Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals Game 4 preview: Will Warriors finally play with desperation?

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CLEVELAND — Led by LeBron James, the Cavaliers have played all three games of this NBA Finals as if it were a Game 7. They have given it everything — to the point Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital after Game 3 due to exhaustion.

Golden State, on the other hand… they are still playing like this is the Western Conference first round. They are not getting to the loose balls, they are not close to outworking the Cavs.

If that doesn’t change Thursday night, Golden State will be down 3-1 to the Cavaliers with the questions of when, not if, they fall.

Here are five things to watch as we head into what is a must-win for the Warriors.

1) Will we see the Stephen Curry from the fourth quarter of Game 3 again? Since the opening tip of Game 1, the Cleveland Cavaliers have played with the energy of a desperate team. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors largely have not. They have tried to finesse a game being played down in the muck — their pin-downs screens to free up shooters, their dribble hand-offs, have not worked, and they have just looked confused. The Cavaliers have ground any flow, any rhythm out of Warriors.

But in the fourth quarter of Game 3 we finally saw Curry the MVP. Golden State ran him off multiple off-ball picks to create space, they let him run the pick-and-roll with David Lee, and all of it got Curry some looks he felt comfortable enough to knock down. Curry was 5-of-8 from three and had 17 fourth quarter points, and while some of those came with a high degree of difficulty, he was hitting them like he did in the regular season. Golden State believes it has something to build on. If it can replicate some of that, if Curry can get going again, the Warriors will be dangerous.

2) Will LeBron James continue to control the pace? This series has averaged 93.7 possessions per game — seven fewer than the Warriors averaged during the regular season. It is part of the grind that has killed the rhythm of the Warriors’ offense. LeBron James is being patient on offense, working deep into the shot clock and is slowing everything down. Combine that with Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounding that forces the Warriors to gang rebound rather than leak out, plus just good transition defense with Cavs players getting back, and the Cavaliers have taken away the easy transition buckets on which the Warriors thrive. Golden State will be looking to pick up the pace, but if LeBron and company can continue to control the tempo, it’s advantage Cleveland.

3) Just how tired is Matthew Dellavedova? LeBron? Cleveland’s cult hero and little ball of energy Matthew Dellavedova had to be taken to the hospital and given IVs of fluid after Game 3 due to fatigue. That just adds to the legend of Delly — he gave everything he could, diving on the floor for loose balls until the very end. But that kind of fatigue catches up with a guy. Can he keep chasing Curry off picks for 30 plus minutes and stay in Curry’s jersey as he has? Or is Curry going to find a little space?

Along those same lines, LeBron has admitted his legs have been tired at points. Can he keep playing virtually the entire game, shouldering the load of the entire Cavaliers offense, as he has brilliantly through three games?

4) Does David Lee give Golden State some scoring up front? On offense, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes have been nonexistent — they are 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) over the last two games, and that includes 1-of-10 on threes. Andrew Bogut has floated through games but only impacted them in spots on offense. All through the season when teams loaded up on Curry and Klay Thompson, the front line of the Warriors made teams pay. Cleveland has not be charged a dime. Well, at least until David Lee got minutes late in the game Tuesday, and his threat helped open things up for Curry. Lee will get run again, but he is a defensive liability, and his conditioning is not going to let him play 30+ minutes a night. The Warriors still need Green or Barnes to show up on the offensive end.

5) Who steps up for Cleveland? Every game it’s someone, who will it be this time around? Dellavedova again? Tristan Thompson? Timofey Mozgov? Is it time for the J.R. Smith game? LeBron needs one other guy to step up, and he’s gotten it every game. Who is it this time?

Paul George says he “Didn’t know I was gonna be traded”

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As I have pointed out before here on NBC Sports, I really do love watching NBA marketing unfold in front of me. Some of it — like Kobe Bryant’s weird post career legacy massaging — is downright impressive.

Other instances are not quite as sly.

Enter newest Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and his latest sponsored Instagram post.

In a recent video posted to his page, George put up a training montage set to an Eminem song that was essentially an advertisement for the gym and trainer he had been working with over the summer. The gym’s own page also features several of these videos. So far, pretty common stuff.

