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In rout of Cavaliers, Warriors show just how much has changed in six months

San Francisco Chronicle 5 days ago By Connor Letourneau

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass against George Hill and Rodney Hood of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Wednesday nights game as the Warriors face the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on December 5, 2018. (Kyle Lanzer/Special to The San Francisco Chronicle)

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors looks to pass against George Hill and Rodney Hood of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Wednesday nights game as the Warriors face the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on December 5, 2018. (Kyle Lanzer/Special to The San Francisco Chronicle)
© Kyle Lanzer / Special To The Chronicle
CLEVELAND — As he jogged onto the court for pregame warmups Wednesday evening, Warriors forward Kevin Durant saw a sea of maroon seats and thought about all that has changed in less than six months.

One hundred and eighty days earlier, Golden State had silenced a raucous Quicken Loans Arena crowd with a Game 4 win to cap its NBA Finals sweep of the Cavaliers. Now, in the Warriors’ first trip back to Cleveland since hoisting the 2017-18 Larry O’Brien trophy, Durant was feeling nostalgic.

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 129, CAVALIERS 105

LeBron James’ decision to sign with the Lakers in July had forced the Cavaliers to rebuild and ended one of the greatest rivalries of the modern NBA. In its 129-105 win Wednesday over Cleveland, Golden State showed just how much the talent gap between these two teams has widened.

Left in James’ wake is a cast of spare parts, an injured Kevin Love and a few young players the franchise hopes to groom into key building blocks. Though the Cavaliers played inspired, they ultimately couldn’t overcome a dazzling performance from Stephen Curry.

In his third game back from a groin injury that sidelined him three weeks, Curry continued to bolster his case for a third career MVP award. In 34 minutes, he toyed with Cleveland, mixing between scoop shots, deep three-pointers and dizzying dribbling displays.

To score 42 points, Curry shot 11-for-20 from the field, including 9-for-14 from three-point range. It was Curry’s second 40-point game of the season and the 32nd of his career. In addition to dishing out seven assists, he corralled nine rebounds.

Durant was masterful in his own right as he flirted with a triple-double, posting 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. The Warriors finished 52.9 percent from the field, 18-for-34 (52.9 percent) from three-point range and 21-for-24 (87.5 percent) from the foul line.

After Curry poured in nine points in less than a minute midway through the fourth quarter to give Golden State a 19-point lead, the Cavaliers didn’t threaten. The Warriors, who won NBA titles at Quicken Loans Arena in 2015 and 2018, are now riding an eight-game winning streak against their former rivals.

"Obviously, it’s different," Durant said. "They don’t have a championship-caliber team, but they have a young team that is up-and-coming. It’s just a different feel."

After weeks of hearing about the demise of their rivalry with Golden State, the Cavaliers got plenty of bulletin-board material Tuesday when The Athletic published an article loaded with not-so-friendly quotes from the Warriors. The one that had social media abuzz was courtesy of Klay Thompson, who derided Cleveland’s 1-8 record in the past two Finals, calling them "bums" and "idiots."

Wednesday afternoon, after shoot-around, Draymond Green — out with a sprained right toe — posted a video to Instagram of the visitors’ locker room with the caption, "They got rid of the champagne fumes this time." It was a nod to Curry’s 2016 remark that he hoped the locker room still smelled like Champagne from Golden State’s 2015 championship celebration.

Such slights seemed to fuel the Cavaliers. Two nights after winning just its fifth game of the season, against Brooklyn, Cleveland used a balanced attack to enter halftime up 64-58 on the back-to-back NBA champions.

Even then, the Cavaliers’ odds of escaping with a victory were long. Without Love (left foot surgery), their best players are someone who was benched for much of the 2018 NBA Finals (Rodney Hood), an inconsistent rookie (Collin Sexton) and a player perhaps best known for his appearances on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" (Tristan Thompson).

"I thought they competed really hard," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Cleveland. "In the first half, they knocked down shots. They controlled the whole half and totally outplayed us. Our talent took over in the second half."

Golden State will finish its five-game trip in Milwaukee on Friday. With Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way, the Bucks are one of four Eastern Conference teams — Philadelphia, Toronto and Boston are the others — that seemingly have a chance to take over Cleveland’s spot in the NBA Finals.

Asked whether the Cavaliers have become just another game on the schedule, Curry smirked, nodded and said, "Yeah."

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron

Related Slideshow: Best of the 2018-19 NBA season (provided by USA Today Sports)

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