The Warriors, from the opening tip, played the game at the uptempo pace they desire and exfoliated the Cavaliers, 132-98, Monday night in Cleveland.
The same Warriors last month played at the slower, more deliberate pace the Cavaliers desire – and still won, 89-83.
They now have swept both regular-season games against the team they beat four times in six games to win the NBA Finals last June. Cleveland was missing two All-Stars in that series, but had both in the games this season.
The final argument has been submitted. The verdict is in. And in the court of the NBA, the results find the Warriors guilty of being decisively superior to Cleveland, regardless of the health of the Cavs.
Yet the lead counsel for the Warriors, forward Draymond Green, claimed, properly, that this game was more about the Warriors finding themselves than proving themselves.
“Like we said at the beginning of the year, we won the championship,” Green said. “People can say what they want. That’s not going to change history. We’re motivated by trying to get another championship, not about what somebody has to say.”
So thorough was the domination that nobody can say anything now – except wow.
“We were obviously pleased with the way our team played,” interim coach Luke Walton said. “The first three quarters, that’s who we know we can be. And that’s kind of what we are, as a coaching staff, always trying to get our players to play at that level. They were absolutely phenomenal tonight.”
It started early, with Stephen Curry doing what MVPs and leaders do, immediately putting his stamp on the game, playing the entire first quarter and scoring 16 of his game-high 35 points as the Warriors improved to an NBA-best 38-4.
This after so much was made earlier in the day about Curry saying – in an utterly fabricated “controversy” – he hoped the visitor’s locker room at Quicken Loans Arena still smelled like the champagne spilled in the championship celebration after Game 6 of The Finals.
“It was just another overreaction to a comment that . . . obviously when I walk into the locker room, the last time I was there we had a trophy, we had champagne, we had goggles, we had a good time,” Curry said. “So the first thing that anybody on our team walks in there, that’s what we’re going to remember. That’s what we’re going to feel. The way I said it was in a sarcastic way, but it is what it is.”
The truth was in the outcome. The Warriors outshot Cleveland (54.1 percent to 48.1), had a light rebounding edge (37-36) and posted a remarkably good 33-8 assists-to-turnover rate. Moreover, they drained 19 of 40 3-pointers (47.5 percent), while the Cavaliers were 7-of-19 (36.8).
“A lot of stuff went right for us tonight. A lot of stuff went right,” Green said. “And just about everything went wrong for them.”
The case for the Cavs was built on the premise of having LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the floor. Only James played all six games of The Finals games, as Irving did not make it past Game 1 and Love did not play at all.
All three were on the court Monday night, and all three were central figures as Cleveland won nine of its past 10 games.
It did not matter. Curry alone outscored the Cleveland trio 35-27 and the Warriors responded splendidly to their ghastly loss Saturday night against the Pistons.
“It was good for us to get kind of hit in the mouth” said Andre Iguodala, who fired in 20 points. “It kind of wakes you up.”
Though a motivated Warriors team put up the kind of video future opponents will have to study in search of solutions, they would say this “message game” was meant not for the Cavaliers (28-11), or anybody else, but for themselves.
“We lost our last one and we wanted to bounce back,” Curry said. “It had nothing to do with Cleveland, though obviously we knew if we played a subpar game they were probably going to beat us.
“This was a great opportunity for us to bounce back and prove a message to ourselves that when we play the way we’re supposed to and get stops and take care of the ball and get open looks, we’re tough to beat.”
The Cavs had no chance in this game, didn’t bother with a whimper or a rally. It was as if the sight of their blood on the floor seconds after tipoff took away their will.
To be sure, they no longer had rumor of a case for superiority. All questions have been answered. It is safe to close the book, to slam it shut.