back to force an extra five minutes of basketball. That was just more time for Redick to show off. The hot shooting guard had a career-high 40 points and hit nine threes on the night, including a couple in overtime that the Clippers needed to seal the win. As a team, the Clippers drained 22 threes, a team record and just one off the NBA record.