Cavaliers top Warriors in thriller. Again.

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The venue changed. So did the stakes. A very important player entered the equation.

But sixth months after their incredible seven-game NBA Finals, Warriors-Cavaliers once again ended with Cleveland players enveloping their star in jubilant hugs along the baseline as the buzzer sounded.

Kyrie Irving – who replaced LeBron James as the center of postgame attention – hit a heavily contested fadeaway over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds left to give the Cavs a 109-108 win an an instant Christmas classic.

Though this was only one regular-season game – Golden State won both regular-season matchups with Cleveland and 73 games last year – both teams played with incredible intensity in this budding rivalry. As much as both teams will downplay the significance, this was no ordinary regular-season game.

“It’s Christmas,” said a beaming Irving, who had 25 points, 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds.

The Warriors nearly played Grinch. But just as they blew a 3-1 lead in last summer’s Finals, they blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and a three-point lead with the ball and 45 seconds left today.

Richard Jefferson ignited Cleveland by dunking on Kevin Durant in the fourth to end an 11-1 Golden State run – especially because Jefferson then received a technical foul for winking at Durant:

Jefferson’s dunk over Klay Thompson later in the period required no additional taunting:

By that point, the Cavaliers were right back in the game, and their confidence only grew.

LeBron James – who finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals – dunked as if he were trying to tear down the entire hoop:

Draymond Green, who spent most of the game threatening to get a second technical foul and got a technical last week for hanging on the rim too long, held up his palms in bewilderment. What would it take for the Warriors to get a break against Cleveland?

They thought they answered that question last July.

Their league-altering newcomer excelled today. Durant scored 36 points, another excellent Christmas performance by the former Thunder star. He kept Golden State clicking as Curry started slow, and the question that hovered over the entire season gained prominence: How will anyone stop these Warriors? Stop one of their MVPs, and you still have to contend with the other.  Golden State won the first, second and third quarters. And it’s not as if Curry just disappears. His 3-pointer untied the game with 1:14 left.

But, a possession later, Irving stole the ball and drove for a layup. Then, came a little controversy.

The Warriors’ penultimate possession ended in a clear shot-clock violation, but officials reviewed it anyway – giving the Cavs, who were out of timeouts, a chance to diagram a play. Golden State also subbed out Curry during the stoppage, which seemingly shouldn’t have been allowed and made it easier for Thompson to guard Irving. (Update: The NBA says the 24-second violation made a sub permissible.)

But Irving still hit the big shot against the Warriors – his second in two matchups, dating back to Game 7.

On Golden State’s final chance, Durant stumbled with the ball, and time ran out.

Welcome to the rivalry, KD. The Warriors’ talent keeps falling short against Cleveland’s perseverance.

That could change, of course. These teams face each other again in Oakland on Jan. 16. They could also meet in an unprecedented third straight finals.

After this hard-fought, exhilarating contest, that’d be a delight.

Baron Davis figured out why Russell Westbrook isn’t starting All-Star Game: Russian hackers

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When the starters for next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans were announced this week, there was a mini-uproar on Twitter because Russell Westbrook — the guy averaging a triple-double this season — wasn’t picked. It’s hard for me to get worked up over two-time MVP Stephen Curry getting the nod, but if you want someone to blame it was the fans’ call — they voted Curry first overall, James Harden second, Westbrook third. The players and media had Westbrook first, Harden second, but the tie is broken by the fan vote.

Enter Baron Davis with the timely joke.

We just need to tie in a Zaza Pachulia joke and it will be perfect.

Report: Bucks brought Jabari Parker off bench for discussing with media team’s meeting

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, center, looks for an open teammate as he is surrounded by Miami Heat players during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Bucks 109-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Associated Press
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The Milwaukee Bucks had lost four in a row and had slid out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s not one end of the court — in their last five games, the Bucks had the second-worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the NBA. After that fourth loss, the team held a players’ only meeting, one where Jabari Parker reportedly ripped his teammates for a lack of togetherness.

In the postgame media sessions that followed, Parker told the press he confirmed there was a meeting and said he had been “thrashed” by his teammates for what he said.

It was that speaking to the media that got him benched for a game — as decided by his teammates — reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker did not start in Saturday’s road loss to the Miami Heat for violating a team rule that prohibits disclosing locker room discourse to the media, league sources told ESPN…

Parker’s teammates deliberated and decided the appropriate punishment for the violation was to bring him off the bench against the Heat, league sources told ESPN. It was the first time this season that he did not start.

The meeting and the benching didn’t help, the Bucks fell to the lowly Heat 109-97. (Team/players meetings are overrated in how often they help teams turn things around.)

The good news for the Bucks is that in a tight East they remain just a game out of the playoffs and three games out of the five seed. It’s going to be a tough week to turn that around with the Rockets, resurgent Sixers, Raptors, and Celtics on the schedule.

 

Denver’s Kenneth Faried gets up, blocks DeAndre Jordan dunk attempt (VIDEO)

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Without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the lineup, the Clippers don’t have much going for them offensively. However, there is one thing: DeAndre Jordan can still run to the rim and dunk with authority.

Denver’s Kenneth Faried took that away Saturday.

Faried hustled back in transition, showed he still had some hops and swatted away a Jordan dunk attempt.

The Nuggets went on to win the game comfortably, 123-98, behind 19 points and 10 boards from Nikola Jokic.

Suns’ Devin Booker sinks three that defeats Knicks (VIDEO)

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The Knicks last three losses have come by a total of six points. The team is not good, a little banged up, and doesn’t play any defense, but New York also has just had a run of bad luck.

The latest example: Phoenix’s Devin Booker draining a three to knock off New York, 107-105. It was a mistake by Derrick Rose, who sagged down to the free throw line watching Eric Bledsoe with the ball coming off the pick, which led to the open pass. Also, notice that Booker set up three feet back of the three-point line — this is a trend a lot of teams and good shooters are following (watch a Rockets’ game) because it makes the closeout harder. Rose would have contested a shot at the arc, but Booker gets a clean look from where he spotted up, and drills it.

Carmelo Anthony got a shot to win it for the Knicks, but his rimmed out.