CLEVELAND — It began as “the champagne game,” though it looked more like slaughter than bacchanal. During the Golden State Warriors’ 132-98 crushing of the Cleveland Cavaliers on their home floor, Stephen Curry’s moment of pregame controversy was eclipsed by his actions. His supposedly hurtful words had given way to far more brutal deeds. On Monday night, he and the Warriors spoke for three quarters in which the Cavaliers had no rebuttal.
Somehow, uttering the following, Curry unleashed a tempest of local fury: “Obviously, walking in that locker room, it’ll be good memories. Hopefully, it still smells a little bit like champagne.”
On its face, perhaps a statement about returning to the site of a fond memory, the time Golden State finally won a championship. It was a celebration interim coach Luke Walton called “one of the greatest moments we’ve had in our lives.” When put in a headline and combined with the word “Cleveland” though, it was taken as an affront.
According to Cleveland.com, Cavs players found Curry’s comment “disrespectful.” LeBron James exited his Monday shootaround asking reporters why no one had asked about Curry’s comment and saying that he had an answer for it.
If James indeed had an answer, it wasn’t on the court. Again, he was inefficient against Golden State’s long, switching defense, getting only 16 points on 16 shots and finishing minus-35 over his 33-minute stint. That minus-35 mark qualifies as the worst of his entire long, storied career.
It was an unabating onslaught, a game in which the Warriors merged excellent defense with superior ball movement. On defense, the switching was impeccable, and the closeouts on shooters were harsh. After getting trounced in Detroit this past Saturday, the Warriors spoke of blowing scouting assignments. This time, they were keyed in on Cleveland’s quirks.
Warriors point guard Shaun Livingston, who called this game “a championship response,” spoke of the difference: “We were paying attention to scouting reports, paying attention to the details, knowing who their shooters are, their tendencies.”
The Cavs did not have a single 3-point field gold until Kevin Love sank one with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. The score was 67-37 before he tossed it up.
Offensively, the Warriors sliced the Cavs’ defense with back cuts. It’s tempting to say they ran circles around Cleveland, but in this case, the angles were acute. Beyond back screening for buckets, Golden State exploited Love in pick-and-rolls. Cleveland elected to trap Curry, but asking Love to be your trap can be like asking water to be your umbrella. Golden State easily whipped the ball around and past him.
At one point, the Warriors led by 43 points. Curry played only 28 minutes, scoring his 35 points on a mere 18 shots. Curry repeatedly picked on theoretical “Curry stopper” Matthew Dellavedova when he wasn’t evading Kyrie Irving. Finals MVP Andre Iguodala again bedeviled the Cavs, scoring 20 points, missing only one shot and giving LeBron fits defensively.
Irving was finally fully healthy for this matchup, flashing the ball around the court with his strobe-effect dribble. He also lived down to his defensive reputation. For example, on the first play, he stuck to a screen, starting a chain reaction that led to an easy Andrew Bogut dunk. Offensively, he couldn’t get to the rim and shot 3-of-11 for eight points. On a night with many notable stats, perhaps the most notable is that Curry’s 35 points outscored the combined 27 points from Irving, James and Love.
After the game, Walton dismissed any notion that this meant something, that Golden State’s two regular-season victories over the Cavs indicates anything other than “two wins.” The Warriors wouldn’t indulge such talk publicly, but the game was a rebuke to other players, commentators and pundits who posited that the injuries to Love and Irving made Golden State’s title possible. It’s difficult to take such a hypothetical seriously when a fully loaded, healthy Cavs team gets blown out at home. As a rule, home blowouts are bad, and exceedingly rare for championship-level teams. It’s an especially poor look when the blown-out team had every reason to be motivated.
After the game, Curry dismissed the champagne “overreaction,” joking that the visitor’s locker room actually smelled like Morton’s, the catering restaurant of the evening.
“That’s a good smell,” he said with a smile.
Morton’s was also the restaurant where Golden State celebrated its championship in Cleveland last summer. No matter. Whatever Curry states of his olfactory detections, it’s clear he smelled blood the whole time.