A big chunk of the NBA world has been talking about the Cavs/Warriors Christmas Day matchup. Do the Cavs suddenly own the Warriors?
Yes, the Cavaliers pulled off a big-time comeback win over the Warriors on Christmas Day. Cleveland trailed most of the way despite holding the Warriors largely in check for most of the game, and then Kyrie Irving exploded into a supernova. The game felt a little bit like Game 7 last year as neither team was able to break out for a huge quarter and each time Golden State pushed ahead, Cleveland battled back.
Somewhere in the fray, Richard Jefferson did the basketball equivalent of putting a dog turd in Klay Thompson's stocking.
"Getting dunked on" must have been on Klay's letter to Santa.
It was a fun game. It was an intense game. It was a game full of shake-your-head "dang these guys are good" moments. But there's a lingering question here.
Did this game mean anything for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
You know what? Yes, it did mean something for the Cavs. It's tempting to say that it didn't because getting throttled by 33 in Game 2 of the Finals ultimately didn't mean much last year. Furthermore, both teams will make adjustments in the event that they meet in the Finals again this year.
However, while confidence against a "superteam" is impossible to measure, but it sure seems important. The majority of guys on the Cavaliers roster have now beaten the Warriors four times in a row and have won five out of their last six match-ups. That puts an extra pep in your step. The outcome of last year's Finals undoubtedly played a part on Christmas day because the Cavs never look at Golden State the way a cow might look at an oncoming 18 wheeler. Other teams get that look vs. Golden State. Cleveland doesn't anymore.
The Cavs also exploited the small weaknesses that the Warriors have. The knock on the Ws last year was that you had to beat them by crashing the boards and getting inside. Then they swapped Andrew Bogut for Zaza Pachulia. The result on the 25th was the Cavs grabbing 18 offensive rebounds with LeBron and Tristan Thompson combining for 11 of them. It didn't seem to matter that the Cavs shot just 39% because they took 18 more shots than Golden State.
The other "trick" to beating Golden State is to take care of the ball. Kyrie managed seven steals in this one, which was only a chunk of the 19 turnovers for Golden State vs. the 12 committed by Cleveland. That's a huge difference.
The final piece of the confidence equation is that we have to start considering that Kyrie just has Steph Curry's number*. Irving didn't have an incredible game but take a look at the side-by-side lines for the two guards.
Curry: 37 minutes, 15 points, three boards, three assists, three steals, three turnovers, 4-11 shooting, 2-7 from deep (5-6 from FT line)
Irving: 44 minutes, 25 points, six boards, 10 assists, seven steals, two turnovers, 11-27 shooting, 2-5 from deep (1-1 from FT line)
Those are staggeringly different numbers. On the one hand, Curry might've realized his shot was off and thus stopped shooting, whereas Irving kept after it. On the other hand, even if the shot wasn't as good as usual, Kyrie had a huge effect on other parts of the game. For whatever reason, Curry has been held in check against the Cavaliers for the majority of their last several meetings (you might recall that the previous ones were in the NBA Finals).
He also had this one but had no business going in.
Of course, Steph and Kyrie didn't have the best games for their teams. Their teammates — some guy named Kevin Durant and a veteran journeyman called LeBron James — each scored 30+ and grabbed more than a dozen rebounds.
What about the Warriors? Did this game matter to them?
Probably not. Regular season losses don't matter to the team who loses. They look at it as an off night, and that's the end of it. If it seeps into their brains at all, it's not something they'll ever admit. Basically, they won't react like this lunatic.
*Also at play in this game, LeBron might just have Kevin Durant's number. It's a team game, so head-to-head stats don't apply the way they might in, say, boxing, but it's a pretty shocking thing to see quantified. It's all here on Basketball Reference, but in short, LBJ has won 14 out of 17 in the regular season and four out of five in the playoffs. They have the same scoring average while LBJ shoots a better percentage, gets more rebounds, and hands out twice as many assists. It's impressive.