NBA Finals: Warriors let history, and title of greatest team ever, slip through their grasp

CLEVELAND -- Well ... goodbye, 16-0. Hello 3-1. 

The Golden State Warriors held history in the palm of their hands for the second straight year, with a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals. They were favored heavily in Game 4 in Cleveland. They had a chance to go 16-0 and cement themselves as the greatest team of all time. 

And once again, their hubris and lack of emotional control came roaring back to bite them in the Golden State again. Golden State is the better team. LeBron James said Thursday this is the best team in the league over the past three years. They have every advantage: four All-Stars, overwhelming talent and a group that twice has put itself within range of going down as the greatest team ever ... and then self-destructed. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled back to that familiar 3-1 deficit Friday night with a 137-116 victory, dropping 49 points in the first quarter in a game they never trailed, as the Warriors once again got wrapped up in controversy after controversy. 

It's true that the Warriors' biggest problem was defense. They surrendered nearly 50 points in the first quarter and 24 3-pointers for the game

"They blitzed us," Klay Thompson said of that first quarter. 

But even then, the Warriors remained within range all game. The Cavs would make a run, the Warriors would charge back, twice getting it into single digits. But then the hijinx began. 

With 7:26 to go in the third quarter, Kevin Durant and LeBron James began jawing at each other after a flagrant foul. Then Draymond Green picked up what appeared to be his second technical with 6:18 to go in the third. He was about to be ejected from a Finals game, a year after being suspended for Game 5. But instead, Green's first technical, which occurred in the first quarter, was changed to Steve Kerr. 

That allowed Green to keep playing. At the 1:10 mark of the third, Zaza Pachulia and Iman Shumpert were hit with double techs, after Pachulia seemed to hit Shumpert in the... you guessed it... groin

Meanwhile, the Warriors all night played out of sync, sloppy basketball, turning the ball over 12 times, going 11-of-39 from 3-point range. All the things Golden State does well fell apart. Stephen Curry vanished. Draymond Green overheated. The Warriors got caught up with the officiating in a game in which the Warriors finished with three more personal fouls. 

"We have to stay poised," Shaun Livingston said after the game.

But Draymod Green rejected any notion that the chippiness of the game was a "distraction." 

"What's distracting is them hitting 24 3s. We stop that, and none of that chippiness matters." 

And yet, this is the Warriors, for all their glory. They are the greatest team you've ever seen, until they get punched in the mouth, and then, they stumble. It happened vs. the Grizzlies in 2015, and the Thunder in 2016, and the Cavs up 3-1 last season. It looked like they'd learned to manage that with their clutch victory in Game 3.

But they're right back where they were last year after four games, and everyone knows how that turned out. 

"We were up 3-0, we weren't up 3-0 last year," Draymond Green said. "It's a little bit different. This series is a little bit different." 

The Warriors had better hope so. 

But while the 3-1 talk is what's next, it's important to remember what was lost here. The Warriors had a chance to go 16-0. 

"It would have meant [something to us]," Klay Thompson said with frustration. "But it's gone now."

Thompson tried to remain positive despite a note of disappointment. 

"16-1 sounds pretty dang good," Thompson said. 

The Warriors' greatness is freed by their joy, and that comes with a certain level of looseness that they try and combat. 

"We always talked about it -- loose but disciplined," Kevin Durant said Thursday before adding, ominously, "Sometimes we go too far on the side of loose." 

Durant said they always come back to that discipline, but that's hoping this team with him is different from last year. Last year, the Warriors lost that emotional tether, and never got it back. They got involved in more and more drama with the Cavaliers, more theatrics, more chippiness, and ultimately, it wrecked their chances of winning a title after going 73-9. Now, it's helped tear apart their run to be the greatest of all time. If they win in five games, there will still be those that argue they are the best team we've ever seen. 

But really, that just puts them on the list. Now the best they can hope for is to lay claim alongside the 2000-2001 Lakers at 15-1, or to fall into competition (again) with those 1995-96 Bulls, who won 72 games and the title. The Warriors' ability to lay sole claim to the throne is gone, because, yes, they defended poorly and shot poorly and LeBron James and his Cavaliers did what they always seem to do: rise to the occasion. 

Yet you cannot help but wonder if that's how this Warriors team will always dance along the line, one emotional tilt away from careening off, one run, or altercation, away from spiral. The Warriors let something truly special slip through their fingers -- again -- on Friday night. 

They had best hope that they don't let anything else slip on Monday in Oracle. 

After all, the only thing worse than letting history slip through your fingers twice is winding up on the wrong side of it, twice. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Moore's colleagues have been known to describe him as a "maniac" in terms of his approach to covering the NBA, which he has done for CBS Sports since 2010. Moore prides himself on melding reporting,... Full Bio

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