The guard tandem of J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving shot the Cavaliers' way into contention for as long as they could, but ultimately their efforts weren't enough as the Warriors pulled away late for a 112-94 victory Friday night in Oakland.
Despite passing his physical mere hours before the game started, Timofey Mozgov suited up and made his Cleveland Cavaliers debut. For being completely unfamiliar with his teammates and the game plan, the 28-year-old Russian had a very nice debut, playing 26 minutes, scoring nine points, pulling down eight rebounds (including five offensive boards) and providing a bit of that rim protection the Cavs have been sorely lacking.
The other active newcomer, J.R. Smith, also had a solid night, scoring 27 points (including 12 in the first quarter alone) on 11-of-23 shooting in his second game in a Cavaliers uniform. He showed himself to be a willing passer, despite an assumed lack of familiarity with playcalls and schemes, and was able to break down defenders one-on-one in lieu of that. He played 42 minutes, while Kyrie Irving (who finished with 23 points) played over 40. If those two weren't generating offense, offense wasn't getting generated; by the time the final quarter rolled around, Golden State clamped down and the two combined to go 3-of-9 from the field with two turnovers.
Despite the Cavs' unfamiliarity with one another and make-it-up-on-the-fly offense, they were down just five points halfway through the fourth quarter. Several things contributed to the Warriors pulling away late: Tristan Thompson split the back ends of a pair of trips to the line; shots stopped falling for J.R.; Curry and Klay Thompson drew fouls and converted their foul shots; and Draymond Green, who entered the fourth quarter shooting just 2-for-10 from the field, finally started hitting shots.
Green was a thorn in the Cavs' side the entire night. Despite the fact that he had more shots than points, he pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out eight assists and played terrific defense on whoever he was matched up with. He was especially physical with Kevin Love, who still finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but repeatedly looked for whistles that never came.
The other big advantage for Golden State was getting out and running in transition -- they won the fastbreak points battle 36-3, a staggering discrepancy, especially for a Cavs team dominated by guard play. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson each maneuvered their way through the chaos of transition basketball to get in position to shoot threes, and when they weren't getting looks from outside, Green, Harrison Barnes and Justin Holiday were getting looks at the basket.
Despite the loss, there were encouraging signs. The frontcourt pairings of Mozgov-Love, Mozgov-Thompson and Thompson-Love are each intriguing for their own reasons and can be employed as necessary. It was nice seeing a big body clog things up in the middle for opponents. J.R. Smith showed some of what once made him the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. And while everyone struggles to defend the Warriors guards, who are pretty, pretty good at basketball, Iman Shumpert will help the Cavs' struggles on the perimeter.
The Cavs stay in northern California until Sunday night, when they head to Sacramento to face the rapidly deconstructing Kings in what could be the team's most winnable game of the road trip, outside of the visit to Staples to take on the Lakers.