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The Cavaliers Could Not Spoil Klay Thompson’s Long-Awaited Return

The Cavaliers had the unfortunate task of playing Golden State on Klay Day and failed to overcome the emotional, playoff-life environment.

The Cleveland Cavaliers endured an evening like no other on Sunday night. Generally, regular-season matchups in January receive minimal attention and are rather run of the mill. However, the environment in San Francisco’s Chase Center could only be compared to that of a wild playoff game. After 941 days, almost two-and-a-half years, and two full seasons sidelined by two leg injuries, the beloved second splash-bro, Klay Thompson, returned to NBA action.

“It felt like a Finals game,” Jarrett Allen said. “Everything the Warriors did, they got a big cheer from the crowd… they have great fans here, and they’re going to make the game intense. We looked at the moment… and we shied away from it, we didn’t play to who we are, we kind of played timidly.”

The amount of hype and attention given to this regular-season game extended beyond the confines of national attention into genuine worldwide interest. Consequently, the relatively young, untested Cavaliers were thrown into a storm and setting only a few of their players had experienced before. Nonetheless, the Cavs’ needed to overlook the uniqueness of this night and focus on beating a very talented team on the road. And, for the most part, they did just that to start.

The Cavaliers Could Not Contain Curry

To begin with, Klay Thompson opened up the scoring with a crafty floater over Jarrett Allen. As a result, Chase Center erupted with an emotional, long-lasting applause. That said, the other Splash Bro, Steph Curry, punished the Cavs weak perimeter defense. Moreover, before the first quarter ended, Curry made four three-pointers and scored 14 of their first 20 points. On the other end, Cleveland held the game within reach thanks to hot starts from Darius Garland and Allen.

However, turnovers quickly became the major issue for the Cavs. As the best defense in the NBA, the Warriors caused five first-quarter turnovers. Cleveland did end the quarter on a 6-0 run courtesy of rookie Evan Mobley physically breaking the Warriors down low. Bodying the smaller Warriors should have been the theme throughout the night. Instead, Kevon Looney successfully outrebounded and out-efforted Jarret Allen and his rookie teammate. In fact, Looney came down with 18 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive end, while Allen and Mobley combined for just 13 of them.

“First and foremost, I’m going to take responsibility for that,” Jarrett Allen conceded after a disappointing night on the glass. “For me, it’s one of those things you look at and say it can never happen again… it’s an effort thing on my end.”

Turnovers Override the Cavaliers’ Strong Defense

By halftime, the momentum and energy seemingly pointed towards a blowout. Conversely, statistics portrayed a half dominated by stifling defense. The Cavs trailed by just five points at halftime, but they should have, if not, easily could have been winning. Their defense held the Warriors’ lethal offense to just 37% from the field and 25.9% from deep. However, the shot discrepancy between the two teams made the difference. Golden State fired up 12 more field goal attempts, 15 more three-point attempts (four more makes), and scored 11 more second-chance points.

Therefore, the Cavaliers shot themselves in the foot by giving Golden State extra opportunities and squandering their own through silly turnovers. Furthermore, their first-half shooting was only 3.3% lower than their season average of 46.2% from the field. Cleveland’s leading scorer at the half was Lamar Stevens with 13 points and a perfect 6/6 from the field. Steph Curry led the Warriors with 18 points on 50% shooting from the field and beyond the arc.

The Warriors Continue Dominating 3rd Quarters

Since this dynasty began, Golden State’s impeccable 3rd quarter performances separate them from others. And the same could be said for Sunday as well. In a devastating period where the Warriors doubled the Cavaliers in scoring (28-14), the lead ballooned to 24 points at one point. Specifically, the damage came from none other than the “greatest shooting duo in NBA history.” Finally together again, Curry and Thompson combined for 15 points on 6/8 FG shooting.

His first three back from injury highlighted Thompson’s 7 point quarter. Additionally, by doing so, the 3x champion reached 12,000 career points. Similarly, Curry’s 8 point quarter also came with 3 assists and a steal. As a brief summary for the entire game, Curry also secured two offensive rebounds that quarter. That simply should not ever happen. However, that is just how this game went. Golden State somehow recorded 22 offensive rebounds (54 total), while Cleveland recorded just 8 (42 total). 

By the quarter’s end, the Cavaliers trailed by 19 points. Although a 15-4 4th quarter run brought that lead to just 10 at some points, the Warriors would not let their lead entirely slip. Rajon Rondo put on another shooting display in the fourth, attempting to bring the game within reach. Moreover, Rondo’s final period included 13 points on 5/6 field-goal shooting (3/3 from deep) and 3 rebounds. 

Cavaliers Schedule Ahead

Nevertheless, the Warriors’ stifling defense proved too much for a final stanza comeback. With a shockingly low final score of 96-82, the Cavs’ can keep their heads high defensively. However, they must control the basketball better. By not securing rebounds, thereby allowing teams second-chance opportunities, and by making sloppy, ill-advised decisions with the ball, the Cavs will not be winning anytime soon.

That said, their opponent’s strength drops significantly on Monday night when they play the Sacramento Kings. In their last meeting, the Cavs came out on top by a score of 117-103. They’ll need to make a quick turnaround from Sunday’s debacle to sweep their season series against the Kings. 

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