That is, until you read the Instagram caption and see what George had to say about his training. Let’s see if you can spot the issue.

Screenshot via Instagram:

Of course, the issue here is that George essentially took away the leverage the Indiana Pacers would have had if his trade request hadn’t somehow been made public. Repeatedly.

George knew he was going to get traded because Indiana had no choice but to trade him. Saying otherwise is a hilarious and transparent attempt to reshape recent history.

This is perhaps my favorite result of the platitudes drilled into the heads of players by team PR guys and agent media training. That is, when you talk nonsense for so long and during each and every interview — we just dug deep, it’s a game of inches, you have to want it more — sometimes you just don’t know when to stop trying to spin the story in your direction. Especially because the mantra of media training is to be boring and try say nothing, which is hard if you have something to prove or an opinion to change.

Between this and Kevin Durant openly admitting to having a burner Twitter account (which no doubt sparked a flurry of emails and calls between agents and their clients) this is shaping up to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memories and that’s just from a new media standpoint.

Gordon Hayward says Isaiah Thomas “ultimately helped win me over”

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Gordon Hayward is now a member of the Boston Celtics, and we are all excited to see how the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference last season checks out with a newly revamped roster.

Of course, Boston has been the subject of much media attention after signing Hayward and trading Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. I think there should be some skepticism about how quickly Boston will be able to put things together, but this is a team of former and current All-Stars so they will likely be at least a Top 4 team out East.

Meanwhile, Hayward has written a new blog post on his personal website about the summer, taking on such subjects as the move to Massachusetts, video games, and what to expect this season.

One of the more interesting things that Hayward wrote about was just how much of an influence Thomas had in his decision to come to Boston. Hayward addresses Thomas’ influence in a section dedicated to him finding out about the trade to Cleveland.

Via GordonHayward20.life:

He didn’t just help recruit me to Boston—he was a big piece of that recruitment. He had talked a lot about city and how it was different to be a Celtic. He talked about the intensity of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, playing at the Garden in the playoffs, and how much fun it was, and how much fun he had playing in Boston.

All of that ultimately helped win me over. And by the time of the trade, I had already started to build a little bit of a relationship with him.

The rest of Hayward’s post was about the subjects mentioned above, but it ended by saying that he understands the history of the organization and that he feels like he has not reached his full potential just yet.

Obviously, in signing him this season that’s exactly what the Celtics and Danny Ainge are hoping.

NBA implementing ‘Zaza Pachulia,’ ‘James Harden’ rules

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NEW YORK (AP) — NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season’s playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden‘s attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard’s in Game 1 of Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

“It’s 100 percent for the safety of the players,” NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. But the play got renewed attention during the playoffs because of Leonard’s injury, and also one in which Washington forward Markieff Morris landed on Al Horford‘s foot in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal, knocking him out of a game the Celtics rallied to win.

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia’s foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots – often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up – officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

“We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let’s catch up to it,”‘ NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.

Report: Cavaliers signing Kendrick Perkins

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Kendrick Perkins spent fewer than four months with the Cavaliers, including the 2015 playoffs. But nearly a year later after Cleveland let Perkins walk in free agency, LeBron James was still bemoaning Perkins’ absence.

Are the Cavs righting a wrong?

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Kendrick Perkins joined the Cavaliers at LeBron James’ minicamp in Santa Barbara, Calif., and will come to training camp next week, sources told cleveland.com.

The Cavs now have 18 players with standard contracts, and 15 – the regular-season limit – have guaranteed salaries. I doubt Cleveland wants to waive the two without guaranteed salaries, Kay Felder and Edy Tavares, either.

In other words, Perkins is a longshot to stick into the regular season.

Perkins was washed up when with the Cavaliers two years ago. The 32-year-old who sat out last season hasn’t produced on the court in several years. He’s tough and well-liked in the locker room, which might give him a chance of sneaking onto the regular-season roster.

But the Cavs should focus on developing toughness and chemistry among their rotation players. Perkins is just a crutch, most likely one who’ll be yanked away by cut-down day a few weeks from now.