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Three things we learned on Wednesday: Toronto is good, but not Golden State good

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Things could be worse for you: You could be the person printing the Christmas Day prayer and carol book for a church service in Sri Lanka, the person who substituted the traditional “Hail Mary” prayer with the words to Tupac’s 1997 “Hail Mary” — “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.” The Raptors may have had a rough night, but not one that bad. Here’s the Wednesday takeaways from around the NBA.

1) Toronto is very good, but was reminded of its place in loss to Warriors. The Warriors turn the ball over too much — they turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions Wednesday night. One in five trips down the court ended in a Warriors turnover. Kevin Durant had six of them himself.

But only Cleveland seems able to make the Warriors pay for it. Toronto certainly couldn’t. Toronto came into Golden State looking for a glimmer of hope that they could climb past that second tier in the NBA they are on — the Raptors had won 8-of-9 and were just a game back of Cleveland in the East. Surely this was a team that could run with one of the NBA’s two big dogs, right?

Golden State was up 42-17 after one quarter, and the Warriors shot 72 percent for that frame. Shot charts don’t look much better than the Warriors first quarter:

Warriors shotchart

The Raptors are scrappy and fought back to make it a five-point game in the second, then Toronto coach Dwyane Casey stuck with big man Jonas Valanciunas too long against the Warriors small lineups at the end of the second and the Warriors went on another run and led by 17 at the half. The Raptors turned all those Warriors turnovers into 26 points, which allowed them to make the game respectable at the end — 122-111 Warriors — and while Toronto made its late push to this game never really felt in doubt. Stephen Curry had 28 in the win.

Too many fans underestimate how good this Raptors team is — they won 56 games last season and went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, this season they are on pace for 58 wins and the two-seed in the East (only Boston, as it starts to come together, looks like a team that would have the potential to keep the Raptors from a return to the ECF). Toronto has the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than the Warriors statistically) and the second best net rating (+9.5 points per 100 possessions). This is a very good team. But they are 0-3 against the Cavaliers this season and the Warriors offered the same assessment — the Raptors are on the second tier.

2) Trail Blazers snap six-game losing streak against Kings in battle of teams eyeing eight seed in West.
There is a lot of basketball to go this season, things can change, but the West seems to be shaping up with seven teams as playoff locks barring major injuries — the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, and Grizzlies — then there is a five game drop to anyone else. That could leave the Kings, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers fighting for the final playoff slot in the West (New Orleans can enter this discussion if it strings some wins together, but we need to see that first).

Which is why Portland snapping its six-game losing streak — and Sacramento’s four-game winning streak — on Wednesday night mattered. Portland won comfortably 102-89, which leaves Sacramento and Denver tied for the eight seed at 14-18, with the Blazers just one game back. There were no DeMarcus Cousins/Meyers Leonard fireworks this time around, although Leonard did have an impressive game with 16 points off the bench.

The Blazers strategy clearly was to make life difficult for Cousins and dare any other King to beat them. Without Rudy Gay (he’s missed seven of the last eight) they couldn’t — Kings players not named Cousins shot 38.3 percent overall and 6-of-22 from three. It wasn’t good enough, the Kings offense was entirely too stagnant against a Portland defense that has been the worst in the NBA this season.

Portland got 20 points out of C.J. McCollum, but it was more about balance as six Blazers scored in double figures, and as a team they shot 48 percent from three.

The race for the eight seed in the West could be very interesting the rest of the season, and it could well impact the trades the Blazers and Kings look to make — and don’t look to make — as the trade deadline starts to loom.

3) There was Lopez on Lopez crime. It’s easy to say the shot of the night was Jimmy Butler‘s game winner lifting the Bulls past the Nets. We don’t like to do things the easy way.

My favorite video of the night was from that same game: Brook Lopez putting brother Robin Lopez in a poster.

No motivational material: LeBron James, Cavaliers respectful when asked about Warriors

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The rubber match. The trilogy. Whatever you want to call the historic third meeting between the Cavaliers and Warriors in the Finals — never in NBA history have two teams met three years in a row in the Finals — it’s what fans have been waiting for. The inevitability of this Finals matchup sucked some of the drama and fun out of the postseason so far, but now these two teams are ready to go.

It’s the best rivalry in the NBA, two teams not afraid to mix it up with each other, but when Cavaliers players were asked about the Warriors after eliminating the Celtics Thursday night, there was nothing but respect.

