The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met for the second time this season and, while the Warriors pulled away down the stretch of an otherwise close 118-108 game, the NBA’s marquee matchup lived up to the hype. Here are some takeaways from Monday’s game.
A matchup between these two teams means we get to watch the greatest individual matchup today’s NBA has to offer. LeBron James and Kevin Durant didn’t disappoint.
For Cleveland to hold its own against a team of Golden State’s calibre you know it requires a monster night from James. On Monday, he posted a bonkers line of 32 points (on 12-for-18 shooting, 8-for-13 from the line), eight rebounds, six assists, three steals, and four blocks, including this one on Steph Curry:
His 20 points in the first half alone helped the Cavs take a nine-point lead early in the second quarter, but James made his presence known on both ends of the floor as well.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 16, 2018
Across the court, a clearly-undeterred Durant responded with a team-high 32 points (9-for-16 from the field) and hit four of his six three-point attempts, to go along with five rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and a block — plus some highlights of his own.
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2018
While the Cavaliers had Jae Crowder covering Durant for stretches — one of the few new wrinkles to the GSW-CLE matchup since last season — KD and LeBron seemed to feed off each other. Durant in particular seems to be fuelled by proving he is the lone player on the planet who can go toe-to-toe with James, and it’s … just … awesome. Honestly, there are few greater treats for sports fans than to see the most talented players ply their trade while ultra-motivated.
Not that their playoff-proven teammates should need it, but those two set the tone for what is always a highly-competitive matchup that never fails to put on a show. I’ll never understand how the notion that these two teams could — or will — meet in the Finals could be perceived as anything but amazing.
Thomas a work in progress
It was cool to see Isaiah Thomas out there beginning to look slightly more comfortable, although his road back to 100 per cent seems like it’ll be fairly long. Regardless, his presence on the court provided the real-life visuals that have only been recreated in our minds (or, you know, video games) until now.
For Cleveland to reach its potential, Thomas will have to be able to trade buckets with the likes of Curry when the moment calls for it — something his predecessor, Kyrie Irving, was able to do on the biggest stage. Thomas had his moments on Monday, scoring 19 points in 31 minutes, but it took him 21 shots to do it. Thomas was also 1-for-7 from the three-point line and provided just four assists, including this one early:
On the other end, Curry made four three-pointers en route to 23 points on 53 per cent shooting.
It will take time to acclimate Thomas to the roster. Once he works his way into shape and strings a few good games together, he shouldn’t have as much of a problem scoring the ball (and if he does then suddenly that Irving trade becomes a disaster), and the Cavs could certainly use a reliable second option to aid LeBron.
Defensively, however, the issues will persist. They won’t be easy to fix so long as Thomas and Kevin Love share the floor for long stretches.
One area in which Golden State completely separates itself from Cleveland is in an ability to develop players within its organization. As they’ve both dominated their respective conferences these past few years, neither has drafted higher than 30th overall since 2014. Yet the Warriors have found a way to develop promising young talent capable of helping out this season, something the Cavs can’t claim.
Rookie big man Jordan Bell, acquired on draft night from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for cash, offers a burst of energy and some serious defensive chops whenever he steps on the court and has all but replaced Javale McGee’s role.
Bell got the start on Monday, racking up six points, three boards, and a block in 13 minutes of action.
Patrick McCaw, who had his moment during last year’s Finals, is an important backcourt piece off the bench, and was another second-round pick the Dubs acquired on draft night for cash.
Kevin Looney, a 2015 first-rounder, has also seen decent court time of late. While Bell has earned NBA minutes in his first season, Looney spent parts of his first two seasons with the Warriors’ G League affiliate — and the rest watching the best team in the game from courtside every game.
Meanwhile, the only Cavaliers-bred prospect who sees is 22-year-old rookie Cedi Osman, a 2015 second-rounder who played one minute on Monday.
We’ve seen with the Raptors this season the importance of thoughtful development. The Warriors bench exemplifies that and Cleveland’s really doesn’t.
Whether it’s an important proponent in building a champion team, or simply proof of a capable front office and coaching staff is another question.
Down the stretch the shortest-tenured player on the court was Tristan Thompson, who was playing in the 489th game of his seven-year career. Clearly the youth movement only goes so far when the legitimate opportunity to win a title is dangling.