OAKLAND (California) • The Cleveland Cavaliers waited 192 days to get another crack at the Golden State Warriors in the National Basketball Association.
If the environment felt familiar to them - the same heightened level of anticipation, the same deafening arena, the same formidable opponent - so did the result.
The Warriors turned up their defensive intensity - much like they did in last season's NBA Finals - and got two key late hoops by star guard Stephen Curry to outlast Cleveland 89-83.
"Getting comfortable being uncomfortable," Warriors back-up guard Shaun Livingston said of the low-scoring affair.
"That's our style."
NOT WILTING IN THE HEAT
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. That's our style.
SHAUN LIVINGSTON, Warriors back-up guard
That was clear in June's Finals when the Warriors limited the Cavaliers to 93.2 points per game in grinding out a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series.
They did it again on Friday when the champions harassed Cleveland into 31.6 per cent shooting, including just five-for-30 from three-point range.
"You got to knock down shots to beat a team like that," Cavaliers coach David Blatt said.
"We were getting shots.
"No complaints on my part."
Forward Draymond Green had 22 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots to lead the Warriors, who captured their 32nd win in a row at home in the regular season dating back to last term.
The Cavaliers (19-8) were the last team to beat the Warriors in Oakland in a similarly paced, 95-93 overtime affair in Game 2 of the Finals.
This showdown was headed down a similar path until Curry, who missed nine of his first 13 shots, denied a LeBron James-led charge down the stretch.
"We were a little off offensively," Curry said. "But if we can (defend like that), that's what helped us in the play-offs last year... (and) get to this record this year."
James had 25 points - but it took him 26 shots - for Cleveland, who got used to winning these types of games. They brought the best record in the Eastern Conference into the Christmas tie in part because they had not lost for 31 games in a row when holding opponents to 96 points or fewer.
Yet, on a night when the Warriors shot just 41 per cent and failed to score 100 points for the first time in 48 games, they won with Curry shooting 6-for-15.
He finished with 19 points, thanks to big-time baskets, after James almost single-handedly got the Cavs, down by 10 with 3:48 to go, back within 81-77 with 2:15 left.
James had slam-dunks on consecutive possessions, then had a driving miss tipped in by Kevin Love.
But Curry responded by driving past Cavaliers back-up Matthew Dellavedova for lay-ups with 1:19 and 57.6 seconds remaining, re-establishing an 85-80 lead the Warriors were able to protect with four late free throws.
"We don't believe we're going to make a statement with one game," Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. "Overall, we're 28-1.
"That's more of a statement."
By far the most efficient offensive player in the game was Livingston. He hit eight of his nine shots en route to a season-best 16 points.
Eight of those points came on four consecutive hoops early in the fourth quarter.
Shooting guard Klay Thompson, who like Curry made only one three-pointer, added 18 points for the Warriors.
Cavaliers forward Love, another who struggled offensively (5-for-16), had 10 points and a game-high 18 rebounds.
Cleveland also missed four free throws in the final 1:33 - one of the reasons that they managed to draw hope from the loss.
"We gave ourselves a chance," said James who had nine rebounds.
"If we play like that defensively, we're going to be a very tough team to beat."
REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES