It was as aesthetically pleasing as a black eye.
As enjoyable to watch as a PBS pledge break.
As fast-paced as a tractor-pull held in quicksand.
For months, since the NBA announced this Christmas Day rematch of last season’s Finals, basketball fans have waited in breathless anticipation for Christmas at Oracle Arena.
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Instead, in the unminced words of several Warriors players, we got “an ugly game.”
How ugly? Start with this: Both teams finished with season-low point totals. For Golden State, it was the first time in 47 regular-season home games the Warriors didn’t crack 100.
When we’re 28-1 and not playing well, just imagine when we are.
Warriors forward Draymond Green
Both teams struggled with their shots. Cleveland, in fact, finished a season-low 31.6 percent from the field and 16.7 percent (5 of 30) from beyond the arc.
Stephen Curry, perhaps hindered by a calf strain that required midgame treatment, was less scintillating than usual. Against the Cavaliers’ trapping defense, Curry attempted just four three-pointers and made one. Same with fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson.
To win their 32nd consecutive home game against their toughest opponent yet in this remarkable start, the Warriors (28-1) needed a new formula. The one they came up with resulted in a rugged, methodical 89-83 victory over the Cavs and LeBron James.
“It shows that if we have to grind it out we will, and if the shot is not falling we can always control how we play on the defensive end,” Thompson said. “That’s what we did tonight. It was an ugly game, but we made the right adjustments and came out with a win.”
32 Consecutive victories for the Warriors at Oracle Arena, dating to last season
Anyone who tuned in to see Curry and Thompson light up the scoreboard, not to mention a healthy Cavs squad with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving alongside James, had to be pretty bummed.
This was a Draymond Green kind of game. The Warriors power forward (and sometimes center) was the best player on the floor as evidenced by his final numbers: 22 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
Green also played superb defense on Love. Despite giving away 3 inches, Green never allowed Love any uncontested shots. Two feet from the rim or 25, it mattered not at all.
Love managed just 10 points while going 5 of 16 from the field. Based on that evidence, it’s hard to make a case Love would’ve made much of a difference last June.
James, of course, was magnificent in last season’s Finals. Friday he looked pretty ordinary (25 points on 10-of-26 shooting), or at least as ordinary as James will ever look.
“Offensively, we just didn’t have it,” he said. “No one had it. Myself, I wasn’t very good offensively – inefficient. That just trickled down to everyone else, and we missed out on a great opportunity.”
I don’t know if you’ll ever see Kyrie (Irving) or myself go 0 for 11 from three ever again.
Cavs forward Kevin Love
It was evident early on, even before the opening tip, that the Warriors would not be lighting anyone up like a Christmas tree.
During pregame warmups, Curry attempted a 360 dunk after passing to himself off the backboard. Clank!
Then when the game started, the refs swallowed their whistles on anything short of assault and battery.
James rocked Andre Iguodala with an elbow to the jaw – no call. Andrew Bogut hammered Love underneath – no call. Matthew Dellavedova clutching and grabbing Curry as they sprinted down court – no call.
It was like the playoffs started five months early.
“It’s good for us,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “These types of games are going to happen in the playoffs, where it’s tough to score and tough to get into that high-flowing offense. It’s great to get that experience.”
I’m really impressed with our defense the last two games.
Warriors interim coach Luke Walton
Golden State led by nine points after one quarter when Curry headed to the locker room to get treatment on his calf.
When Curry finally returned with 5:28 left before halftime – hallelujah, Christmas is saved! – the Cavs had trimmed the deficit to 37-35.
“Long term, nothing serious,” Curry told ABC, much to the Bay Area’s collective relief.
But even Curry, with all his shooting and ballhandling brilliance, couldn’t alter the defensive tone.
The play that best exemplified what took place came in the final 20 seconds. With Cleveland down 85-80 James drove the lane and rose to the hoop.
Standing in the way was Green, who jumped and wrestled the ball away from James while in midair. The play looked clean, but official Scott Foster blew his whistle.
“I’m kind of mad at Scott for calling that foul because I would’ve been in all the highlights,” Green said with a grin. “Maybe I still will be.”
Normally, Warriors highlights are all about offense. Crammed full of flash and dash, fast breaks and transition threes.
Golden State doesn’t have to play beautiful basketball. The Warriors can win ugly, too.
Friday showed us another side. Golden State doesn’t have to play beautiful basketball. The Warriors can win ugly, too.
“That was the style (Cleveland) wanted to play, and they imposed their will on the game,” Green said. “They had the tempo where they wanted it. And for us to win that game it shows we can win any type of game.”
For the rest of the NBA, that realization is as welcome as a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking.