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Quote of the Day: Avery Johnson disagrees with LeBron on what’s good for the league

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“I disagree. Maybe the league would be better if we didn’t have three stars on one team.”

—New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson, after being told LeBron James suggested New Jersey was a team that could be contracted (via the New York Daily News). James suggested that the 1980s were an NBA golden age of deep, talented teams — he is wrong about that, by the way — and the league would be better if there were fewer teams and better players on those teams. Avery Johnson isn’t on board with that.

Warriors/Thunder Game 4 preview: Which small ball lineup wins?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors shoots against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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I wouldn’t say this is a must-win game for either team, but it’s standing next to must win with its arm around it. The Warriors don’t want to be down 3-1, it’s hard to picture them winning three straight in this series. The Thunder don’t want to have a 2-2 series with two games left at Oracle, where it will be difficult to win again. Here are four questions where the answer will help determine the outcome of this game, and maybe the series.

1) Which small ball lineup wins? Going into the series, I thought the Thunder would stay with bigger lineups because they didn’t want to go small and try to out Warrior the Warriors. Except that’s exactly what they did in Game 3 and they won definitively — lineups with Kevin Durant at the four (with Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, and Serge Ibaka all getting time at center) where quicker, allowed for more switching, and it allowed the Thunder to get out and run more — and run it right down the throat of the Warriors small ball lineup. Golden State’s “death lineup” was -22, and Steve Kerr was right in saying that lineup (and the starters in general) tried to isolate against defensive mismatches rather than keeping the ball moving, and the Warriors offense stagnated.

The key to the small ball lineup for the Thunder is the same that has driven the success of the Warriors’ small ball for the past two seasons — they still played great defense. The Thunder are long and athletic on the perimeter, but the combination of Durant and Adams or Ibaka still did a fantastic job of protecting the rim. Those stops turned into transition buckets the other way — Russell Westbrook and the Thunder players attacked the rim, and the Warriors played some of the worst transition defense we have seen from them. It may well come down to this again in Game 4: Which team’s small unit does a better job defensively, then can convert those stops into buckets at the other end.

2) Can Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters have another big game for Oklahoma City? The Warriors’ defensive strategy this series has been to ignore Roberson, put a rim-protecting big on him (Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green) and let them patrol the paint, daring Roberson to shoot and beat them. In Game 3, he was 3-of-5 from three, and while those came as part of the Thunder Can’t Miss run, if he is hitting and scoring it is a problem for Golden State. Dion Waiters used to be the guy to leave alone on this roster, but he has blossomed under Billy Donovan — he was 6-of-8 in the first three quarters of Game 3. You know that Westbrook and Durant are going to score (and they scored very efficiently in Game 3), but if the Thunder are getting that kind of quality play from their role players they become almost impossible to stop.

One other thing to watch: When Stephen Curry picked up an early foul, the Warriors tried to protect him by putting him on Roberson, but that meant a big man had to guard an offensive threat that took them away from the basket. Suddenly the Thunder were in a layup line at the rim. Don’t expect that adjustment again — and if Steve Kerr is rolling out a lot of minutes for Anderson Varejao and Ian Clark again, it’s a bad sign.

3) Can Draymond Green take control in the paint? Forget the kick to Steven Adams’ groin… well, Thunder fans aren’t going to forget, they are going to boo him mercilessly. But that’s not the point, that play and the punishment (a fine and a flagrant two but no suspension) are in the past. What matters for the Warriors is Green was awful in Game 3 — 1-of-9 shooting with four turnovers on offense, and his rotations and rim protection were a step slow on defense. That can’t happen again if the Warriors want to win. They need All-Star, Top 10 player, world-class pest Green in Game 4. He is crucial to what they do. If he loses his poise (as he did in Game 3) or just has an off night, the Warriors are in trouble.

4) Is this the game where the Warriors figure out the Thunder?
Or, can they figure out the Thunder? Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game that they were not worried, his team had been in this position before — down 2-1 to Memphis last playoffs, and down 2-1 in the Finals to Cleveland. In each case they made an adjustment — ignoring Tony Allen against the Grizzlies, going small against the Cavaliers — and from there took over the series to sweep it out. They believe they can do it again, and it’s hard to bet against them because they have done it, they have shown versatility, and another gear not team seems to be able to match. But this series feels different — they already ignored Roberson and tried to play small and they are down 2-1. Is there a magic adjustment out there, or is it simply a matter of them executing what they like to do better against the most athletic defense they have faced in a playoff series? Just figuring out the Thunder is not that simple.

