Kyrie Irving said the Cavaliers needed to make a strong statement against the Warriors.
But on Monday night, it was Golden State delivering a loud and clear message. And Cleveland didn’t fight it.
The Cavaliers were blown out on their home floor — despite having a full complement of players — as the Warriors delivered an epic beat down at Quicken Loans Arena, rolling over the Eastern Conference’s best squad, 132-98.
And for the second time this season, much like a replay of last season’s NBA Finals, the Warriors proved to be the NBA’s more dominant team.
“We had a breakdown and we didn’t respond to it,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. “That and the lack of mental preparation more than anything else really hurt us. I told my guys that it starts with me. If they’re not mentally ready to play, I take responsibility for that. And tactically, we could have done things better or differently. We never gave ourselves a chance to win that game and that’s unfortunate and tough. We have to live with that. We have to face up to that and use that as a new starting point to improve ourselves.”
Monday’s rout began with the Cavaliers spinning their wheels in the first quarter, while the high-octane Warriors were hitting on all cylinders. Before Cleveland could even catch their breath and recover from the early flurry of body blows, Golden State had already built a 13-point lead after one and rolled into halftime with a 70-44 advantage.
By the start of the fourth quarter, fans were looking for the exits. And who could blame them?
Not even free food could keep the boo birds away.
Alarmingly, the Cavs had no answer for Steph Curry, who poured in 35 points and connected on 7-of-12 three-point shots. But in fairness, Cleveland did not have much luck slowing any Warriors down on Monday night.
“We were slow, we were late, and we became frustrated when things weren’t going our way,” Blatt said. “I don’t know if it was the effort or if it was our inability to overcome our own frustration. Part of that stems from us just not executing and doing the things that we normally do or being able to against a team that really plays us tough… We didn’t raise our level to that. That was clear as day.”
Additionally, Cleveland failed to execute much offensively. The Cavs’ leading scorer, LeBron James, finished with just 16 points in defeat.
And the help which was supposed to come from a healthy Irving and Kevin Love — something the Cavaliers did not have when the two squads met in the Finals last year — was nonexistent, as the two combined for just 11 points on Monday night.
“We got beat up on our home floor tonight,” Love, who scored just three points on Monday night, said. “I think a lot of things went wrong… but I think they’re the better team right now.”
Love never looked comfortable on Monday night. He failed to answer questions about his offensive role following the game. On the other hand, his counter-part, Draymond Green, scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
With everything considered, the loss may have been Love’s worst individual game as a Cavalier. Could that be the reality of a poor matchup against Golden State?
“I don’t think anybody performed at his normal level,” Blatt said. “To point at Kev or somebody else, I just don’t think it would be fair. He’s an extremely high-level player, and I don’t think he has situations where he can’t play against somebody. I don’t believe that. Absolutely not. We need to do a better job helping him.”
So, how does one quantify the loss?
Sure, it is just one of an 82-game schedule. Yes, Cleveland just came off a pretty successful road trip, going 5-1 in a stretch away from Quicken Loans Arena. No, a regular season defeat in January will not have any bearing on this season’s ultimate destination.
But when any team plays as poorly as the Cavs did on Monday — particularly against one of the few teams they can be successfully judged against — they are open to any and all criticism that comes their way.
“We’ve got to get back to the basics,” James said. “When you play against teams like this— Golden State, San Antonio, Chicago— you’ve got to have just a laser-sharp mentality, both physical and mental, and you can’t have lulls because they’ll make you pay. There’s some of the things that we can get away with against certain teams you can’t get away with against these teams, so it shows how far we’ve got to go.
“I continue to say — I say it all the time — we are a young basketball team. We had some success last year, but as far as experience, we don’t have much together, so we still have to continue to put it together.”
Perhaps that starts with James, as Love pointed out in an interesting quote following the game.
“We definitely have a lot of things to get better at,” Love said, “and that’s going to take a lot of guys looking at themselves in the mirror. And it all starts with our leader over there (James) and trickles on down.”
Or maybe, ultimately, Monday will end up being a mild blip on an otherwise blissful radar.
“For me, it’s never as bad and it’s never as good as it may seem when you’re going through it,” James said. “Obviously, you want to play well and especially on a stage like this versus the defending champions, but for me, as the leader of this ball club and over the last six or seven years, I’ve always been even-keeled about wins and losses, especially at this juncture of the season.”
For now, there are more questions than answers for Cleveland; the only strong statements are the ones being delivered by the defending NBA champs.