CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers have a new leader in the clubhouse for worst loss of the season. And this one will be hard to the top.
Despite Golden State playing without four of its usual starters at the end of an exhausting road trip, the Cavs lost to the Warriors’ B team Friday night, 120-114. It’s Cleveland’s third loss in the last four games and first at home since Dec. 26 against the Brooklyn Nets.
Humiliating. Shameful. Pathetic. baffling ugly Pick an adjective. They are all fit.
The Cavs were unprepared, unmotivated and lifeless. It started from the jump, when the Warriors exploded for 15 points in the first four minutes — and just kept rolling, even with their best players in street clothes.
“We didn’t respect the game. It’s that simple,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said following the loss. “They’ve got champions over there, and we thought some of those guys were out so we were gonna take it lightly and we got what we deserved.”
Following the Warriors’ overtime loss in Boston about 24 hours earlier, coach Steve Kerr sat superstar Stephen Curry along with Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Reserves Andre Iguodala and James Wiseman were also unavailable. Kerr said before tipoff he was playing the long game, trying to juggle his rotation and field a competitive lineup while also getting enough rest and recovery for his high-minute regulars.
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Curry recently returned after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury and logged 43 minutes in Thursday’s loss to Boston.
Those absences seemed to be a break for the Cavs — even though they didn’t have leading scorer Donovan Mitchell because of a groin injury or veteran backup Ricky Rubio, held out for maintenance related to his surgically repaired left knee.
Instead, Cleveland got punked by the undermanned warriors — a group of feisty snipers who shot the lights out.
Building the lead to 20 points in the third quarter, before holding off another signature, too-little-too-late comeback attempt from the Cavs, Golden State — sans nearly everyone — poured in 23 triples. It was just two away from matching a high season. Only four off the franchise record. The Warriors went 23 of 43 from deep, many of them uncontested. The 14 makes in the first half were a season best.
“They’re good basketball players, and if you’re gonna disrespect them, they’re gonna make you pay,” Bickerstaff said. “We came out of the gate soft and disrespectful, and they were out there shooting warmup shots with no contest, no challenges, nobody in their space and they gave us what we deserved.”
Jordan Poole, the only available member of Thursday’s starting group in Boston, led the way. He finished with a game-high 32 points on 10 of 23 from the field and 5 of 12 from beyond the arc in 41 minutes. Ty Jerome added 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting and 3 of 4 from deep, including a timely dagger to push Golden State back in front by seven points after the Cavs had trimmed the lead to just four around the two-minute mark. Donte DiVincenzo finished with 17.
In all, eight warriors made at least one triple. Stephen who? Clay who? Golden State didn’t need the Splash Brothers to overwhelm Cleveland’s disinterested defense.
The Cavs finished with a defensive rating of 122.0, well off their second-ranked season mark. The Warriors led for nearly 43 minutes. There were just seven lead changes and two ties.
“I don’t think we overlooked them. They’re in the league for a reason,” Darius Garland said. “They got it going in the first quarter. When you get going in the first, you get confident, so that leads throughout the entire game and that’s what it was.”
Garland finished with 31 points and 10 assists. Caris LeVert chipped in with 22. Evan Mobley added 17 points and seven rebounds.
“I prepare for every game the same way,” LeVert said. “But I obviously think we didn’t play well. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play. There was a lot of breakdowns defensively, a lot of scouting report miscues, stuff that we don’t normally do. We just didn’t play well at all. They still are champions, and the way they play, they spread the court. They move the ball and shoot a lot of 3s. But we just didn’t really figure it out tonight.”
Prior to the game, Bickerstaff said his team needed to take a professional approach and play to the same standard despite going against a short-handed group.
No way around it. The Cavs failed to meet that standard. Woefully. Embarrassingly.
All Star message
While the Cavaliers have been pushing for Garland to join backcourt mate Mitchell in Salt Lake City for the 2023 NBA All-Star Game, Garland continues to lag behind in the fan voting, which means his All-Star fate will likely be in the hands of NBA coaches who are responsible for choosing the reserves. So, what’s Bickerstaff’s message to his fellow coaches?
“It’s the same as last year: he impacts winning,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s what we value is winning. We want guys to represent the right things and Darius represents all the right things. He’s selfless. He’s a great teammate. He’s a hell of a player, on top of all those things, but he’s what we want players to be as coaches. He’s helping a team win at a level that I think should be recognized.”
The Cavs will host the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Tip off is set for 7:30 pm
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