First Knight Kyrie Irving comes to the rescue to LeBron James as the Cleveland Cavaliers once again come from behind to beat the Warriors.
“Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
No Christmas Day matchup was more anticipated than the game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The rematch of the 2015-16 NBA Finals did not disappoint, either.
A poster of Lebron James’ iconic block of Andre Iguodala during last year’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals hanging outside the visitor’s locker room provided the fuel for the fire in this game. It would take a last gasp heroic effort from Kyrie Irving to create the difference on Sunday afternoon in the Cleveland Cavaliers 109-108 win over the Golden State Warriors.
The loss for the Warriors was just the first of the season against the Eastern Conference (9-1). The Warriors must be feeling a loss of confidence after blowing a fourth quarter lead, which was reminiscent of the 3-1 series lead they were unable to capitalize on during the NBA Finals less than a year ago.
The most notable addition to the budding rivalry was the presence of Kevin Durant who scored 36 points and added 15 rebounds in the loss. The Warriors seemed to have the momentum heading into the fourth quarter until a 14-3 run was started by a Richard Jefferson posterizing of Klay Thompson. Jefferson, whose game has been altered by age, showed flashes of his youthful New Jersey Nets days, as he took to the sky twice against Thompson.
It was the big three of LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love that lead the way for Cleveland in the end. When this trio joined forces, many were suspect of whether they would find the success that LeBron found with his mates in Miami.
The win today validates what the King and his court already believe: they are the team to beat.
From a Golden State perspective, “Where do the Warriors go from here?”
There’s no question that Golden State is as advertised, a multifaceted offensive powerhouse when Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are on their game. A focused Draymond Green is the two-way player that opposing coaches fear.
Most nights, Steve Kerr gets that type of player in Green, but Draymond isn’t perfect. He’s a highly emotional player and when emotion sets in, the fireworks are lit. Chemistry is key for any team, even for a 73 win team who added such a proficient offensive player, such as Durant. When the chemistry is off, a sense of doubt sets in, and there is an opportunity for failure.
Golden State will look to rebound against a very good Toronto Raptors team on Wednesday night. Like the Cavs, the Raptors pose a superior perimeter offense led by All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan. Teams that have been able to beat the Warriors have been able to exploit the deficiencies of their interior defense.
The loss in the offseason of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli has forced the Warriors to play a smaller lineup for the majority of time within games. When teams are able to exploit this mismatch inside, they are able to find offensive success.
As for the defending champs are concerned, this game was about the growing legend of LeBron and the evolution of Kyrie.
Time after time, James puts on a display of dominance. He did so during last year’s finals, he did so on Christmas Day. James finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds. Shy of the performance of Durant, but enough to keep the Cavaliers in the game throughout the entirety of the contest.
For Kyrie Irving, he has propelled himself into a new level of superstar, starting with last year’s Finals. When the Cavaliers have needed a big shot, Kyrie has not shied away. Christmas Day was more of the same — big shot after big shot, including the game-winner in the final moments.
KYRIE IRVING! ???
Kyrie hits the game-winner as the @cavs rally to beat the @warriors, 109-108. #NBAXmas pic.twitter.com/XcEHeDKxOy
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 25, 2016
Further maturation of Kyrie, the future addition of J.R. Smith from injury and the growing chemistry between the defending champs could set the stage for a Finals rematch.
Cleveland will continue their march to another championship when they visit the Detroit Pistons, Monday night. It has been a disappointing start to the season for Stan Van Gundy. Team chemistry and injuries have plagued the Pistons thus far. Welcoming in a team playing as well as the Cavaliers are, won’t help the cause either.
The Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the East. Another date with the Warriors on January 16 will provide one last look at the teams head to head prior to a Finals rematch.