The Warriors at the right time ran into the right team, which just happened to employ the wrong man.
And the wrong man was on a mission.
LeBron James flexed his muscle, flashed his speed and exhibited just enough finesse Thursday night, huffing and puffing and blowing the Warriors off the court.
The Warriors limped out of Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena after a 110-99 loss to LeBron, who was kind enough to share his bounty with the rest of the Cavaliers.
The Warriors still believe they're the best team in the NBA, and they still can present a record (44-11) as evidence. But this is the second time in two marquee road inter-conference games this month that resulted in them licking their wounds.
James made sure of that. In the NBA spotlight game, on national TV, with Stephen Curry entering as an MVP favorite, LeBron went out and scored a season-high 42 points. It was the equivalent of shouting into a megaphone: Don’t forget about me!"
"We fought hard," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We competed. We just didn't play our best. And when you play one of the best teams in the league on their home floor and LeBron goes nuts like he did, you've got to be at your best."
[POOLE: LeBron scores knockdown in MVP race]
James charged out immediately, scoring 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting in nine first-quarter minutes. While the Warriors held his teammates to 40.4 percent shooting, James did not let up.
"You could see it from the beginning of the game, what his mission was," Curry said. "It was to try and be aggressive. He wasn't really looking to pass. It was just get to the rack and look for his shot. He got a rhythm early, which just kind of snowballed into the game that he had."
Draymond Green was one of four defenders – along with Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson – assigned to James. None was successful.
"We played great defense on him," Green said. "HB did a great job. Andre did a tremendous job. But once he gets going, that's why is arguably, probably the best player in the world. Once he gets going, he's tough to stop – especially when he's (making those) jump shots, contested jump shots, step-back jump shots. Those are the shots you want him taking. When he's hitting them, it's tough to stop."
In playing perhaps his best game of the season, James made a mockery of the battle of superstars. Curry, playing one of his worst, scored with 18 points on 5-of-17 shooting. He had six assists and four turnovers.
Outscoring the Splash Brothers 42-31, James ran right up on Curry's heels in the MVP debate.
"Well, I hope it's not based on this game," Curry said of the MVP race. "If I'm playing one-on-one against him, just look at tonight. I lost, obviously."
The Cavaliers (37-22) became the second Eastern Conference power to throttle the Warriors this month, as they lost to the conference-leading Hawks on Feb. 6 in Atlanta.
Both losses can only be taken as learning experiences, though there was little in common. In Atlanta, where the Warriors lost by eight (124-116), they were unable to effectively defend a team with five mobile shooters.
In Cleveland, they were unable to contain James. Period.
"We're coming in to play the hottest team on the league on their floor, and the best player on the planet for the last five years has a huge night on us," Kerr said. "It's going to be tough to win.
"I don't look at this as a plague or anything that's consistent. It's just part of the grind of the season."
David Lee was the offensive star, scoring a team-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting over 21 minutes.
Iguodala, in 30 minutes off the bench, did his usual tap-dance on the stat line: 9 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
The Warriors were outrebounded (51-42) for the sixth consecutive game.
The Splash Brothers combined for 10-of-30 shooting. Curry was 5-of-17, Thompson 5-of-13.
Green's 3-point shot was fruitless. He missed all four he took.
The Warriors on Thursday were facing a force of nature in James, and once his jumper started to drop there was little defending him. They did a terrific job on his teammates and still lost. That's a strategy the Warriors might try again if these teams meet in the postseason.
As for losing two big road games, it's not catastrophic. It's food for the skeptic and gives the coaching staff plenty of ammunition to fire in upcoming practices. The Warriors may have the best record in the league, but this was a reminder that having the best record guarantees nothing.