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Cavs' beatdown by Warriors leaves odor that could linger

Cleveland's 132-98 defeat is worst home loss by a LeBron team

POSTED: Jan 19, 2016 2:43 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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— The last time the Golden State Warriors exited Quicken Loans Arena, they left the visitors' dressing room a complete mess and more than a little soggy, what with all the champagne uncorked in there after their championship-clinching Game 6 victory in the 2015 Finals.

So before his team's game Monday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Steph Curry, Golden State's MVP point guard, playfully said he hoped the place still might smell a little sweet and stale, a reminder of all the bubbly.

This time, though, the Warriors bid adieu to the Q and left a different stench in their wake.

This time, the odor was noticeable soon after tipoff on the shiny court. Over the course of 48 game minutes, a 132-98 Golden State triumph, it wafted all the way back into the Cavaliers' dressing room. It was a smell most foul, some mix of manure and blood and sulfur, the sort of thing Robert Duvall's character in "Apocalypse Now" would have inhaled deeply and proclaimed "smells like ... victory." For the visitors, that is.

It was the Cavaliers, the presumptive class of the Eastern Conference, soiling themselves. At home. In a statement game. To a degree heretofore unseen.

Here was a one-game argument for 1-through-16, conference-less playoff seeding, in hopes that the Warriors and the Spurs could meet in the Finals and spare us four out of seven like this.

As a franchise, Cleveland had endured worse home losses before -- but never with LeBron James. This one bottomed out in the biggest deficit of his career (43 points) and ended with the most lopsided losing margin (34). He wound up with a personal-worst of minus-34 -- accomplished in a mere three quarters, because the Cavs' subs actually outscored the Warriors' subs in the backupalooza, meaningless fourth.

"They came in and gave us a good ol' fashioned a-kicking," James said. "They got a little bit of whatever they wanted."

Said Kevin Love, who had an uninvolved three points on 1-of-5 shooting: "We got beat up on our home floor tonight. I think a lot of things went wrong. They're the better team right now."

They came in and gave us a good ol' fashioned a-kicking. They got a little bit of whatever they wanted.

– LeBron James

The Warriors have been the better team five consecutive times now, dating back to Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Finals and including both the Christmas meeting in Oakland and this one. That's not nothing -- even if the Cavaliers want to shrug off its significance and minimize any possible carryover should they face Golden State again in June, there's no guarantee the Warriors will play along. Just because this drubbing doesn't become some psychological hurdle to the Cavs doesn't mean it won't provide a psychological edge to the Warriors.

Golden State rolled out of Cleveland late Monday knowing that it put on a devastating performance, on demand, two nights after its clunker at Detroit. Cleveland knows that, on a big stage with its full cast healthy and accounted for, it froze and forgot its lines. The satisfaction from the Cavs' recently completed 12-day, six-game trip -- they went 5-1 -- already is vapor, and in a lot of ways, they're almost starting over.

"We do understand we've got to get better," James said. "We're 0-3 against the top teams in the West. ... We've got a long way to go.

"We've got to get back to the basics. When you play against teams like this ... you've got to have just a laser-sharp mentality. Both physical and mental. You can't have lulls because they make you pay."

Cleveland coach David Blatt took the blame for his team's absence mentally, calling it a "breakdown" just a couple hours after he had spoken so openly about using the game as a measuring stick. "More than anything else, we have to prove to ourselves that we can play at a consistently high level," the Cavs coach had said. "That's the most important thing."

That's precisely what they failed to do. Golden State attacked with a glee and a freedom that showed either a total disregard for or an unnerving decoding of Cleveland's defense. Draymond Green found cutters, Curry left Kyrie Irving flat-footed to sneak into the lane or off to a corner and Andre Iguodala pestered James thoroughly while outscoring him (20-16) as a bonus.

J.R. Smith got so flummoxed by what was happening that he flattened Harrison Barnes with a pretend-it's-basketball body slam and got ejected shortly after halftime. The rest of the Cavs had to stick around, the starters yanked over the final quarter to spare them the repeated frustrations of the first three.

Postgame: LeBron James

LeBron James talks to the media after Monday's disappointing loss to Golden State.

By the way, as Curry so slyly noted, the Warriors' dressing room this time smelled like Morton's, thanks to postgame catering from the upscale steakhouse. They'll leave it to the Cavs to find something "disrespectful" about that remark, after reportedly having that reaction to his champagne remark heading into Monday's game.

Disrespectful? Disrespectful is playing the way the Cavaliers did start to unofficial finish Monday. Disrespectful is giving up 70 points and 65 percent shooting in the first half to any visiting team, never mind the one you're so desperate to beat. Disrespectful is huddling at halftime after 24 minutes of fail, presumably enduring a self-flagellating intermission, and then gaffing away your first two possession of the third quarter on a turnover and an airballed 3-pointer.

The Warriors outscored them 9-0 in the first 87 seconds of the second half.

"There's nothing to say," James said, when asked if he had aired out his teammates for the stink bomb outing. "It's easy to say something when it's bad. For me, I like to get on us when we're doing well, to try to keep us focused. I'm not a kick-a-man-when-you're-down type of guy."

While James and the Cavs weren't inclined to overreact, they had no assurance Golden State wouldn't bookmark Monday's game as a confidence booster for June. Remember how Doc Rivers hid money in the ceiling at Staples Center several years ago, confident that his Celtics team would get back to L.A. for the Finals?

The Warriors could have stashed their goggles somewhere in their locker room at the Q and nary a soul could have blamed them.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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