Strolling into Cleveland as uncrowned NBA champs, according to trending chatter, after a thorough vanquishing of the potent Nets in Brooklyn, the Warriors on Thursday confronted a deeply profoundly diluted version of the Cavaliers.
On the menu: Easy victory, starters watching the fourth quarter, and then dance on the way to the bus.
But the Cavaliers, stubborn and bold, began smacking some Golden State rump, which forced the Warriors to turn to You Know Who.
Their Chef, Stephen Curry, who pulled them out of the fire and allowed everybody to board the bus to the airport with big smiles and bigger bellies.
Trailing by 13 entering the fourth quarter, the Warriors turned up their defense and turned to watch Curry cook. Back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers cut the deficit to four with 9:44 remaining. Game on. Curry spent the first 11 minutes of the quarter dicing and frying the Cavs, scoring 20 of his game-high 40 points to secure a 104-89 victory at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“We got our butts kicked for three quarters,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Cleveland was fantastic, killing us in the glass, beating us to every loose ball.
“But with Steph on the floor, you always have a chance.”
Curry effectively allowed the Warriors (13-2) to overcome their own lack of urgency, which reasonably could be related to a hangover after the rousing triumph over the championship-contending Nets and the fact that the Cavaliers, mediocre at their best, were without four of their five starters.
Evidence of Warriors complacency was mostly in lack of rebounding. An area that was the most surprising positive element of the first month of the season was dreadful, minus-14 (37-23) through three quarters. Cleveland had a 19-2 edge in second-chance points.
In the fourth, however, the Warriors laid a comprehensive beating on the Cavs, outscoring them 36-8, outrebounding them 11-5 and harassing them into eight turnovers, off which Golden State scored 15 points.
Curry sprinkled the credit among his teammates, specifically those with whom he opened the fourth quarter: Nemanja Bjelica, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee and Otto Porter Jr.
“Our defense. We finally got stops, and turned it into transition,” Curry said. “Otto set two amazing screens to get me free in our half-court offense, but our defense was unreal.”
It was Curry’s presence at both ends – he had two steals and two assists in addition to his scoring – that led the way.
“At this point, you kind of become accustomed to being able to rely on that,” Draymond Green said of his longtime teammate. “But tonight, he was incredible. The way he took the game over in the fourth quarter was amazing. We needed it, every single one of them, because it wasn’t going well for us.”
The Warriors benefitted from Kerr’s rotation experiment in which Curry, who typically plays full first and third quarters and half the second and fourth, now opens and closes every quarter. The rest comes in the middle of each quarter. On this night, he had played only 25 minutes through the first three quarters, making him available for the entire fourth
Curry didn’t need all 12 minutes. When he dropped his final bucket, a layup off a perfect dime from Draymond, the Warriors were up 11 with 1:51 to play. Curry and Green retired to the bench with 1:24 remaining, game in hand.
“We needed him to get going like that, and he did,” Green said of Curry’s successful rescue effort. “And we were able to come out on top. That’s why he is who he is. That’s why he’s the MVP of this league. That’s why he’s been the face of this franchise for years and has led us to so much success.”
On a night when the Warriors lounged for 36 minutes, tempting fate and inviting what would have been a lamentable defeat, they looked helpless until Curry, their one-man emergency plan, splashed onto the scene.
“As amazing as it was, it didn’t shock me,” Kerr said. “Because this is what he does.”