Dwyane Wade, LeBron James

NBA finals Game 5, Thunder—Heat: Five things to watch

34 Comments

By the fifth game of an NBA series, there are not a lot of surprises left. There is no magical adjustment or lineup that hasn’t already been tried. The coaches have played their cards, made their tweaks, figured out the matchups they want and don’t want.

It’s about execution.

That’s where we stand heading into Game 5 Thursday night, with the Heat up 3-1. Miami stands on the doorstep of its first championship of the Big 3 era, LeBron James stands on the doorstep of winning a ring that has been nine seasons in coming. But crossing that threshold is another matter — closeout games are hard (right Andrew Bynum?) and the Thunder have been in every game late. This has been an entertaining series and Game 5 will be no different.

Here are five things to watch Thursday night.

1) LeBron James in the post. Miami has essentially played LeBron at the four this series and the Thunder do not have an answer. He will back down smaller players and score, he will pull bigger players away from the rim then drive by them, and if you bring the double team he is a fantastic passer (a dozen assists in Game 4). Poor James Harden has gotten this impossible task most of the time and the Thunder need to look for other answers because James is destroying them by getting to his spots right now. One answer might be to front him and deny him the ball, as the Heat have done to Kevin Durant.

2) How does Miami do while LeBron rests? In the wake of LeBron cramping at the end of Game 4, expect coach Erik Spoelstra to try and get him some rest in this game. That is when the Thunder need to pounce (or if you are the Heat, they need to hang on). Miami struggles to create as good of looks when LeBron sits, the Thunder need to get some stops and turn them into easy buckets in transition.

3) James Harden needs to be aggressive. He is he Thunder’s matchup nightmare and he has been hesitant, missed shots (4-20 shooting the last two games combined) and been turnover prone at times. Friend of this blog Sebastian Pruiti has a great breakdown over at Grantland you should read, but the bottom line is Harden used to attack, look for his shot and create for others off that. He needs to get back to that Thursday night.

4) Oklahoma City needs some easy buckets in transition. Miami is a very good halfcourt defensive team and even with guys like Durant and Westbrook the Thunder will struggle to score a lot against it. The Thunder need to pick up the tempo and run. That starts with their defense — they need some stops, but then they need to turn those stops into some easy points on the break. Like they did in Game 1.

5) Who wins the rebounding battle? Basketball is a simple game we can sometimes make complicated. Steve Perin pointed out a simple but revealing correlation at SBN — the team that has won the rebounding battle has won each game. Chris Bosh has been great on the boards for the Heat the past few games, Durant’s rebounding numbers have been down. It’

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)

1 Comment

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
Leave a 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.