They’ll surely remember the officiating, often suspect and sometimes awful.
They’ll realize that Kevin Durant did his part, submitting a monster game to offset the varied and wondrously complete game thrown at them by LeBron James.
What the Warriors should take with them, above all else, is the discomfort and introspection that comes with blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
This one is on the Warriors, who have no choice but to eat this 109-108 defeat to the Cavaliers on Christmas Day in Cleveland. Swallow it whole, and let it sit like a rock in their collective gut for the next three weeks.
For not until Jan. 16 in Oakland will the Warriors have another chance to prove that losing to the Cavaliers four consecutive times, under the brightest of spotlights, is not indicative of a trend or a pattern or, even worse, a psychological disadvantage.
Until then, it’s regrets across the board.
“We had a chance to put them away, for sure,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We had that game in our hands,” said Durant, who posted 36 points and 15 rebounds.
“The way we lost that game . . . you’d better be mad,” said Klay Thompson, who scored 24 points. “I don’t care if it’s Christmas Day or any game you lose, any time you blow a 13-point lead that has to piss you off.”
The Warriors were undone by the usual culprit: turnovers. They committed 20, leading to 21 Cleveland points.
Moreover, the Warriors over the final 8:29 blew a 13-point lead (95-82) by committing six giveaways, which the Cavs turned into 10 points, greatly aiding a 27-13 closing run that overtook the visitors.
“Timely turnovers got us tonight,” Durant said.
“Too many turnovers,” Kerr said. “We had control of the game and we did not execute at all in the fourth quarter.”
“Control” might be a bit strong, but the Warriors had put themselves in great position. Durant was dealing, as was Klay Thompson, who finished with 24 points. They were defending at championship level.
They trailed for a total of 27 seconds (in the first quarter) until the fourth-quarter collapse punctuated by Kyrie Irving’s 13-foot fadeaway over Thompson’s tight coverage with 3.4 seconds remaining.
The Warriors went down with Durant, whose attempt to put up a buzzer-beater was foiled when Cavs veteran Richard Jefferson stuck out his right knee and plopped his right foot atop Durant’s foot, sending Durant sprawling.
“I was trying to make a move and fell,” Durant said. “And I didn’t fall on my own.”
No whistle, only a buzzer signaling dejection.
The Warriors (27-5) can point to the missed calls, including James dunking and hanging on the rim for several seconds without being called for a technical foul. They can point to Jefferson’s illegal rump bump on Curry and say there should have been a foul.
But when a team with championship aspirations gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead, it also must examine its empty possessions, including a stunning shot-clock violation with 13.5 seconds remaining – knowing it would be its last full possession of the game.
“We did some good things, offensively, and then there were times when we did not handle the pressure well,” Kerr said, crediting the Cleveland defense. “The 20 turnovers . . . a lot of them early were not even due to the pressure. It was more just decision-making. Like, around the back passes in the paint and silly plays. We have to make simple plays and we talk about that all of the time. But, we have to make it more of a habit.”
Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving once again outplayed Stephen Curry, and if this becomes a habit, the Warriors will continue to have a problem with the Cavs – no matter what James does.
The Warriors lost this one as much as the Cavs (23-6) came and took it, as happened in Games 5, 6 and 7 of The Finals. In two of those games, the Warriors lost fourth-quarter leads. Neither, however, was as sizable that which evaporated Sunday.
Cleveland’s comeback was the largest against the Warriors this season – and larger than any they endured en route to winning an NBA-record 73 games last season.
“It will be quite valuable for us to look at that tape because we know we let it slip away,” Kerr said.