OAKLAND, Calif. -- Forty-seven minutes into Friday's 48-minute game, the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to miss 62 of the 92 shots they attempted as a team. And yet the scoreboard showed just a 3-point lead for the defending-champion Golden State Warriors.
Finally, after hearing months of talk about the juggernaut from the Bay, the Cavs barged into Oracle Arena, shot the ball worse than they had in any other game this season, and were in a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter.
And even though the final score showed an 89-83 Christmas Day win for the now 28-1 Warriors, the Cavs did achieve something: dispelling any aura of invincibility that's been attached to the Dubs in the days and weeks since June when they won the final three games of the Finals to take the title.
"I didn't feel like there was any particular preference or any particular underdog or favorite in this game," Cavs coach David Blatt said after the Warriors extended their perfect home record to 14-0, the type of unblemished mark that usually would translate to favored status.
If anything, Cleveland left the game even more confident of their chances in a potential Finals rematch six months from now.
For starters, they were able to couch their offensive struggles as an anomaly, rather than a result of the Warriors stifling their every attempt.
"I don't know if you'll ever see [Kyrie] Irving and myself go 0-for-11 from the 3 ever again," Cavs forward Kevin Love said after going 5-for-16 from the field and 0-for-5 from deep. And his shooting line looked downright accurate next to LeBron James's (10-for-26), Irving's (4-for-15), Matthew Dellavedova's (4-for-11), Iman Shumpert's (0-for-6) and Timofey Mozgov's (0-for-5).
Beyond that, there was recognition that it was only Irving's third game back and he remains on a preplanned minute restriction, incrementally extending his run from 17 to 20 to 26 minutes through those three games, respectively.
It stands to reason that Irving will return to his All-Star form when he starts to get his legs back under him in a week, in plenty of time for when the Cavs host the Warriors in Cleveland just over three weeks from now.
"Ky's not where he needs to be or not where he was," J.R. Smith said. "So once that happens, then we'll be back at full strength."
Even though the Cavs are far from the finished product they're working to become -- and trying out new lineups "on the fly," as James put it -- Cleveland was able to dictate the pace of the game through its defense. Sure, the Cavs' six-game win streak was snapped, but the Warriors' run of 47 straight home games with 100-plus points was put to an end too, while holding reigning MVP Stephen Curry to his second-lowest-scoring game of the season (19 points on 6-for-15 shooting).
"We play like that defensively, we're going to be a very tough team to beat," James said.
"We want what they have. We're not stopping until we go get it."Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving
For the Cavs, it's all about moving forward. Once Cleveland welcomed Irving, Shumpert and Mo Williams back to the lineup this week, James Jones called it the team's "starting point." Yes, it was natural to feel a little something extra against Golden State. Smith even shot down the "This is just one game out of 82" mantra that James, Blatt and Irving were preaching, saying, "I think [the Finals result] was heavy on all our minds. I think we put too much pressure on ourselves wanting to go out there and play well, and it just didn't work in our benefit."
But that's out of the way now. Think the Warriors are in the Cavs' heads? Hardly. When asked about a play where Andre Iguodala got tangled up on the floor with Dellavedova in the first half and seemed to get in an extra shot as the Aussie was getting up, the backup point guard stared at this reporter and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
The fact of the matter is, for all the "Warrior Paranoia" sentiment suggesting Golden State has been dictating the Cavs' mindset through its unprecedented success to start the season, the Cavs now know that all that matters is focusing on themselves.
"It's an adjustment period," James said. "It's not just going to happen -- you plug a guy in there, plug two guys in there and it automatically happens. It's going to be an adjustment period, but we'll be fine."
Friday's game, in no shape or form, discouraged Cleveland from believing it will indeed execute the needed adjustments.
"We want what they have. We're not stopping until we go get it," Irving said. "So, for us, having this Christmas game was a great test and we'll see them again."