On Saturday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers came into the Bay Area on an eight game losing streak, and were 1-18 in their last 19 games. That one victory was an overtime win at home against the New York Knicks on December 18th. They have also not won a game on the road since the seventh game of the season, back on November 9th in New Jersey.
It gets bleaker. The Cavaliers had five guys out with injuries: Daniel Gibson (ankle), Anderson Varejao (ankle), Anthony Parker (back), Joey Graham (strained quad) and Leon Powe (knee). On top of that, Byron Scott had benched J.J. Hickson for the previous game, on Wednesday, for missing a mandatory practice last Monday.
The Golden State Warriors came into the game 14-21, but have been playing well of late. In a tough part of their schedule, they'd won five of their last eight . . . including a nice, come-from-behind win in New Orleans on Wednesday night. And those three losses were games in Miami, Orlando and Atlanta.
The Warriors are also the top 3-point shooting team in the NBA, while the Cavaliers are the worst team at defending the 3-point line. Golden State is also second in the NBA in steals, while the Cavs are 28th.
So was this one of those games where the favorite is "trapped" . . . and the team with the odds stacked against it somehow pulls out a win?
No. No, it wasn't.
In fact, the game went almost exactly how it would've been scripted . . . something that has sadly become commonplace with the Cavs as of late. And it's extra disappointing considering how wildly unpredictable it seemed like the Cavs were going to be leading into the season. (Maybe it was just my misread. I didn't expect them to win a lot of games, but I did expect them to be exciting to watch, and not to lose a ton of games . . . as in, I didn't foresee 1-19 stretches.)
But in this one, there weren't many expectations to squash.
Because of all the injuries, two of the players the Cavs started - Manny Harris and Alonzo Gee - had less than 50 games of NBA experience, combined. 50! Gee was playing in just his fifth game as a Cavalier. Ryan Hollins, who was out of the rotation less than a month ago, was also starting.
And two of the four guys they had off the bench - Samardo Samuels and Christian Eyenga - had less than 10 games of NBA experience, combined. 10! Eyenga was playing in just his third game as a Cavalier. And while J.J. did play, it was hard to predict how he'd respond to being in Coach Scott's doghouse.
So this game was bound to be filled with inexperience, awkwardness and immaturity.
All that being said, there were some bright spots.
For one, two of those young players - Harris and Eyenga - looked great. Harris posted career highs in points (16) and rebounds (10). Yup, he had a double-double . . . the first of his career, obviously. He also had a career-high three steals, and four assists, which tied his career high. He made six of his nine shots . . . and only had one turnover in 36 minutes.
Harris struggled defensively, but so did everyone else in a Cavaliers uniform.
Eyenga also continued to look promising. He showcased some serious hops, which included two solid blocks within two minutes. He still looks very awkward . . . which, three games into his career, is to be expected . . . but he'd win my Anderson Varejao Award in this one, for most consistent effort and intensity on both ends of the floor.
J.J. did show up in this game, physically and mentally . . . but the developmental unevenness he's had throughout the entire season is still there. On some plays he looks like a beast - strong, confident, and in control. On others, he looks like a total non-beast - soft, uncoordinated, lost and absent. He's still very young and fairly raw, so it's hard to expect "evenness" . . . but it's frustrating that he isn't more assertive around the basket, when you know that's how he'll succeed and/or learn.
But he was OK in this one. He had 17 points (on 5-of-13 shooting). He got to the stripe nine times; converting seven of them. He also had two steals and a block . . . but had a team-high four turnovers.
As for the veterans, Mo Williams had 16 points and seven assists . . . Antawn Jamison had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Ramon Sessions (if you call him a veteran) continued his strong streak of games by adding 13 points and five assists off the bench.
The final score was 116-98. The Cavaliers fell behind by nine points late in the first quarter, and were never able to claw back into it. In the middle of the third quarter, the Cavs were down 21. They pulled it to within 10 points early in the fourth, but then the Warriors stormed back and put it on ice.
The Cavaliers were hurt by their 17 turnovers . . . and were pounded by the Warriors' 3-point shooting (14-28 vs. Cleveland's 4-13) . . . but ultimately, this one wasn't in the cards.
Coach Scott put it like this: "Some of our careless mistakes are killing us, and some of our inexperience and youth are hurting us, just like at times it's helping us. Our margin for error is so, so slim that we can't afford to give a team like this another 17 chances to score."
[Cleveland's next game is Sunday night in Phoenix.]