Less than a magical adjustment, the Warriors need to knock down shots. Not the rushed shots when they lost their poise during the Thunder’s second and third quarter run, but before that — the Warriors moved the ball and got good looks early, they just didn’t hit them. That can’t happen for them to win — this isn’t Portland anymore, the margin for error is too small.

Finally, and this is just obvious: Stephen Curry needs to be MVP Stephen Curry. The Thunder can throw athletic defenders at him, their bigs can challenge him a little, but the Warriors need him to be transcendent. Because Westbrook and Durant will be.

Kevin Durant: ‘They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league’

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quater in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, insisted his decision to give Draymond Green a flagrant 2 rather than suspending him had nothing to do with Green’s star status or the Warriors’ place in league history.

But Kevin Durant doesn’t believe that.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Durant:

They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. They’re not going to suspend him. I didn’t even really think about it. I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade him to a flagrant 2. We all knew that was going to happen. The league is about business.

Durant will probably get fined for this. Team employees questioning the league’s integrity is at the heart of why the NBA fines people. The league is trying to protect its image, and Durant completely blew that up.

I have no idea whether Durant is right. I can read VanDeWeghe’s mind as much as I can Green’s while he’s extending his foot toward Steven Adams‘ groin. I.e., I can’t. There’s definitely financial interest in extending the Western Conference finals (which the Thunder lead 2-1) keeping the best players on the floor and having bigger markets advance deeper into the playoffs. But there’s also financial interest in people believing the NBA is fair. It’s not always clear how the league balances those sometimes-competing forces.

Here’s what I know: This is getting fun. It was fun when Russell Westbrook was involved in the Green controversy. It’s even better with Durant looping himself in.

7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye staying in NBA draft

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20:  Mamadou Ndiaye #34 of the UC Irvine Anteaters in action against Mangok Mathiang #12 and Quentin Snider #2 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second round of the 2015 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Key Arena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye declared for the NBA draft without an agent.

And he’s staying in it.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

If Ndiaye makes it to the NBA, he’d be the league’s tallest player since Yao Ming – becoming just the fifth player taller than 7-foot-5 to play in the league. Gheorghe Muresan and Manute Bol were 7-foot-7, and Shawn Bradley and Yao were also 7-foot-6.

But Ndiaye is not a lock even to be drafted, let alone make a roster. He has developed tremendously, but he’s still unrefined offensively – though good luck stopping him when he gets the ball near the basket. Defensively, he protects the rim and is predictably awful in space. Teams have too much shooting to allow him just to camp out in the paint.

Someone could take a flier on him in the second round – especially if he’s willing to delay signing to spend a year in the D-League or overseas.

Going pro is probably a good move for Ndiaye, though. He needs to face taller and more athletic foes than he sees in the Big West.

Cavaliers getting open 3s again, just not making them

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a three point basket in front of the Toronto Raptors bench in the third quarter in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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LeBron James backed down Kyle Lowry on the left block and swung a bullet pass to Matthew Dellavedova in the right corner. As Dellavedova caught the pass, Richard Jefferson screened a closing DeMar DeRozan, ensuring Dellavedova remained open for his 3-point attempt.

Airball.

LeBron tapped the rebound to Channing Frye for a 3-pointer from the top of the key, his spot.

Miss.

After that sequence with about two and a half minutes left, the Cavaliers scored just three more points in their Game 4 loss to the Raptors. The Cavs are again getting the outside looks they desire. They’re just not making them.

Toronto (relatively) shut down Cleveland’s potent long-range attack in Games 1 and 2, holding the Cavaliers to 7-of-20 and 7-of-21 3-point shooting as Cleveland took advantage inside. The Cavs averaged 36 3-point attempts per game in the first two rounds.

But the Cavaliers have adjusted in Games 3 and 4, taking 41 treys in each game. Their 27 and 29 open 3-pointers (defined as the defender being at least four feet away) are right in line with their averages against the Pistons and Hawks and far above the 13 and 15 they produced in Games 1 and 2:

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Cleveland just isn’t making those open 3s.

The Cavaliers shot 34.5% on open 3-pointers in Game 4, a far cry from the 43.6% these made against Detroit and 51.5% they made against Atlanta. It’s even below their regular season mark of 37.8% – which is misleadingly low, considering Channing Frye – a key playoff 3-point shooter – didn’t arrive until a midseason trade.

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There’s a school of thought that 3-point defense is more about limiting attempts than lowering percentage. The Cavs are generating plenty of good attempts. They space the floor and share the ball, getting it to open shooters. LeBron attracts so much attention.

They were probably bound to regress from their hot shooting in the first two rounds. But likewise, they’re better than they appeared in Game 4.

If the Cleveland keeps getting these shots, I’m not convinced Toronto has much control over whether they go in.

The Cavaliers just have to make them.