“We just got to play defense,” LeBron James said in a televised postgame interview. “We’re going to face adversity. That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult. So they’re gonna challenge us a lot: offensively, defensively, mentally, physically, but we’re going to have to be ready for that challenge.”

LeBron stuck to that theme in his postgame press conference.

“I’ll be honest, I’m not really in the right mind to even talk about Golden State right now. It’s too stressful, and I’m not stressed right now,” LeBron said cracking a smile. “Golden State, they’ve been the best team in our league the last three years, then they added an MVP. That’s all I can give you right now, because I’m happy and I don’t want a lot of stress, and they cause a lot of stress.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he had yet to start any prep for the Warriors.

“Of course I watch every game, because I’m a basketball junkie, and they’ve been playing great,” Lue siad. “But you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.”

“The Celtics and Brad Stevens, the team they have, they throw a lot of different lineups at you and a lot of different stuff on the offensive end, so as far as how they play I think it definitely prepared us for what’s ahead,” Kevin Love said, discussing how the Celtics prepped the Cavaliers for the next round.

The Cavaliers are veterans on this stage, and they both respect the Warriors and don’t need the distraction of a war of words, so they stayed on message all night.

But with a week to go before Game 1, you can bet someone will say something inflammatory. We’re looking at you, Draymond Green.

Watch 36-year-old James Jones throw down a putback dunk vs. the Celtics (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is on his way to his 7th-straight Finals after the Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics, 135-102, in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night.

The game was out of hand from the beginning, with the Cavaliers scoring a franchise playoff high 75 points in the first half.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Tyronn Lue emptied out his bench and we got to see some of the Cavaliers garbage time guys get run. One of those guys was James Jones, 36, who has been around so long he was a rookie with Reggie Miller in Indiana.

He also dunked!

Via Twitter:

Let’s all just bask in the glory that is that putback dunk and in our little vacation until the Finals start on June 1.

LeBron James, Cavaliers advance past Celtics to meet Warriors in 2017 NBA Finals

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Let’s line it up and run it again. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are going to meet in the 2017 NBA Finals after LeBron James and the Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday, 135-102.

It wasn’t much of a contest from the outset as Cleveland looked determined to put away their opponent. The Cavaliers played strong, shot well from 3-point range, and forced the Celtics into 18 turnovers over the course of the game.

The Cavaliers set a franchise playoff record in the first half, scoring 75 points in the first two periods. LeBron had 20 before the third quarter started, putting him just inches away from passing Michael Jordan to top the list for most points scored in NBA playoff history.

That moment came in the third quarter, with James dropping in a sweet 3-pointer from the left side of the arc to push him past Jordan. LeBron finished the game with 35 points, going 4-of-7 from 3-point range will adding eight assists, eight rebounds, and three steals.

Kyrie Irving was another bright spot for the Cavaliers, scoring 24 points to go along with seven assists. Kevin Love added 15 points, and Deron Williams had a rejuvenation off the bench with 14.

For Boston, yet another game without Isaiah Thomas forced their offense into stagnation. Avery Bradley — who had a considerable series in an effort that should not be overlooked — scored 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting. Gerald Green was Boston’s second-leading scorer in a bench role, adding 14 points.

Now we get to wait until June 1, when what seemed an inevitability way back in training camp has indeed come to pass. The Warriors get their shot at redemption after the worst breakdown in NBA playoff history, and the Cavaliers get a chance to solidify themselves over their peers and galvanize LeBron’s position as the best player of a generation.

The Finals don’t start for anther week. We’ll all be champing at the bit to see if Cleveland really does have what it takes to guard the Warriors offense. Likewise, a top defensive team in Golden State will need to prepare themselves for the LeBron that showed up against the Celtics in Game 1 and 2.

LeBron James on passing Michael Jordan: “I fell in love with the game because of Mike” (VIDEO)

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LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for most points scored in NBA playoff history on Thursday night during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ win over the Boston Celtics, 135-102.

After the game, LeBron and his teammates took to the podium to speak on their accomplishment of making it to yet another Finals as they settle in for a rematch with the Golden State Warriors.

LeBron was humble about his accomplishment, crediting Jordan for driving him to play the game of basketball as well as shaping his own game.

“I wear the number [23] because of Mike. I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike,” said James. “When you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god.”

James and the Cavaliers will take on the Warriors in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 1.