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.

Watch Lonzo Ball dodge relentless stream of LeBron James questions (video)

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Shortly before the draft, Lonzo Ball was asked in a televised interview to pitch LeBron James on joining the Lakers – and did.

A couple months and a tampering investigation into the Lakers later, Ball learned his lesson.

Sports Illustrated:

Rohan Nadkarni’s questions were all in good fun, and he couldn’t trick Ball into tampering, anyway. The NBA has essentially decided it won’t punish players for tampering with each other.

Ask Ball an honest LeBron question, and he’ll give an honest answer.

Report: People close to LeBron James ‘fairly confident’ Dwyane Wade will join Cavaliers

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Will the Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach a buyout?

Apparently, not only do people close to LeBron James believe it’ll happen, they have a read on Wade’s destination.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

As of right now, people close to James are fairly confident that, at some point this year, Dwyane Wade is going to end up on the Cavs.

Earlier in the podcast, Vardon even listed the only five people he believes reports should source as close to LeBron:

  • LeBron
  • Rich Paul
  • Maverick Carter
  • Savanah James
  • Adam Mendelsohn

So, that something about the proximity of this information to LeBron. Given Wade’s friendship with LeBron, Vardon’s sources could have inside information on Wade’s plan.

But hold your horses on Wade to Cleveland.

Though they could buy him out sooner, the Bulls are incentivized to keep Wade past the trade deadline. His $23.8 million expiring contract could prove useful in a trade. If no trade comes up and Chicago is out of the playoff race, as expected, a buyout would make far more sense. Now, eliminating that trade chip and sticking a large amount of dead salary on the books would be problematic for the Bulls – unless Wade cuts them a big discount. He doesn’t sound inclined to do that.

Even if Wade gets bought out, he has been rumored to follow LeBron to Cleveland for years. It obviously hasn’t happened yet. Wade’s friendship with LeBron is the primary lure – but it also might push Wade to signal a desire to team up while he can’t commit then go a different direction when push comes to shove. It can be hard to tell friends no.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade ends up with the Cavaliers. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is just wishful thinking by people close to LeBron.

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-