dirk-haslem-game3

Dallas finally runs out of comebacks in Game 3 of the Finals

5 Comments

The Mavericks have made a living off of big comebacks to get to this point in the postseason, but at some point, constantly fighting back from behind gets to be too much.

That point may have been reached in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday, when Dallas, for the second consecutive game, erased all of a 14-point Miami lead in the second half, but couldn’t finish the job as the Heat held on for an 88-86 victory that put the Mavericks at a two games to one disadvantage in the series.

Instead of trailing big late and making a startling comeback as they did in Game 2, the Mavs were seemingly behind all night long, and had to make multiple runs to close the gaps.

“I really believe the fact that we were digging out of holes all night was something that, you know, it was difficult to overcome,” Rick Carlisle said afterward, in a press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com.

On this night, it proved to be impossible.

Dallas saw a seven-point deficit at the end of the first quarter increase to 12 early in the second. They cut it to five a few minutes later, and then Miami ran it up to 14, before Dallas shaved it down once again to five by halftime.

The Heat opened the second half on an 8-0 run to push it back to 13, before Dallas was finally able to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Mavericks’ lead — the team’s first of the game since there was 3:28 to play in the first quarter — lasted exactly one possession, and was followed by back-to-back three-pointers from LeBron James and Mario Chalmers which quickly gave Miami yet another cushion.

The Heat’s lead reached as many as seven again in the final period before Dallas made its final run, and found itself down two with possession and 4.4 seconds remaining. Dirk Nowitzki got the ball as time was winding down, but went up for a tough fadeaway from 16 feet out that was heavily contested, and he threw it away trying to pass it off as time expired.

There’s no question that Dallas had its chances late, and in a game decided by just two points, there are a lot of things you can point to as reasons you came up short. But constantly having to battle back from behind all game long is physically and emotionally draining, and may have had a real effect on the missed open looks down the stretch.

“We can’t always fall down behind,” Nowitzki said. “I think we’re always reacting.  We did in the first quarter, we fell down big.  Third quarter we came out slow, fell down big.  Obviously it takes a lot of energy for us to fight back.

“We all understand that basketball is a game of runs.  We have to stop the runs a little quicker.  We can’t go down 15 all the time and battle back.  You can get like a five, six‑point swing here and there.  We can’t always get in a deep hole like that.”

As always, there are plenty of tangible reasons that the Mavericks lost Game 3. Dwyane Wade was spectacular for the second straight game, and he got plenty of help from James and Chris Bosh, as well as some critical minutes from Mario Chalmers off the bench. Meanwhile, Dallas struggled to get anywhere near efficient production from anyone not named Nowitzki. The only other two Mavericks in double figures, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, combined for 25 points, but needed 25 shots to get there.

Dallas has shown they can compete with Miami in this series. We can sit here and pick apart the Mavs’ woeful team offense beyond Dirk, and lament the fact that Wade and James got into the paint for easy opportunities seemingly at will, especially in the first half. But the bottom line is, it was a one-possession game in the final seconds, and the Mavs had the ball in the hands of their best player with a chance to tie or win the game at the buzzer.

I think if you told either team beforehand that’s how things would play out for them, they’d like their chances. The Mavericks have to like theirs as the series continues, but only if they can find a way to turn things around, and put the Heat on the wrong end of those early-game deficits.

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)
Getty Images
1 Comment

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)

2 Comments

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)
5 Comments

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)
Associated Press
1 Comment

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.