OAKLAND, CALIF.: The players were wounded and sick before the game. The coach was sick after it.
The Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday 106-96 because they dug an enormous hole in the first quarter and spent the rest of the night catching up. They had a pretty good reason, considering they were without Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller, while Kyrie Irving and C.J. Miles both played with food poisoning.
Irving still managed 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds, but the Cavs turned it over 17 times – including seven in the first quarter, when the Warriors scored 37 points in building a 17-point lead in the first half.
The Warriors shot 57 percent in the first quarter and 54 percent for the game.
“It’s just all about defense. Simple as that,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “Until our guys understand how important that is, we’re going to have these ups and downs.”
The Cavs were at a disadvantage without Varejao, one of their best defensive players and easily their best rebounder. Varejao was a late scratch with a sore right knee, while Zeller was sent back to Cleveland so team doctors could examine a fractured cheekbone he sustained in Monday’s win in Los Angeles.
The players didn’t learn Varejao was unavailable until shortly before tipoff, but Scott refused to use that as an excuse for the poor defensive effort.
“The first quarter was a prime example of coming out and almost feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t have Andy, we don’t have Tyler,” Scott said. “I don’t think (losing Varejao) has anything to do with how hard you play at that (defensive) end of the floor.”
Despite the terrible start, the Cavs managed to take a brief lead when Dion Waiters hit a jumper with 6:39 left in the third. But it was Irving, as usual, who drove the offense, scoring 16 points in the second and third quarters combined. He played his usual 36 minutes.
“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done,” Irving said. “I’ve never really played under the weather like that. It was tough.”
With so many other guys wounded, Irving had little choice but to gut it out.
As if the Cavs didn’t have enough injuries, Waiters began limping noticeably in the third quarter when he bruised his thigh. He couldn’t put any weight on his right leg in the locker room after the game. He finished with 12 points, but shot just 5 of 15 after a brilliant shooting performance on Monday.
“I got good looks, some went in and out,” he said. “I’m going to have days like this. Just have to bounce back.”
Without Varejao and Zeller, the Warriors’ bigs pounded the Cavs’ reserves. David Lee had 22 points and 14 rebounds and Carl Landry had 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Add Stephen Curry’s 21 points and six assists and the Warriors won their fourth straight in this series. Rookie Harrison Barnes had 14 points, the highest scoring output of his young career. His 3-pointer in the corner with 2:34 remaining put the Warriors up 101-88 and effectively ended any chance at a comeback.
Tristan Thompson had 11 points and 10 rebounds, but continued his struggles from the free-throw line (3 of 8). Samardo Samuels had 11 points and seven rebounds in the start in place of Varejao.
It’s unclear how long Varejao will be out, but the injury isn’t considered serious. There’s a chance he could return for Friday’s game at Phoenix.
Without him, it’s clear the Cavs are a completely different team.
“We had the opportunity to come back, but we had to come up with key stops,” Waiters said. “Unfortunately everything they were throwing up tonight went in. We have to do a better job on the defensive end.”