The last time Golden State visited Cleveland, it left with the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It will still be the Warriors’ no matter what happens during their next trip, but a recent slump has them looking a little less invincible.
The Warriors will try to avoid their first losing streak since June’s NBA Finals in their second matchup against the Cavaliers since then on Monday night.
Golden State’s 89-83 win on Christmas Day was its fourth straight in this series, including three in a row on the way to its first championship in 40 years.
But after going from the NBA champs to seemingly immortal with 24 straight wins to open this season, the Warriors (37-4) suddenly look human again. They’ve followed a seven-game winning streak with losses in two of three, and hope to avoid their first losing streak since dropping the second and third games of the Finals.
Saturday’s 113-95 loss at Detroit was unique. In each of the Warriors’ first three losses, they were missing either Stephen Curry, Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes, but they had all of their top scorers available and still had trouble putting the ball in the basket. Golden State scored fewer than 100 points for the fourth time, shot a season-low 36.2 percent and had 18 assists – the first time this season it’s totaled fewer than 20.
The Warriors are 1-3 when shooting worse than 41 percent, all three defeats coming by at least 13 points.
“We’ve been saying it all year, but no matter where we go, teams are going to give us their best shot,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “In this league if you’re not ready to fight back, you’re going to get blown out.”
Cleveland (28-10) likely is the team with the biggest bone to pick. Kyrie Irving fractured his left kneecap in Game 1 and Kevin Love was out due to a shoulder injury sustained earlier in the playoffs, but the full group is back and looking like the Eastern Conference’s top dog again.
The Cavaliers’ lone loss in the last three weeks was Thursday’s 99-95 defeat at San Antonio, where the Spurs have rarely been tested. Cleveland won eight straight games prior and followed with Friday’s 91-77 win at Houston to complete a 5-1 road trip.
“We’re the best two teams playing right now,” Irving said of the heavyweight matchup with the Warriors. “We’re No. 1 in our respective conference, they’re No. 1 in their conference.”
Irving has averaged 17 points since returning in mid-December, and he led the Cavs with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting against the Rockets. He is back as a high-level second option to LeBron James, who is averaging 25.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists while shooting 54.8 percent in the last six games.
Golden State is the only team James averages more than 30 points against in his career with 30.4 in 28 games, including the postseason. He had three 40-point games and a pair of triple-doubles in the Finals, but the lack of a second scorer heavily impacted the Cavs.
James finished with 25 points and nine rebounds in this season’s first matchup, but no other Cleveland player scored more than 14. Green had 22 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for the Warriors in their lowest-scoring game.
The Cavs play five of their next six games at Quicken Loans Arena, where they have won six straight and are 15-1.