NBA Playoffs Cavs Celtics Game 6: LeBron-Less Preview

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It’s foolish to pretend that the storylines surrounding this game won’t center around LeBron. Between the legacy, the attitude, the failure, the elbow, and everything else, LeBron being on the brink of massive failure is too intriguing not to focus on. It’s also foolish to think that LeBron’s performance in game six won’t be the single biggest factor in the game. LeBron’s had two great performances in this series, and the Cavaliers won both of those games. He’s had three lackluster performances, and the Cavaliers lost all three of those games. If the Cavs want to stay alive tonight, their franchise player needs to step up. There’s no getting around that. 

But just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the things that the Cavaliers need to do to avoid elimination that have nothing to do with LeBron. Without further ado:
1. Rebounding
The Cavaliers were the #1 team in rebound rate over the course of the regular season. The Celtics were 25th in rebound rate over the course of the regular season. Apparently nobody informed these teams of their respective rebounding prowess before this series, as the Celtics have been absolutely destroying the Cavaliers on the glass. The Cavs have not been getting the rebounds they should be getting, and it’s been killing them. Shaq has been invisible on the glass. Jamison has let rebounds slip through his fingers. Rajon Rondo is beating the Cavaliers to each and every long rebound. In game four, the beginning of the end for the Cavaliers came when Ray Allen banged in two consecutive threes off of offensive rebounds at the beginning of the third quarter. The Cavaliers have to rebound better. 
2. Turnovers
Again, this was supposed to be Boston’s problem. Cleveland wasn’t great with turnovers in the regular season, but Boston was much worse — the Celtics were 27th in turnover rate during the regular season. However, it’s been the Cavaliers coughing the ball up left and right during this series. The Cavaliers had 17 turnovers in both game four and game five, with each of their starters turning the ball over at least twice. In game five, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 24-6 on points off of turnovers. The Cavaliers look sloppy offensively, and they’re far too content to take the ball right into the teeth of the Boston defense without knowing what they’ll do if they get cut off. Boston has been absolutely murdering the Cavaliers with extra possessions, and the Cavs need to put a stop to that.
3. Frontcourt matchup problems
One thing that hasn’t really been talked about yet: A big reason the Cavs traded for Shaq is so they could have somebody capable of defending Dwight Howard. One reason the Cavaliers traded for Jamison at the deadline is so they could have somebody to match up with Rashard Lewis. Thanks to both of those moves, the Cavs should be able to defend the Magic much better than they did last season. The only problem is that they’re a game away from being eliminated before they play the Magic. 
Shaq has been doing a good enough job on Kendrick Perkins, but the Celtics barely involve him on offense anyways. When they do use Perkins on offense, it’s generally as a screener, and Shaq has trouble on that pick-and-roll. Meanwhile, KG has been absolutely destroying Antawn Jamison. He hasn’t been having great scoring nights, but he has a mismatch every time the Celtics feed him in the post against Jamison. The Cavs have to give help, and good things end up happening for the Celtics even when KG doesn’t get the basket. There’s no easy fix to this problem for the Cavaliers, but it may be in their interest to mix things up a bit in game six. 
4. Mo Williams 
In this series, Mo Williams has enjoyed one great quarter and 19 bad ones. That’s not going to get the job done. He can’t find his shot, he can’t lose Rondo on the perimeter and initiate the offense, and he’s forcing plays. Also, he’s getting murdered on defense. Other than that, though, he’s been great. He needs to give the Cavs something in game six. 
5. Ray Allen
When the Celtics have Ray Allen going along with Rondo and Garnett, the Cavs have no chance of stopping them. Allen can catch and shoot off that pin-down, find the roll man if he gets trapped, or make a basket going to the rim if they force him to put the ball on the floor. Sometimes he forces that beautiful jumper, and even his jumper won’t go in every time if the Cavs do a good job of contesting it. The Cavs have to pray he’s not feeling it in game six, because if he drills a couple of those threes and gets the Garden crowd into it, it could be over. 
Those are the big things the Cavs need to go their way in game six. Well, that and LeBron. We’ll see what happens. 

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.

Isaiah Thomas’ big fourth quarter carries Celtics past Hornets 108-98

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) raises his arms as he celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Thomas had 35 points as the Celtics defeated the Hornets 108-98. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas’ 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He’s been putting up big final quarters of late – scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams had 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight – all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 1/2 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Entered averaging the second-fewest turnovers in the league at 12.1 per game. They had 11.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley returned after missing four straight games because of a strained right Achilles. He scored five points on 2-of -9 shooting. … Thomas scored a team-record 29 points in the final quarter of a victory against Miami on Dec. 30 to finish with 52.

INSPIRING WORDS

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown addressed the crowd before the game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Without notes, he quoted King in saying: “The day our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”

NICE CATCH

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount sat courtside behind a basket and made a two-handed grab of a ball flying out of bounds.

SPORTS TRANSITION

It was the nightcap of a hockey/basketball doubleheader, and 6-foot-4 Celtics guard Marcus Smart entered TD Garden wearing a winter jacket and hat. He paused and stood seemingly unnoticed as a group of youngsters and parents – most wearing Boston Bruins colors – walked down a hall to meet some of the hockey players.

Smart smiled when a media member said, “I don’t think anyone noticed you.”

Later, 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara headed past folks walking in for the basketball game.

 

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers held on without Paul for the comfortable win over the Thunder, 120-98.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.