By Rob Johnson
Special to S.F. Examiner
CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors’ fourth stop of a season-long five-game road trip pitted them in a NBA Finals rematch against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors haven’t faced the Cavs since they hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy on Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena’s court, but the Cleveland team Golden State faced on Wednesday was a far cry from the team that the Warriors have played for the title each of the past four postseasons.
With the departure of LeBron James, the Cavaliers have gone from a Finals fixture to a rebuilding NBA lottery team, one Golden State beat on Wednesday, 129-105, but not without difficulty.
“It’s a different team and a different cast of characters,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “I thought they competed really hard. In the first half, they knocked down shots. They controlled the whole half and totally outplayed us. Our talent took over in the second half, but I thought they did a really good job.”
Despite their lack of talent, there was a nostalgic NBA Finals competitiveness right from the tip on the Cavs side, as they got off to a fast 12-2 start led by Rodney Hood, who had 11 points in the first quarter.
After a timeout, Hood’s performance was upstaged by Stephen Curry, who, in his third game back since a three-week absence due to injury, scored 16-points in the opening period, going 4-5 from 3-point range, to pull the Warriors ahead 31-25 at the end of the first.
Just as the Warriors started to show signs off pulling away, the Cavs would answer back, and took a 64-58 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, Curry went 5-for-5 beyond the 3-point arc, as Golden State out-scored Cleveland 37-22 in the third quarter and 34-19 in the fourth. The two-time NBA MVP finished with a game-high 42-points, going 9-for-14 from distance. Since his return, he’s averaging 33.0 points per a game.
“He’s (Curry) out with an injury and comes back and starts lighting it up right away,” Kerr said. “The guy keeps himself in amazing shape all season. It’s pretty rare, but Steph is rare in general … at everything he does.”
Curry had to score to keep the Warriors in the game, as Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant had a combined 16 points at half. The two were unnoticeable until Durant — the back-to-back Finals MVP— turned it on in the third quarter. He added 15 points in the period, including a forty-foot 3-pointer that called to mind his dagger threes that helped nail down Golden State’s previous two titles.
“Just walking into this arena, always gives you a nice feeling coming in here because we had some battles here,” said Durant. “Yeah it’s different. Obviously it’s different. They don’t have a championship caliber team, but they have a young team that is coming up.”