Thompson, Durant lift Warriors over Cavaliers
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant twice got a break from the referees late in Monday’s marquee matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Surely, it wasn’t the first time the eight-time All-Star and 2017 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player has benefitted from superstar treatment.
What made Monday’s nod unusual was it came at the expense of a man with even greater stature, LeBron James.
Klay Thompson broke a late tie with a 3-pointer and Durant protected the lead with two key defensive plays on James to lift the Golden State Warriors to a 99-92 victory over the Cavaliers in what has become their annual Christmas Day showdown.
“It’s Christmas,” Durant said afterward, deflecting the praise he was being given as the game’s chief difference-maker. “So much joy in the arena, and we feed off of that. It’s just fun to be a part of.”
In the teams’ third straight Christmas Day pairing, neither led by more than nine points in the tightly contested rematch of last spring’s NBA Finals, which the Warriors won in five games.
After the Cavaliers rallied from a 90-81 deficit, their largest of the game, into a 92-all tie with 1:59 to go, Warriors rookie Jordan Bell rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Durant. Bell got the ball to Draymond Green, who in turn found Thompson open on the left side for his fourth 3-pointer of the game and a 95-92 lead with 1:33 to go.
“That changed the whole game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Bell’s offensive rebound. “He gave us some great minutes.”
That set the stage for Durant, James and the referees to dictate the outcome.
James went one-one one on Durant on Cleveland’s next two possessions, each time with a chance to narrow the gap to one point.
But the four-time NBA MVP, under heavy defensive pressure, first fumbled the ball over the end line with 1:10 to go, and then, after two Warriors misses, had a driving attempt blocked by Durant, with the ball going out of bounds with 24.5 seconds to go.
On both occasions, James’ plea for a foul fell upon deaf ears.
“I lost it on the left wing. He got me a little bit, but I lost that one,” James admitted of the key turnover, his seventh of the game. “But the one right before the overturn, he fouled me twice. But whatever. What are you going to do about it?”
After Durant’s block, the ball was initially awarded back to the Cavaliers, but the officials reversed themselves after a video review, giving the Warriors an opportunity to ice the game at the free throw line.
Thompson did just that, hitting four straight in the final 18.9 seconds to secure Golden State’s 12th win in its last 13 games and second Christmas victory over the Cavaliers in the last three years.
“The matchups dictate everything for the coaches,” Kerr said of having Durant guard James down the stretch. “He wants to guard him. It just so happens that KD is the right matchup for us, and he wants the job.”
Durant, despite just 8-for-19 shooting, had 25 points to pace the Warriors, who have won six of their last seven at home against the Cavaliers.
Thompson totaled 24 points and Green recorded a 12-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist triple-double for Golden State, which improved to 8-1 without injured Stephen Curry.
Kevin Love had a game-high 31 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who were opening a three-game Western swing.
James was held to 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting. Jae Crowder added 15 points and Dwyane Wade 13.
“We made 15 3’s, but then we shot 13-for-52 (on two-pointers),” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I know Draymond’s a good defender; I know David West uses his hands well; and Durant’s leading the league in blocks. But when we get in the paint, when we get in that area, we have to score around the rim.
“We had some mismatches that we posted and just couldn’t take advantage of. A lot of that was them. They swat, they swing, they claw, they fight.”
The Warriors outshot the Cavaliers 46.3 percent to 31.8 to overcome 15 turnovers and a 45-30 Cleveland advantage on 3-pointers.
Cleveland’s shooting percentage was its worst since making 31.6 in their Christmas visit to Oakland two years ago. The Cavaliers went just 3-for-24 (13 percent) in a 16-point second quarter.
Neither team had led by more than seven points before the Warriors used a 9-2 burst to build their 90-81 advantage with 6:19 to go.
Shaun Livingston, returning from a four-game absence due to a sore right knee, and Durant triggered the run with consecutive dunks. Durant capped it with a 3-pointer.
But true to the competitiveness of the entire night, the Cavaliers countered immediately. Love hit a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-2 run that forged a 92-all tie with 1:59 to go and set up the exciting finish.
NOTES: The Warriors, beaten 96-81 at home by Denver on Friday night, improved to 7-0 this season following a defeat. ... The triple-double was the 20th in Warriors PG Draymond Green’s career and his second straight in the regular season against the Cavaliers, having recorded one in last year’s second meeting in Cleveland. Green averaged a double-double (11.0 points, 10.2 rebounds) against the Cavaliers in last year’s Finals. ... Cavaliers PF Kevin Love had his third 30-point game of the season. He’s had at least 31 points and 18 rebounds in the same game 11 times in his career. It hadn’t happened since 2014, when he was playing for Minnesota against Denver. ... The Cavaliers made 15 3-pointers, extending their franchise-record streak of games with 10 or more to 23. ... The last time the NBA scheduled the same matchup on Christmas three years in a row: Lakers vs. Heat, 2004-06.