With a gut-check overtime win, Warriors even series with Spurs

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If you listen to head coach Mark Jackson talk about his Warriors one thing becomes abundantly clear about the identity he wants his team to have. Jackson wants his team to play defense first and let the offense take care of itself via the virtues of his high potent outside shooting attack.

Today, Jackson got the first part of that equation in spades as his Warriors held the Spurs to 33 makes on 93 shots (35.5%), including a miserable 1-10 effort in overtime, en route to a series evening 97-87 win.

With the Warriors not shooting well either (35-92 from the floor), this game wasn’t a pretty one to watch. Both teams struggled early to find the rhythm of the game as the refs called a tight contest that needed adjusting to. Be it offensive fouls on moving picks, bumps on post ups, or hand checks on the perimeter, the flow of the game was choppy and neither team ever seemed to be able to get into a flow on offense.

With the whistle blowing frequently, the Spurs were able to capitalize when the entire Warriors’ big man rotation found themselves in foul trouble. Andrew Bogut picked up three fouls in the first period and with the Golden State’s defensive anchor on the bench San Antonio was able to carve out a lead heading into the 2nd half.

But, even with the Spurs taking advantage of a thin Warriors’ front-line they weren’t able to create the type of separation they needed to really break the game open. With the Warriors going small to compensate, they were able to better rotate around the perimeter and dig down into the post to keep the game closer than it should have been. When combined with a solid offensive output from Jarrett Jack (10 of his 24 points in the first half) and a few timely shots from Harrison Barnes the Warriors were able to hang around

And that was really the Spurs’ biggest issue in this game. While they showed early that they could build an advantage, the Warriors just continued to scrap and stay within striking distance. And by the time the 2nd half came around, all the Warriors needed was one sustained offensive push and they found themselves right back in the game.

This is where the ability of the Warriors to get contributions from multiple players on their roster was so huge. As mentioned, Jack was a key performer by scoring  24 points, including several big baskets in the 2nd half and overtime. Barnes, while not scoring that efficiently, was also important scoring a team high 26 points on a variety of post ups, pull up jumpers, and drives to the rim. Barnes didn’t score that efficiently — he needed 26 shots to get his 26 points — but his ability to work as a post up option in the half court gave his team a steadiness that they sorely needed.

One of the reasons they needed Barnes and Jack was because Curry simply couldn’t be the ball dominant human torch he’s made his name on these playoffs. Curry was still able to pour in 22 points on 7-15 shooting, but had to pick his spots more carefully as he was clearly still hampered by his bad left ankle. Don’t get me wrong, his points and shot making were still huge for his team, but those other guys gave the Warriors a balance and diversity that was so important.

Meanwhile, the Spurs simply couldn’t muster the offense they needed to hold off the Dubs. Manu Ginobili was mostly fantastic in scoring 21 points on 8-18 shooting but did most of his damage in the 1st half. Tim Duncan never did establish a good flow, only hitting 7 of his 22 shots to score his 19 points. And Tony Parker, who was also clearly still bothered by his bad calf, needed 17 shots to score his 17 points and wasn’t as aggressive in getting into the paint.

So here the Warriors are, tied 2-2 heading back to Texas where they’ve already proven they can win. If this series has taught us anything about them it’s that they play well beyond their years and have enough talent to hang with the old guard Spurs. Whether they can actually pull off the upset in this series remains to be seen, but this game at least showed they’re not going to fold anytime soon.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

Associated Press
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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.