OAKLAND, Calif. — When it was time for the media to exit the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ locker room before the game, an energetic LeBron James was ready for this Christmas Day showdown against the Golden State Warriors.
“Yeah, let’s get this m—–f—– started!” the four-time MVP screamed.
Few Warriors players hung around in the locker room during pregame availability, which is out of the norm.
“It was a good game,” James said. “Both teams had a hard-fought game. They had a lot of transition points. They kicked our butts in transition. That was basically the tell-tail sign for us in the loss.”
Durant had a team-high 25 points and a game-high five blocks along with seven rebounds. Green produced a triple-double of 12 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He became the sixth player in NBA history to record a triple-double on Christmas.
Thompson supplied 24 points and was 4-of-7 from downtown.
Players from both squads downplayed the significance of this matchup before the contest, but in the opening quarter, it was apparent rather quickly that there was still no love lost between these two powers.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” Thompson said. “They never gave up. Even when we went up nine points with a couple of minutes left, they still fought back and our defense was unbelievable.”
The intensity level was NBA Finals-caliber, and tempers were furious. Durant and Green each picked up first-quarter technical fouls. Durant received his while arguing with an official because he felt he was tackled by JR Smith while shooting a transition 3-pointer.
Moments later, Jose Calderon inadvertently fouled Durant, who was bringing the ball up. Durant appeared to take issue with Calderon’s overly aggressive play. The two exchanged words, prompting officials to blow their whistles and intervene. No penalty was assessed for the minor altercation. James, along with Calderon, pleaded that double techs should have been called, meaning Durant would have been ejected in the first quarter.
Green joined in on the verbal quarrel, but he kept at it too long and earned a tech.
With Stephen Curry out because of a right-ankle sprain, the Cavaliers trapped Durant all game off pick-and-roll action. The plan was to allow others on the Warriors to beat them.
It was a close contest throughout, but Golden State made plays down the stretch.
With less than a minute to go, rookie Jordan Bell outhustled everyone to grab a crucial offensive rebound. He then passed it to Green, who found a wide-open Thompson for the triple that found the bottom of the net to put the Warriors up three with 1:33 remaining.
The crowd erupted.
“Jordan was phenomenal tonight,” Green said. “Helped us win that game.”
But there was one more play for the home team to make.
Cleveland was down three with 26 seconds left on the clock, and James drove hard to the basket with Durant tucked on his side. James exploded for a layup attempt, but Durant managed to stretch his arms out far enough to block the shot, sending the ball out of bounds.
Immediately, Durant signaled for the refs to review the play because it was initially ruled out on the Warriors. After a review, the call was overturned, and that sealed the game for the defending champs.
“Jordan had the biggest [play] of the game. It led to Klay’s 3 and that was the key down the stretch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That changed the whole game. I was thrilled with our defense and our effort. We did make a few mistakes on 3-point shooters, fouled a few of them, let a few of them get free, but Cleveland’s tough and they put a lot of pressure on you and they did have 19 offensive rebounds.”
Defensively, the Warriors were dominant, holding the Cavaliers to 32 percent shooting and posting eight blocks. (Cleveland had none.) James registered 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go with six boards and six assists. Durant guarded James for much of the game, but James wasn’t assigned to Durant.
“I just like guarding my position,” Durant said. “Small forward is supposed to guard small forwards.”
Kevin Love led all scorers with 31 points.
On Jan. 15, the two teams will meet for the final time during the regular season.