When the Cleveland Cavaliers met the Golden State Warriors last Christmas for the first time since squaring off in the NBA Finals, the game turned into the equivalent of getting a lump of coal in your stocking.
Rest assured there won’t be a repeat Sunday of that inartistic 89-83 loss by the Cavs in which LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shot a collective 19-of-57. And it’s not just because the defending NBA champions have the advantage of now playing at home, where they are averaging more than 114 points a game thus far.
Too much has happened, even after the Cavs’ comeback for the ages from a 3-1 series deficit six months ago against a team which posted a league-record 73 regular-season wins, for this meeting not to be totally compelling and highly entertaining. There are so many dramatic twists and turns that it might not matter if Warriors forward Draymond Green, who could teach Duke University’s Grayson Allen a few lessons about kicking an opposing player, misses the matchup after flying back to the Bay Area on Thursday following the birth of his son.
Sit back, take a deep breath, and ponder these plot lines over a glass of egg nog:
5. Is Stephen Curry prepared for a hostile reception?
The dislike by Cavs fans toward Curry is so intense that when the lowly Dallas Mavericks were in town last month, they took to booing his younger brother Seth every time he touched the ball. However, it’s not Seth who has had to live down a subpar shooting series with a title on the line or the ill-advised tweets made by a spouse in the heat of the moment.
Curry might have caught a major break this week as J.R. Smith, whose harassing defense was largely responsible for the offensive woes of the Warriors superstar, broke his right thumb in Milwaukee. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is bound to run an assortment of defenders against Curry, beginning with DeAndre Liggins and Iman Shumpert. Could a repeat of the matchup in the final minute of Game 7 with Love guarding Curry be in the offing? Don’t rule it out.
4. Can Tristan Thompson be the X-factor?
The Warriors had no one remotely comparable to Thompson last June when it came to offensive rebounding. That was when their frontline players included Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights, none of whom are with them any longer. Like James and Irving, Thompson is playing as well as he has all season, as evidenced by his nine offensive boards in the second game of the back-to-back victories over the Bucks.
It remains to be seen whether Zaza Pachulia, David West or Durant can be any more effective at preventing him from dominating the glass. Warriors coach Steve Kerr might have to resort to utilizing longtime Cavs fan favorite Anderson Varejao, whose minutes this season have largely been limited to garbage time.
Next: Top Three Storylines to Look Forward to in Cleveland’s Christmas Day Matchup