The Larry O’Brien trophy was in the building. Protocol and scheduling was distributed in case of a ceremony. History was on the line for the Warriors — not just a championship, but perfection — earning the status of greatest team of all-time.
Golden State may win the championship, but they won’t get perfection.
There’s a reason why no team — not the ’96 Bulls, not the ’72 Lakers — has gone undefeated in the postseason, no matter how great they are: It’s hard.
The 2017 Warriors are likely be one of the greatest squads ever assembled, but it won’t be perfect. Not after a 137-116 drubbing in Game 4 in which Golden State had no answer for the Cavaliers offensive explosion that shattered multiple NBA Finals records.
The Cavaliers dropped 49 points on the Warriors in the first quarter and 86 in the first half. They knocked down 13 3-pointers in the first two quarters and 24 in the game. All were Finals records, as were the 154 points the two teams combined to score in the first half.
Klay Thompson said:
“They blitzed us. They had almost 50 points. That’s ridiculous. Eighty-six in a half, you have to get that down to 50 or 60. If you give a team that kind of confidence in their own building, it’s like a snowball effect.”
Shaun Livingston added:
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it in my three years here.”
To put Cleveland’s offensive tirade into perspective, Golden State dropped 68 points in the first half and still trailed by 18. The Cavaliers shot 60 percent from the field, with Kyrie Irving going off for 28 first-half points.
A Warriors’ 12-2 spurt in the first quarter put just a small dent into the Cavaliers’ torrid start. The Cavaliers were the beneficiaries of the referees’ whistles throughout the night, as Cleveland shot 22 free throws in the first quarter alone.
After being asked about the officiating, Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr simply responded:
He did elaborate on what he thought went wrong:
“Our defense was not sharp. They made tough shots. They got it rolling. I think the biggest thing, though, was they brought a level of physicality that we did not match. We have to do a better job of that.”
With the Warriors in early foul trouble, Draymond Green said it kept them from being more aggressive:
“You’ve got to give them credit, they were aggressive. But when everyone has two fouls, it’s hard to match their physicality.”
Irving finished with 40 points, while James had a triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Kevin Durant paced there Warriors with 35 points, but received little support. Stephen Curry had just 14 points on 2-of-8 from 3-point range.
It was the Warriors’ first loss since April 10. Curry said:
“Obviously, we haven’t felt this feeling walking off the court with a loss in a while, but we have done a good job of bouncing back and being resilient all year.”
The fourth quarter began with the Warriors trailing 115-96. An 8-0 run cut the deficit to 11, but Irving responded with five quick points and the Warriors could not put together another spurt.
The game devolved into a circus in the third quarter on what had to be a forgettable night for the officials. The Cavaliers extended their lead to 21 two minutes in, and broke the century mark midway through.
LeBron James threw a lob off the glass to himself and dunked it like it was an All-Star Game. Then a jawing James and Durant got into an argument near the benches, earning both technicals.
But the crowd exalted most in a technical foul assessed to Draymond Green. Though originally thought to be his second technical — warranting an automatic ejection — the officials determined an earlier technical foul was actually to be given to Steve Kerr.
To some players, like Livingston, it felt like the referees had lost control:
“That was the thing I was trying to relay to the refs was to try to get the game under control, because there was a lot going on. It was taking away from the game of basketball.”
Green loved the attention, though. He clapped at the fans — who chanted, “Draymond sucks” all game — and made a gesturing motion with his hands.
A peppy Green did not hold back when asked about the chant after the game:
“I don’t pay much attention to anybody in Cleveland, obviously. They don’t seem to be the sharpest people around.”
And he also said he appreciated it:
“It shows me how important I am to them. They be thinking about me. If you’re coming to the game chanting at me, you’re at home thinking about me. So shoutout to them. I appreciate the love.”
As the officials debated the call, players on both benches chirped at each other and the crowd worked itself into a frenzy, pointing and shouting as the Jumbotron replayed the incident over and over. But Green could be seen just lounging on the far end of his bench, arm draped across multiple empty chairs as he sat peacefully.
It might have been the only time in the game that he was calm, but it’s what he and the Warriors need to do in Game 5: Forget about the chaos that was Game 4, and take care of business at home, as Thompson noted when asked about the perfect postseason slipping away:
“You can’t hold on to it. It’s gone. 16-1 sounds pretty damn good anyway. Forget about that undefeated talk. It’s time to put on a show for our fans in Oakland and the rest of the Bay. Try to close out at Oracle.”
“I’ve won one on the road. Want to see what it’s like to win it at home.”
Game 5 is Monday at 6 p.m. at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
The Warriors had won their last 31 of their last 32 games coming into the game … Entering Friday, teams up 3-0 in a series had completed the sweep 62 percent of the time … The Warriors were also the last team to fail to complete a sweep, losing to the Rockets in Game 4 of the 2015 conference finals … James recorded his ninth triple-double in his Finals career, passings Magic Johnson for most in Finals history … Mike Callahan, Marc Davis and John Goble were the officials.