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Somehow, some way, the Golden State Warriors got Monday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers to crunch time. And then the difference in the current fortunes of these two franchises became apparent with a single, recurring matchup.
The Cavs turned to league MVP LeBron James down the stretch, giving him the ball on nearly every possession in the fourth quarter of a game that was closer than it should have been. And the best the Warriors, beset by injuries, could do was counter with Cartier Martin, a Development League call-up who joined the team prior to Sunday’s practice.
Talk about mismatch.
James scored 15 of the Cavs’ final 18 points and finished with 37 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds as Cleveland held on for a 117-114 victory.
Despite James’ dominance, the Warriors actually had a chance to force overtime when they went on an 8-0 run after falling behind 115-104 with 2:19 left in the game.
James hit a running jumper to put the Cavs back up by five but Stephen Curry answered with a nifty drive to the basket to make it 117-114 with 30 seconds remaining.
As expected, the Cavs put the ball and the game in James’ hands. But James, a 36-percent shooter from long range on the season, missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down and Monta Ellis rebounded with five seconds remaining.
Ellis signaled for a timeout as he looked to the bench, then quickly headed up court as coach Don Nelson wanted the Warriors to push the ball and get a 3-pointer in transition rather than try a set play from out of bounds. Ellis drove the length of the court, then dropped the ball to Curry, who missed a 34-footer at the buzzer.
Say this much for the Warriors, they probably lead the league in near misses against clearly superior teams. They’ve lost to Cleveland twice this year by a combined nine points and had narrow defeats against the Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Rockets twice.
And after a short stint where the Warriors were actually getting healthy, this was another one of those games were they were severely undermanned. Before the game, the Warriors announced that an MRI exam revealed that Anthony Randolph had two torn ligaments in his left ankle and could miss up to two months. During the second quarter, Ronny Turiaf turned his left ankle and didn’t return and center Andris Biedrins was limited to 13 minutes with foul trouble. At times, the Warriors’ frontcourt featured Vladimir Radmanovic, Corey Maggette and Martin against a Cavs team that features four inside bruts and James, who is a physical specimen at 6-8, about 270 and possessing the agility of a small guard.
All in all, it was another nice try, now go try to beat a team you actually have a chance against outing for the Warriors, who fell to 11-25 overall (7-8 at home) and were looking for their first three game-winning streak of the season.
More random observations:
— The second-best player on the court Monday may have been Curry, who finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block in 36 minutes. He shot 8-of-15 overall, made his only 3-pointer before the desperation shot at the end and actually played pretty good defense against Mo Williams, who finished with only 8 points on 2-of-8 shooting.
In one back-to-back sequence in the second quarter, Curry made a long, hard bounce pass in transition to Turiaf, who quickly passed to Maggette for a dunk, then came back on the next possession and took the ball the length of the court and finished with a soft floater high off the glass.
The bounce pass was one where he wound up and put a little extra zip on the ball, the kind that often end up getting stolen. It looks great when it works — you see it work a lot for the likes of Jason Kidd — but it’s something you hope Curry learns is risky at the NBA level. Still, he showed great instinct and even made a behind-the-back pass to Ellis to set up a 3-pointer in the late run that gave the Warriors a chance.
With all the injuries, we don’t know a lot about the future of the Warriors. But this we know: there’s no more thought about C.J. Watson starting over Curry and it’s highly unlikely, even in Nelson’s sometimes random rotations, that Curry will ever see another three-minute game like he did against the Knicks earlier this year.
— Ellis finished with a nice line: 30 points, five assists, five steals and 3-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers. But he was 9-of-25 overall from the field, missing 11 straight shots at one point and had five shots blocked. The towering Cavs had 10 blocks as a team, four from LeBron.
— Is there anything sweeter in the NBA than watching LeBron track down an offensive player on a fastbreak and just swat away a sure layup. He does it every night and has claimed nearly every offensive star as one of his victims. There are no freebies when LeBron feels like playing.
