Warriors downplay rout of Cavs, ending losing streak

Scott Howard-Cooper

OAKLAND — Klay Thompson, asked afterward if this was more than just another game, allowed, “To me it was because they had beat us four straight times and that’s never fun when a team has your number for four games, so it felt good to redeem ourselves from the last effort in Cleveland.” But that was it.

That was as far as the Warriors would go to attach special significance to their 126-91 thrashing of the Cleveland Cavaliers at Oracle Arena and as much as Golden State would try to inflate the value of controlling the defending champions for all but a stretch of the second half with the blowout long underway. That was as deep as the Dubs would dig to turn a Monday night in January into some larger statement. That was experience, and reality, talking.

The Warriors were right, of course. Dominating the Cavaliers won’t mean anything if the current best of the West meets the current best of the East in another June matchup that would mean everything, just as the so-called showdowns of past regular seasons had no carryover. Golden State won by 34 in Cleveland on Jan. 18, 2016, and look where that got the Warriors when it mattered most. Their coach, Steve Kerr, was ready with that history lesson right after they won by 35 in Oakland on Jan. 16, 2017.

The thing is, though, it wasn’t just that the Cavaliers had won four in a row in the series. Three of those were in The Finals. In a row, to finish the greatest comeback/collapse ever in the championship series. With two in Oakland, a severe blow to Golden State claims of spirited Oracle as the best home-court advantage in the league. While the flashpoint offense managed all of 89 points in Game 7 with history on the line.

That led into Cavaliers 109, Warriors 108 on Christmas — “the last effort in Cleveland,” Thompson had referenced — and that led into the opportunity for the Cavs to build a five-game winning streak as part of the final scheduled meeting of 2016-17. That might not have been enough to get in Golden State’s head, and if anything the Warriors might have welcomed the chance to be doubted if there was yet another June reunion, maybe doubted more than anytime in what by then would be three full seasons. But losing a huge lead in The Finals and then losing two more within nearly a month would have become a thing, another layer of scrutiny while staring into a very bright spotlight.

But, no. The Warriors insist, with plenty of supporting evidence, they did not need this. They did not have to worry about an opponent getting in their head if the losing streak had continued.

“I think all that stuff is overplayed,” Kerr said. “They beat us last year. They earned it. But I think prior to them winning their three in a row last year we had won, I don’t know, six, seven in a row against them. It’s just the nature of the game. You get two great teams and they’re playing each other over and over again, you’re going to have some swings in momentum, some streaks or whatever. But I don’t really buy into that. I know last year we beat them in Cleveland in January by a lot and everybody counted them out and said we were in their heads, and they won the whole thing. So I don’t pay too much attention to what everybody else is saying.”

It was six in a row, from 2010-11 to 2013-14.

“We beat them twice last year in the regular season, and you know what the story is,” Thompson said, understanding everyone knows the story about a 3-1 Finals lead going poof into a 4-3 defeat. “Maybe if we would have lost by 30, maybe. But I think we’re a really mentally tough team and we realize that we still have a long way to go. I don’t think it would have affected us.”

“I don’t really think it’s about losing the last four that you want to win this game,” Draymond Green said after contributing 11 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and five blocks. “This is a competitive game, a fun game to play in. Regardless if LeBron (James) thinks it’s a rivalry or not, I know he wants to beat us and we want to beat them, and that’s enough in itself. You see each other two times a year. You want to beat each other. Then obviously if you’re fortunate enough to make it to the NBA Finals like the last two years you see each other again. But it wasn’t really about, ‘Aw, we lost three times in a row and then lost another one.’ That really doesn’t resonate in anyone’s head. You’re just thinking about that game and what you wanted to accomplish in that game.”

The Warriors have the best record in the league, 35-6, and the right perspective. This was the Cavaliers, all right, but this was also January. Nothing that happened will impact in June if there is a third consecutive Finals matchup. That’s experience, and reality, talking.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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