Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets - Game Two

Warriors go on the offensive, dominate Nuggets to even the series

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The Warriors had a lot of questions surrounding them heading into this game.

How would they adjust to playing without David Lee? Who would start in his place? Would Stephen Curry find his offense? Would anyone else step up?

In order, they answered those accordingly: not much, Jarrett Jack, YES, and YES.

The Warriors put on a clinic in this game, running circles around the Nuggets by shooting an astonishing 64.6% from the field and claiming a 131-117 win to tie up the series at one game a piece.

The star of the night was easily Curry who, after starting out slowly (again), found his stroke from all over the floor to terrorize the Denver defense. Curry hit all variety of shots — step back jumpers from behind the arc, pull ups from mid-range, and even nifty finishes at the rim. He finished with a game high 30 points on 13-23 shooting, including 9 of his 13 shots from inside the arc.

But just as important as Curry’s scoring was his ability to set up his teammates. He also tallied 13 assists, getting the rest of his guys going to help trigger the onslaught that Denver simply didn’t have an answer for.

Three other Warriors besides Curry had at least 20 points in this game, led by Jarrett Jack’s 26 points (10-15 shooting) and rookie Harrison Barnes’ 24 points (9-14 shooting). Add that to Klay Thompson’s 21 points on 11 shots (including 5-6 from behind the arc) and the Warriors’ perimeter players overwhelmed the Nuggets all night.

Barnes’ performance was especially impressive in this game, not just because he’s rookie, but more so because of the versatility he showed in scoring the ball. He not only hit from the outside, but was also able to knock down mid-range shots while showing a fantastic ability to finish at the rim. He had several highlight level plays, including a two handed reverse dunk on Anthony Randolph that left the Denver crowd stunned and his teammates celebrating.

Those finishes at the rim were indicative of a second half that had Denver head coach George Karl scrambling for defensive answers that never came. With the Warriors doing so much damage from the wing, Karl elected to play a small lineup for most of the final 24 minutes, only playing Kosta Koufos a shade over three minutes and JaVale McGee a little over four minutes. Instead Karl turned to Anthony Randolph and Kenneth Faried as his big men, but both struggled to protect the rim. Faried, returning from injury, looked particularly sluggish and not yet back in game form, lacking his normal burst and athleticism around the basket on either end of the floor.

The Warriors took full advantage of that lack of size, running pick and rolls that allowed them to attack the paint and then finishing with ease once there. Golden State hit 12 of their 14 shots in the restricted area in that second half, which only led to the Nuggets over-helping once the ball got close to the rim, allowing the Warriors to kick the ball out to wide open shooters behind the arc. The formula was simplistic, but highly effective and all the Nuggets could do was watch as their home court advantage got washed away in the tide of made Warriors buckets.

Meanwhile, even though the Nuggets scored 117 points, they have to question if their approach is going to get it done over the course of this series. Denver only scored 8 fast break points in this game and couldn’t find many ways to generate the frenetic pace they love to play at. The Warriors cut off the Nuggets’ fast break attack wonderfully by consistently sending three players back on defense, trading offensive rebounding chances for better transition defense.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets were just the opposite, sending three (and sometimes four) players to the offensive glass on too many possessions and allowing the Warriors to run out for fast break chances in the process. The Warriors didn’t take advantage of these chances often, but they did get some timely baskets on run-outs; baskets that enabled them to maintain and/or extend the lead at crucial parts of the game.

Through two games in this series it’s not a stretch to say that the Warriors have clearly been the better team. They only lost game one by a single last second basket, but blew the doors off the Nuggets in game two. The Warriors look more poised and seem to have a better game plan through two games. And now head back to what will surely be a raucous Oracle Arena in Oakland to try and carry over momentum and seize control of the series.

On a night that started with so many questions for the Warriors, it’s now the Nuggets that have some searching to do. And if they can’t find some answers quickly, they may find themselves on the wrong end of first round upset.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.