Thunder let Game 3 get away in NBA Finals after Miami gave them multiple chances


The Oklahoma City Thunder have shown all season that they’re a tough team to beat, but their youth and relative inexperience may have finally caught up to them on Sunday night.

The Thunder, playing their first game as the away team in the NBA Finals, looked like they might be on the way to running the Miami Heat right out of their own building at one point in the third quarter, but they were unable to execute down the stretch and lost 91-85 as Miami took a 2-1 series lead.

Miami entered halftime with a contentious one-point lead, but the Thunder — a team full of young players without the vaunted “playoff experience” — came out of the locker room looking like they were well on their way to avenging the loss they suffered on their homecourt in Game 2 of the series. Thanks in large part to Kevin Durant, who scored eight of the Thunder’s 14 points to begin the second half, Oklahoma City began the second half with valuable momentum and an eventual double-digit lead with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for OKC that lead wouldn’t last, though, as Durant took a seat on the bench after picking up his fourth foul — a foul which would also wind up taking the wind out of the Oklahoma City’s sails. With Durant on the bench due to foul trouble, Russell Westbrook subbed out a bit later to apparently get some rest and James Harden once again inexplicably ineffective on the offensive end, Miami turned the tides to take a 69-67 lead with 12 minutes left to play.

Durant returned to the court for the start of the fourth quarter and, for awhile, the Thunder again looked like they might cause another photo-finish in the Finals as the momentum shifted back and forth throughout the final stanza. In fact, Oklahoma City’s finest looked like they might even be able to come out as victors when they caught lighting in a bottle en route to a 6-0 run, cutting a seven-point Miami lead down to just one with 1:30 left on the game clock. LeBron James set up Chris Bosh in the post, resulting in a pair of free-throws and an end to the Thunder run, but the momentum had yet to shift considering the Thunder were still down just three — and the NBA’s best scorer was still in the game despite his trouble with fouls.

Durant didn’t score on a drive around James on the next possession, but the momentum still stuck when LeBron bricked a fadeaway on the ensuing possession. Through this point, it still seemed as though the Thunder would  (at least) end up tying the game considering they had the ball and were down just three points with 45 seconds remaining. More mistakes manifested on the next couple of possessions, though, as Russell Westbrook was unable to connect on a wide-open three and then James Harden committed a bad foul after allowing 14 seconds to come off of the clock, giftng King James a pair of free-throws and Miami a six-point lead.

Even then, though, the Thunder still showed signs of life … especially when one remembers the incredible almost-comeback the Thunder pulled off to end the second game of the series. It apparently wasn’t meant to be once again for OKC on Sunday night, however, because Thabo Sefolosha and Westbrook suffered a communication error of epic proportions that ended in a turnover and allowed Miami to hammer the final nail in to the coffin.

It’s tough to put the blame on the Thunder considering how well the Heat, sans Dwyane Wade — it wasn’t as though Miami was outright handing Durant and Co. the keys to victory — but a young team like Oklahoma City needs to take advantage of every opportunity that opens up in the NBA Finals. They were unable to do so again on Sunday night, though, and now find themselves in a 2-1 hole and an uphill battle considering they’ll need to win one of the next two games in Miami.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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