OAKLAND, Calif. — Now, everybody can sit back for a few months and envision the possibility of another scintillating NBA Finals between Cleveland and Golden State.
LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry for the third straight time, complete with the hard-nosed play of Draymond Green, dazzling dunks from Kevin Durant and sharp shooting from Kyrie Irving.
This regular-season round went to the Warriors, who dominated from the start on Monday — and it wasn’t even close. The defending champs were dismantled on the very floor where they captured the franchise’s first title last June.
Curry and his superstar supporting cast certainly looked ready to trade more postseason blows with Cleveland. The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers on the way to 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State’s 126-91 rout of the Cavaliers.
“This is high-quality basketball, at its highest level,” Curry said. “These are the kinds of atmospheres that you live for. Whether you win or lose, regular season, playoffs, whatever, that you can play in that kind of environment that’s always fun.”
Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He also equaled his career best with five blocks — and had another confrontation with King James in the process.
James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds. But he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship again turned testy.
“I don’t think it’s a rivalry,” James reiterated. “It’s two great teams that have aspirations. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a rivalry in the NBA.”
Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas.
The Warriors squandered a 14-point lead that day in a loss that fueled them going into Monday. They relinquished a 3-1 advantage in the Finals last year, a failure that motivates them to return to the big stage. And the teams’ latest holiday game marked the Cavs’ first trip back to Oracle Arena since capturing the title here seven months ago.
Irving — who hit game-winners against Golden State in the past two matchups, including the championship clincher — scored 17 points on an uncharacteristic day for the Cavs when they committed 15 turnovers to 11 assists.
“They did what they were supposed to do,” Irving said. “Right from the start they jumped on us and never looked back.”
Cleveland shot just 35.2 percent (31 for 88) overall. Beyond embarrassed, Cavs players headed for the tunnel before the final buzzer even sounded.
The latest altercation between Green and James came with 6:55 left in the first half. Golden State led 52-35 when James collided with Green near midcourt, resulting in a flagrant 1 foul on Golden State’s emotional All-Star. Green’s arm extended across the upper body of James, who went down hard and lay on the court. Green reacted by appearing to mock James for flopping.
After a long replay review, a double technical was called on Green and Richard Jefferson.
After Curry’s pull-up 3 moments before halftime sent his team into the break with a 78-49 lead, the star guard did what looked like a little celebratory breakdancing move on his behind at the sideline.
You bet this one felt like more than just any game to the Warriors, looking to regain some swagger in this rivalry after Cleveland had won the past four meetings, including last year’s NBA Finals.
“To me it was because they beat us four straight times and that’s never fun when a team has your number for four games, so it felt good to redeem ourselves,” Thompson said.
Durant, new to the rivalry this season, appeared downright possessed. KD’s driving, emphatic tomahawk jam 1:43 before halftime sent Oracle Arena’s sellout crowd into a frenzy.
Zaza Pachulia pulled down 13 rebounds as Golden State had a 58-35 edge on the boards. Andre Iguodala came off the bench to make all five of his field goal attempts for a season-high 14 points, and Shaun Livingston added 13.
With this one in the books, these teams are done with each other — for the time being.
“It’s intense enough for two matchups,” Green said. “If you want to play each other again, try to get to the NBA Finals. The fact you only play twice a year makes it even more exciting because you only have two cracks at it.”