Just a regular season game? It sure felt like something more by the way LeBron James played, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 110-99 win over the Golden State Warriors, telling us a lot about the possible NBA finals matchup and the situation of the MVP race with Stephen Curry.
James put on his dancing shoes and finished with 42 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He completely took over the game, was aggressive the whole night through regardless of who was guarding him (mostly Andre Iguodala) and simply put on a clinic that showed just how good he is when he wants to be and tries to show it by scoring. The Warriors had no one who can stop him. There’s no one player that can actually slow him down. The best players usually require a team effort and a bit more creativity on the defensive end.
But don’t think this was just James against five players. The Cavaliers haven’t won 18 of their last 20 games just because of him. This is a basketball team playing at a very high level right now, as the changes made by bringing in Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are doing wonders for this group, rallying around James and also allowing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to do a lot better in their role. Even the defense, at least in the final three quarters, looked like something that’s going to give other teams a lot of problems.
Kendrick Perkins? He’ll probably be contributing at some point. For now he hasn’t been very influential, at least not in a positive way. Mozgov doesn’t have to worry about anyone stealing his starting role at the moment, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a whole lot of changed shots as the Warriors struggled generating easy baskets, finishing with just 42.4% from the field and 14 fast break points. That’s a lot compared to other teams, but the Warriors rely a bit more on those fast break looks.
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points although he wasn’t very accurate (6-of-17 from the field), getting a lot of his points from the line (10-of-10). The Cavaliers were busy driving to the basket as much as possible, scoring 36 points off of 29 drives, more than double the points they scored off of drives in the previous game against the Warriors. You can tell the difference was James, who wasn’t involved in that game. It was his involvement in almost every aspect of this game that made the difference.
When James touched the ball at least once on their half court possessions, the Cavaliers shot 53.2% from the field. When he wasn’t involved, they shot just 25% from the field and their points per play dropped to 0.61 compared to 1.07 with James making a difference. James had a lot of fun with Iguodala who got no help from Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut or anyone else. James scored 20 of his 42 points on Iguodala, with 11 of those points coming off of drives.
Kevin Love filled his role perfectly with 16 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 60% from beyond the arc and 50% from the field. Tristan Thompson was very good in his 22 minutes, scoring 12 points. The Cavaliers didn’t need much else, and mostly relied on J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for defense, nothing else, and the two delivered, showing they haven no problem playing the role they’re needed to when they’re in a situation they feel happy about.
The Warriors simply didn’t find a way to handle the defense of the Cavaliers or LeBron James all through the game. Stephen Curry was held to just 5-of-17 from the field and no one else stepped up to make up for those lost points. Bogut seemed a bit lost in his battles with Mozgov, something we rarely see done to the Australian. The loss also meant the Warriors won’t be able to tie the 72-10 record, still the best regular season in NBA history (Chicago Bulls, 1996).