Oklahoma City Thunder v Dallas Mavericks - Game Five

NBA Playoffs: Mavs win with offensive potency despite the absences of Butler and Beaubois

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As the Dallas Mavericks are doused with the effusive praise that comes with being a conference champion, let’s not forget that their incredible accomplishments have come despite their two X-factors watching in suits from the sideline.

It’s odd to discuss a team headed to the NBA finals in terms of substantial setbacks, but there’s simply no other way to address the season-ending injury to Caron Butler and the gradual irrelevance of Rodrigue Beaubois. Both were supposed to be significant players for Dallas this season, and it’s a testament to the team’s depth and the efficacy of those available that the Mavs stand atop the Western Conference.

Butler is by far the more significant loss, as the Mavs knew exactly what he could offer this particular team during this particular season. Dallas’ early success on both ends of the court was because of Butler’s adjustments to better accommodate the team; gone was the ball-stopper of a year ago, and in his place stood an effective perimeter defender willing to move within the offense and play within himself.

The Mavericks were a tremendously successful and dynamic team with Butler in the fold; imagine them as they are now, but with an effective, involved version of DeShawn Stevenson. Butler connected on 43.1 percent of his 3-point attempts and 45 percent of his attempts overall — notably improved marks from his initial half-season of adjustment in Dallas following the 2010 trade deadline. He seemingly found his place within the offense and the team as a whole, and though Butler posted a PER of just 14.2 (relatively average, but low by the standards of his career), his value in terms of defense and shot creation far exceed that number.

As for Beaubois, this season’s Mavs lost out on an unquantifiable potential impact. He was the team’s second-best per-minute scorer a season ago, and an efficient bucket-getting machine. This year was supposed to be an extension of that same theme, a development and growth of Beaubois as a player and a point guard. Yet as much as Beaubois’ future was discussed in terms of what could be (both from a skill and positional standpoint), all of that rhetoric was a thinly veiled assessment of what would be.

Beaubois was deemed untouchable by Mark Cuban because he was seen as a sure thing, and public assessments of his game were equally optimistic. At worst, Beaubois would be a tremendous scorer capable of driving and shooting his way to 20-point nights on the regular. His length and athleticism give him great defensive potential, and his relative inexperience with the game left plenty of growing room for Beaubois’ budding passing and ball-handling abilities.

Beaubois may still hold those same natural predispositions for NBA effectiveness, but this season — one in which he was held out of 54 games because of complications surrounding an offseason foot injury — has understandably tarnished his perceived potential. Something for Beaubois never really clicked this season; his scoring instincts misled him, and he oscillated between periods of extreme passivity and offensive overextension. The scoring that had been at the core of Beaubois’ game deserted him, and while he still scored 17.1 points per 36 minutes, Beaubois’ efficiency plummeted. At moments, he looked like a dime-a-dozen undersized two guard, capable of scoring in bursts but largely inefficient.

Yet despite the losses of the actual and the potential, the Mavs persevered. Shawn Marion stepped into more minutes and an expanded offensive role, the kind which had been denied him by Dallas’ almost superfluous depth. Peja Stojakovic recovered from the mysterious back injuries that had kept him off the court in Toronto, and became a semi-regular contributor. Yet even more importantly, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea rebounded from their slow starts. Barea didn’t top 40 percent shooting during a month of the regular season until January, and his 3-point shooting hit almost comical lows in the mid-teens. ‘JET’ improved his field-goal shooting by 6 percent between January and February, and hasn’t looked back.

Neither player was limited by the system or even the clutter on the depth chart, but simply had failed to tap into the specific strengths of their games during the season’s opening months. Throw in a fully transcendent performance from Dirk Nowitzki, and you have the current, actualized product.

They didn’t need a big trade for a quasi-star wing or any kind of revamp — just consistency. Just an established effort to work through the season with the players available, with the knowledge that guys like Terry and Barea were better than their performance indicated. Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson, and Mark Cuban knew that Marion was still a capable offensive player. They knew that Stojakovic could contribute in spots, and while he couldn’t replace Butler, he could at least hedge the loss of his perimeter shooting. And perhaps most importantly, they knew Nowitzki could still act as a sufficient centerpiece without additional help, and Jason Kidd could be trusted to pull everything together on both ends.

This run to the NBA finals required the perfect mix of ingredients and circumstance, but so do all runs to the finals. It’s only because of the persistence of this roster, coaching staff and front office that this group was able to grow, thrive, and take the Western Conference by storm.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.