CLEVELAND — Everything was set up for a great night.
The Cavaliers had won three in a row. Golden State was wounded, a team of basketball zombies that was missing three starters with injuries. Plus, the Warriors played the night before, winning at Toronto. Then they had to fly to Cleveland.
The Cavs couldn’t have asked for a better situation — but those reasons and more are why the 108-95 home loss on Tuesday really stinks. Cleveland can’t even use youth as an excuse. The Cavs have two rookies, but the Warriors have four.
Yet it was the Warriors who came out and acted like they had something to play for. Now, don’t misunderstand. The Cavs wanted to win, too. They just didn’t behave that way.
Clearly, they’re still learning. They’re still figuring out that you have to bring it every night, against every team, in every moment.
Coach Byron Scott warned the Cavs beforehand that the Warriors weren’t to be taken lightly. He compared them to a cornered animal.
It’s true Stephen Curry (ankle), Harrison Barnes (knee) and Andrew Bogut (rest) were out.
But that meant other guys were getting an opportunity to shine — guys who don’t get an opportunity often. So Scott’s theory made perfect sense.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, they and the Warriors proved Scott right. Not a big surprise. Scott has been around this league a long time. He knows what he’s talking about.
As for players like Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and others … well, this was another tough lesson.
This wasn’t just a lesson in taking your opponent seriously. It was the NBA equivalent of getting a swift kick to the crotch.
“They just kicked our butts, to be honest with you,” Irving said.
Irving finished with 14 points on a miserable 5-for-17 shooting. This took place one week after becoming just the fifth player in league history to string together three consecutive games of at least 30 points before his 21st birthday.
Irving averaged 35.7 in the previous three games (all wins). He shot 61 percent from the field. He was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
But Tuesday? Eh, not so much.
“I just wasn’t myself in terms of my mental focus,” he admitted. “That’s no excuse.”
Irving was a game-time decision after missing the morning shootaround with a virus that’s been affecting the entire team. It’s attacked everyone from shooting guard C.J. Miles to some of the assistant coaches. Irving’s gotten it twice.
“I’m just feeling like crap,” Irving said.
Thompson (18 points, 11 rebounds) and Waiters (18 points, seven assists) tried to pick up the slack offensively — as their progress continues to be a positive sign for this young team.
But never leading a game against a decimated opponent that’s playing for the second night in a row? Man, that’s for the birds.
That’s especially true when considering Warriors guard Klay Thompson was able to put his best Carmelo Anthony imitation on display.
By halftime, the Warriors’ Thompson had 18 points, including 4-for-4 shooting on 3-pointers. By the final buzzer, he had scored 32.
Again, it’s not that the Cavs weren’t there physically. They did try. But mentally and emotionally, they need to do better. They say they know that, but it’s getting time to put the plan into action.
“There was a lack of energy,” Thompson said, repeating the credo of the entire locker room. “We didn’t match their intensity and they hit us in the mouth.”
That’s never any fun. The Cavs are learning that a lot these days. Hopefully for their sake, it won’t always be this way.
After all, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Just ask Warriors coach Mark Jackson.
“We had every excuse to walk out of here with a loss,” Jackson said.
The Cavs, meanwhile, had every reason to walk out with a win. Next step: Actually coming up with one.