— Two thoughts on the final five seconds: 1. I have no problem with Nelson allowing Ellis to push the ball and try to create a game-tying shot. The Warriors have been awful running out-of-bound plays at the end of games and the team is at its best when running and gunning. I just think there was some miscommunication between Ellis and Curry, who ended up at the same spot on the floor. But that happens in a semi-panic situation. 2. Did you notice that Daniel Gibson challenged the shot by Curry and jumped out at him after allowing Ellis to go past? There was nearly as much contact by Gibson on Curry as there was by Ellis on J.R. Smith the other night in Denver. Sorry to bring up the bad memory.
— Radmanovic responded to getting the start in place of Randolph with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3-of-3 shooting on 3-pointers. Where has that been? He scored in double figures only once in the previous 17 games and had made more than one 3-pointer only four times since joining the team.
Perhaps he was channeling the spirit of the inconsistent Randolph and had one his standout games that leads everyone to believe he’ll be a superstar one day. Let’s see how long it takes for the bad Randolph to show up in the form of an ineffective Radmanovic, which we’ve seen quite often already this year.
— Maggette scored 32 and led the team in scoring for the third time in four games thanks mostly to his 17-of-18 night from the free-throw line though he was 7-of-14 from the field and added seven rebounds. Maggette has been stellar for a month now. My only criticism from Monday is that his first shot of the game was a long jumper. He needs to get in the flow, drive and get to the line a few times before seeing how that jumper feels. Even though he’s been shooting at an incredible rate, the long-range jumper is not his strength, unless he’s running super hot.
— Biedrins had five fouls and only three rebounds in 13 scoreless minutes. A least a couple of the fouls were questionable at best. I heard Bob Fitzgerald earlier in the day on KNBR say he’s talked to officials who admit making bad calls against Biedrins for some reason more often than on other players. For the most part, Biedrins goes straight up when defending in the post but gets plowed into and gets called for the foul. At some point, officials have to realize their mistakes and stop calling in for phantom fouls.
— Speaking of post defense, how are you supposed to defend against guys like Shaq and LeBron, who just bully their way to the basket, backing down and running over any defender who gets in their way without ever being called for an offensive foul?
— I guess we can ask Chris Hunter, who had one of two “welcome to the NBA” moments for former D-Leaguers on Monday. Once when Shaq was shoving Hunter under the basket, the Warriors’ backup center gave way, allowed Shaq to take a short one-handed shot and met the big man with heavy legs at the top of his shot and blocked it, setting up a fastbreak. Martin, meanwhile, not only guarded LeBron in his first NBA game of the year but also knocked down a 3-pointer over King James from the top of the key in the second quarter.
— Did Anthony Morrow play?
— Is there a more clumsy looking player in the NBA than Zydrunas Ilgauskas? But who would have thought that at this point in their careers, Ilgauskas is actually more agile and effective than Shaq, who four minutes into the game didn’t even bother trying to get up and down the court except in dead-ball situations. Shaq, who spends as much time above the 3-point line as he does on the block, couldn’t play for the Warriors at this stage of his career because he can’t run on the break and can’t get back on defense. Well, not getting back on defense would actually fit in.
— As if turning 40 in September wasn’t bad enough, it makes me feel really old when I see how done Shaq is at the young age of 37. Throw in the fact that he’s the last player from his draft class of 1992 still in the league and I feel ancient — kind of like how Shaq looks.
— Ellis got called for a technical when he slammed the basket support after a no-call on one of his drives to the hoop where he thought he was fouled. It’s been this way all year as Ellis, who leads the league in points in the paint because of his frequent drives to the basket, doesn’t get the same kinds of calls as other top players. How long before he earns a little respect from the officials? In fact, of the top nine scorers in the league, Ellis is the only one averaging fewer than five made free throws per game.
— Up next: the seven-game homestand continues Wednesday against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, followed by games against the Bucks and Bulls.Which team presents the biggest match-up problems for the Warriors?(polls)