Quicken Arena on Sunday. (Jacob C. Palmer/S.F. Examiner)

Kyrie Irving, Cavs teach the Warriors a lesson on Christmas

CLEVELAND — The best active rivalry in pro sports lived up to its billing on Sunday. The problem for Golden State Warriors fans: the ending had an all-too familiar feel.

In the 2016 NBA Finals, the Dubs and Cleveland Cavaliers played seven games to a score of 703-699. So, it’s fitting the next game they played each other was decided by the slimmest of margins.

Playing on Christmas Day for the second-straight year, the rivalry didn’t disappoint as Golden State and Cleveland played a tight game in front of a raucous crowd in Quicken Loans Arena. Unlike yesteryear, the Cavs emerged victorious from the back-and-forth affair, 109-108.

Or, as several members of the Warriors coined it, a lesson learned.

“I thought we had everything going our way and we didn’t execute and we let it slip away,” head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “We’ve got a lot to learn from that game, and I’m happy about that.”

The game had dunks that could be classified as downright rude: It was Kevin Durant on Kevin Love in the first half, and Richard Jefferson on Durant and then Klay Thompson in the second. It had swings where each fan base felt the referees were out to get them. And in the end, there were shades of the NBA Finals as the Warriors weren’t able to turn a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter into a win.

“We’re mad, man,” Klay Thompson said. “The way we lost that game, we gave them a gift, shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Thompson and Durant led the way for the Warriors, scoring 36 and 24 points, respectively.

With about four minutes remaining in the game, Tyronn Lue drew up a play out of a timeout to spring LeBron James for a dunk to bring the Cavs within two. After back-to-back empty possessions for the Warriors, Kyrie Irving took Durant off the dribble and finished at the rim to tie the game, 103-103.

On Cleveland’s next turn with the ball — following a missed midrange jumper by Durant — Irving found a cutting James who slammed the ball to give the Cavs their first lead of the game since midway through the first quarter.

The Warriors logged just 14 points over the last nine minutes. Jefferson, who — along with Irving — played better as the game went on, had his own theory of how to slow the highest-scoring team in the NBA.

“A lot of prayers and Christmas magic,” he joked. “Somebody behaved theirselves, somebody was on the nice list.

“No, seriously, all kidding aside, just being on the nice list with Santa is something that is probably the most important aspect to trying to keep those boys down.”

After Irving made a twisting layup to bring the Cavs within a point, Thompson connected on a corner 3-pointer on the next possession. The problem was that it came well after the shot clock had expired, setting up another potentially legendary game-ending possession.

And as he did in Game 7 at Oracle Arena in June, Irving delivered. This time it was off of a turn-around jumper from about 10 feet out over Thompson.

“He just made huge plays and that last shot was vintage Kyrie,” Love said. “He’s our go-to fourth quarter guy.”

With a little more than three seconds remaining, the Dubs inbounded the ball to Durant, who lost his balance and wildly threw the ball at the basket as the final seconds ran off the clock, sealing Cleveland’s fourth-straight win over its rival.

“I was trying to make a move and I fell, and I didn’t fall on my own,” Durant said, referring to Jefferson stepping on his shoe as he caught the ball.

It wasn’t the last play of the game that cost the Warriors the game, that would be better attributed to the 21 points they allowed off 20 turnovers. And Kerr was grateful his team was humbled, even if it stung in the short term.

“We should’ve won that game,” Durant said. “We had that game in our hands. But nobody’s sobbing in the locker room. We’ll move on.”
Now all that is left is the inevitable over-analysis of one game in December.

———————

Draymond plugs LeBron’s company

Draymond Green was in no mood to talk to the media after the game.

He answered a question about what happened in the final minutes of the game, saying the Warriors will learn a lesson about not turning the ball over and making better decisions, and then warned the assembled reporters he wasn’t going to answer any more questions.

“Everything else I have to say about this game won’t be said right now,” he warned. “So that’s really all I’ve got to say. Y’all got something else?”

He was asked two more questions but repeated that he won’t be elaborating at this point. Then he said he plans on clearing up how he feels about the game on Uninterrupted, LeBron James’ multimedia platform that allows athletes to speak directly to fans.
You can reach Jacob C. Palmer via email at jpalmer@sfexaminer.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.

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