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.

Kevin Love shut down at the rim by Bismack Biyombo (VIDEO)

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Once again, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint that the Raptors leaned on heavily during their Game 4 win against the Cavaliers.

His biggest play of the night was this clean block of Kevin Love at the rim. Love passed to LeBron James in the post, caught his defender napping and cut the rim, got the pass back from James and… denied.

Biyombo also got LeBron James at the rim but was called for a foul much to the dismay of Biyombo, Raptors fans, and the ESPN broadcast crew (it was the right call — watch Biyombo leap across the lane, he is anything but vertical, he contacts LeBron’s body, that’s a foul).  Either way it’s worth watching.

NBA VP explains decision not to suspend Draymond Green; says very different play than Dahntay Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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All day long NBA Twitter — and the Warriors, and the Thunder — waited for the shoe to drop on a decision about suspending Draymond Green for a kick to the “groin” of the Cavaliers’ Steven Adams.

Everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

It took that long because the league wanted to be thorough — watching the film, looking at similar incidents (and the punishments there), talking to the players and the referees, and thinking it through. It was a decision with a huge impact on the series (Golden State was not winning Game 4 without Green).

So why did NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe decide not to suspend Green, rather upping the foul to a flagrant 2 and taking on a $25,000 fine?VanDeWeghe talked in some detail to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a piece you should read right now. This is just a highlight.

We have professional investigators that conduct the investigation. They talk to the players, they talk to all the referees, including the replay officials, and they all come back and report to me. I obviously discuss it internally, and especially with referee operations, get their perspective. But at the end of the day … every play is different and that’s the problem. You take into account everything. You take into account t what the referees have said. They obviously went with a Flagrant One last night, and you take into account the comparables. The problem with comparables is they never tell the whole story.

One comparable a lot of people supporting the suspension brought up was the one-game suspension for Cleveland Dahntay Jones just a day before (for a punch to the groin of Bismack Biyombo. Except VanDeWeghe says it was not comparable.

But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody (who was) tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack’s (Biyombo) groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount, Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players. Unfortunately, in this particular one, Draymond’s leg connected in the same Adams groin area, the same area, as the Jones one, but everything else about the call, or the play, was really different.

That is what the Warriors tried to sell, and the league came to find — Green was fouled but in trying to sell that call a little he accidentally kicked Adams where men least like to be kicked.

None of this is going to change anyone’s mind — if you’re convinced Green’s kick was intentional, and he should have been suspended, there is no evidence that will get you to think otherwise. This is just context, it helps everyone understand the process and the decision. More information is a good thing.

Raptors race out to lead, hang on to beat Cavaliers 105-99, even series 2-2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Now this is some adversity.

After winning 10 straight games to open the playoffs, the Cavaliers struggled in Game 3 in Toronto last Saturday, but that felt almost like a setback rather than a change of direction in the series. At least it did until Game 4 tipped off.

Toronto again came out with fantastic energy again on defense, scrambling and contesting everything. The Cavaliers were not attacking (well, except LeBron James) and were kicking out for threes — and missing. As a team, Cleveland was 3-of-22 from three in the first half. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry was hot on the other end, both hitting long threes and setting up teammates. Lowry was 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and had three assists as well.

Raptors led 57-41 at the half. They needed every point of that down the stretch.

Cleveland started the second half on an 11-0 run and came back behind Kyrie Irving (15 second half points), LeBron, and a more focused defense. With six minutes to go in the game Cleveland even took the lead. It felt like this was when the Cavaliers would assert themselves as the best team in the East.

Except the Raptors out hustled and out executed the Cavaliers down the stretch. Bismack Biyombo was grabbing key rebounds inside (Patrick Patterson had a huge offensive rebound as well), and Lowry and DeRozan remained hot — the guards combined for 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter — not taking threes (0-of-1) but attacking and getting to the basket an the line.

The result was a 105-99 Toronto win that evens the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland Wednesday for Game 5.

“I thought we come back, had control of the game, was up three points, then we made some defensive mistakes you can’t do down the stretch, and they cost us — each time we made a mistake they made us pay,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said postgame.

This was another game where Toronto played with great defensive energy and the Cavaliers responded by settling — they took 41 threes in Game 3 (hitting 13), Monday they were 13-of-42. J.R. Smith was 3-of-11, Kevin Love 2-of-7 (and sat out the fourth quarter with a potential injury, he was limping). The guys that kept the Cavaliers in it in the fourth (besides LeBron, who was fantastic again) were Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, who combined 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. But it was not enough.

“We’ve got to be more well balanced,” LeBron said on a night he finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting. “We started the game, we had some great looks, but when they’re not going you’ve got to be able to switch it up and get into the paint and do what you can do. I was able to get into the paint a little bit, Kyrie as well, but we just haven’t shot the ball from the three point line.”

Offensively, the Raptors were carried by Lowry and DeRozan, which was the case all season. Lowry had 35 points on 20 shots and looked every bit the All-Star version of himself.

“He’s made shots,” Lue said. “He’s being aggressive. He’s making shots. Tonight he made some early baskets that gave him some confidence, I thought, in the first quarter, and he carried it throughout the game.”

DeRozan had 32 points on 23 shots and was getting to the spots on the floor he liked. Once in Toronto both Biyombo and Patterson have done a good job of switching up their screen angles on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavaliers get flummoxed by this.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Lowry said. “(He and DeRozan) need to find a way to be consistent throughout a whole series.”

Then again there was Biyombo, the free agent to be making the case he should get paid big this summer. He finished with 14 boards — including a number of key ones late — and three blocks. His presence inside has the Cavaliers hesitant to attack the paint.

This sets up a lot of interesting questions heading into Game 5 Wednesday.

Can Toronto play with the same energy on the road? Can Cleveland adjust to the Toronto defense and get back to attacking the paint? Will Lowry stay hot? Will Love regain his stroke?

The bottom line is this is a series now — best of three. And the Cavaliers are no lock to advance.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s red-hot shooting second quarter

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Kyle Lowry found his shot back home in Toronto.

After a rough first couple games (actually a rough couple rounds to start the playoffs), Lowry has gotten hot back home, and that seemed to peak in the second quarter when he shot 6-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three. He had 15 points, 20 in the quarter, and the Raptors were up 16 at the half.