OAKLAND (California) • Kevin Durant twice got a break from the referees late in Monday's marquee National Basketball Association (NBA) matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It was not the first time the eight-time All-Star and 2017 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player has benefited from superstar treatment. But what made the nod unusual was it came at the expense of a man with even greater stature, LeBron James.
Klay Thompson broke a late tie with a three-pointer and Durant protected the lead with two key defensive plays on James to lift the Golden State Warriors to a 99-92 victory over the Cavaliers in what has become their annual Christmas Day showdown.
"The matchups dictate everything for the coaches," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
"He wants to guard him (James). It just so happens that KD is the right matchup for us and he wants the job."
In their third straight Christmas Day pairing, neither team led by more than nine points in the tightly-contested rematch of June's NBA Finals, which the Warriors won in five games.
After the Cavaliers rallied from a 90-81 deficit - their largest of the game - into a 92-all tie with 1min 59sec to go, Warriors rookie Jordan Bell grabbed a rebound off Durant's missed three-pointer. The centre got the ball to Draymond Green, who in turn found Thompson open on the left side for his fourth three-pointer of the game and a 95-92 lead with 1min 33sec to go.
"That changed the whole game," Kerr said of Bell's offensive rebound.
That set the Oracle Arena stage for Durant, James and the referees to dictate the outcome.
James went one-on-one with Durant on Cleveland's next two possessions, each time with a chance to narrow the gap to one point.
But the four-time NBA MVP, under heavy defensive pressure, first fumbled the ball over the end line with 70sec to go, and then, after two Warriors misses, had a driving attempt blocked by Durant, with the ball going out of bounds with 24.5sec to go.
On both occasions, James' plea for a foul fell upon deaf ears.
"I lost it on the left wing. He got me a little bit but I lost that one," James admitted of the key turnover, his seventh of the game.
"But the one right before the overturn, he fouled me twice. But whatever. What are you going to do about it?"
Durant had 25 points to pace the Warriors, who now have the league's best record (27-7).
Thompson totalled 24 points and Green recorded a triple-double (12 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) for Golden State, who improved to 8-1 without the injured Stephen Curry.
Kevin Love had a game-high 31 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavs (24-10). James was held to 20 points on seven-for-18 shooting. Jae Crowder added 15 points and Dwyane Wade 13.
The Cavs struggled to score inside the three-point arc (13-for-52 shooting on two-pointers) while the Warriors had a decisive 33-9 edge in fast-break points. Their shooting percentage was the worst since making 31.6 per cent in their Christmas visit to Oakland two years ago.
"They kicked our butts in transition," said James, who went on to insist that the absences of Curry and Isaiah Thomas made this game no more than a "feel-out'' for down the road encounters.