Three Things We Learned in Game 1: Cleveland’s defense can’t be its regular season self

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OAKLAND — Game 1 this year was a blowout Golden State win Yes, that is what we saw a year ago (and Cleveland came back to win that series), but the Game 1 Cleveland loss picked at some of the big questions about them coming into the playoffs, and it should be cause for concern in Ohio.

Here are the three big takeaways from Game 1.

1) Cleveland’s defense has to be a lot sharper, they can’t just outscore the Warriors. Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue has said it before this postseason — Cleveland’s offense would be a key part of their defense. Meaning opponents can’t get easy buckets if they are taking the ball out of the basket, and the Cleveland offense will put pressure on other offenses to keep up and force them into mistakes or poor shots.

None of that applied to the Warriors — Cleveland’s defense will have to be its best defense now. And it certainly wasn’t in Game 1.

Led by Kevin Durant, the Warriors attacked the rim — they had 34 shots at the rim in the first half alone (which is more than most teams average in a game). Golden State is talented, but their attacks exposed the Cleveland defense that finished 22nd in the NBA during the regular season — the Warriors forced matchups with poor individual defenders, and the Cavaliers help defense was nonexistent. Golden State ran simple pin-down actions all game that forced Kevin Love into a switch on Durant or Curry, and then Love was torched. (Curry seemed out to erase the memory of the end of Game 7 a year ago and went right at Love). The same is all true of Tristan Thompson, a better defender but not someone who can guard Curry in space.

The Warriors were getting buckets by simply attacking in transition when they could, blowing by their man on closeouts, and making backdoor cuts. Or, Curry just had the space to pull up.

Cleveland’s defense needs to be much better if they are going to start winning games in this series. For example, Cavaliers had zero steals in this game — zero — and they pressured the Warriors into just four turnovers.

“We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really needs to be said,” LeBron James said. “We know we’re capable of playing a lot better. We didn’t play as well as we know we’re capable of.”

The Cavaliers did a much better job of taking away the rim in the second half, but that’s when the Warriors had more space and started hitting their threes. Cleveland has to find a better balance.

Lue is right that part of it is offensive: The Cavaliers have to do a better job slowing the game down and keeping the Warriors out of transition, which brings us to…

2) The Cavaliers have to take much better care of the ball. Cleveland had 20 turnovers in the game (and the Warriors had 21 points off them). As a team, they turned the ball over 19.6 percent of their possessions — one in five trips down the court.

LeBron was the biggest culprit, he had eight turnovers and coughed it up on 19.4 percent of the possessions he used.

This isn’t rocket science — turn the ball over and the Warriors are off to the races in transition. Golden State had 27 fast break points. Also part of the problem was Cleveland did a poor job getting back on defense all game.

But it starts with turnovers.

3) Kevin Durant may indeed be the difference in this series. It was obvious the to say this coming into this series: These teams went seven games and down to the final minute a year ago, adding Durant changes the balance of power.

Well, chalk up one for the obvious.

Durant had 38 points on 53.8 percent shooting and hitting 3-of-6 from three, added eight rebounds and eight assists, plus zero turnovers. And that was just the offensive end — for large swaths of the game he guarded LeBron James and did a solid job.

What mattered is how Durant got those buckets — he attacked the rim. Half of his 26 shots came in the restricted area, he was throwing it down — six dunks in the first half alone. This is what the Warriors missed a year ago, when the Cavaliers pressured them at the arc late in the Finals the Warriors kept jacking up tough shots — pressure Durant and he blows past his man for the dunk.

When asked what the difference was in Game 1 LeBron said Durant.

“I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the post-season, and then in the off-season you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” LeBron said.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers must make things much more difficult for KD in the rest of this series. Which is true, but they already had LeBron on him for much of the game. If they dedicate more resources to stopping Durant other things will open up for Golden State.

Thompson’s playmaking a steadying force for defending champs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson danced unabashedly in China after winning another NBA championship, and it got shared all over social media. He smoked a stogie on the rooftop, letting loose to reveal another side of himself.

“I didn’t plan for that video to go viral,” Thompson said matter-of-factly. “I was just having fun. I’ve always been myself and having fun while doing it and learning to enjoy every day, because it goes by so fast.”

Coming to that mindset, however, has been a process for the seventh-year Golden State guard, who acknowledges for so long he put extreme pressure on himself to be the best.

The quiet, more under-the-radar Warriors All-Star of the bunch, Thompson has provided a steadying hand early on for the reigning NBA champions who are favored to capture a third title in four years.

“I used to stress a lot more at the beginning of my career about my performance,” Thompson recalled. “Now, it’s not like I don’t stress, but I play more carefree and I’m more able, if I play as hard as I can I’m satisfied with the results. … I used to compare myself with all players and want to be the best so badly, but now it’s all about winning and having fun and realizing basketball is more of a team sport than anything.”

After a recent practice, Thompson dazzled right alongside a couple of visiting Harlem Globetrotters, spinning the ball on his finger, rolling it up and down his arms, off his knee and then a foot soccer-style before swishing a short jumper.

“I should’ve been a Globetrotter!” he yelled.

It’s a new look for this hang-loose, beach-loving Splash Brother.

The approach is working for the Warriors.

“He still carries the threat. You have to honor him,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s great at making the right play. Their whole team is. I think he’s trying to fit in with their whole buy-in that ball movement and passing is greater than any one man carrying the bulk of it.”

Still, his numbers are stellar. Thompson has had a fast start this season, which previously hasn’t been the case.

Thompson credits the familiarity with teammates and a comfort in coach Steve Kerr’s offense.

“He’s taken another step in his game. Just the experience that he’s had in his career, every year he’s gotten better and I think this year he’s shown how at the end of the season he carried it over to the beginning of this year,” backcourt mate Stephen Curry said. “Historically he hadn’t started seasons well but this year he’s locked in. He’s obviously shooting the ball well and playing great defense, but I think the biggest thing is his playmaking in situations where he’s drawing a crowd. He’s making great decisions setting guys up and just playing under control for the most part this entire season.”

Life off the court is great for Thompson, too, and that helps him be stress-free on it.

Look closely, and it’s easy to see he has come out of his shell.

On a day off last week, he golfed a popular public course close to Oracle Arena. Thompson signed someone’s toaster last spring, and it became a superstition.

In July, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Oakland Athletics game, then drove an IndyCar in September while serving as Grand Marshal of a series stop in Sonoma.

Thompson shares his training tricks on social media and posts photos with his bulldog, Rocco.

He recently donated $75,000 to relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating Northern California wildfires, committing $1,000 per point for a three-game stretch during which he scored 69 points – but added to that total.

He is a spokesman for chocolate milk and an obscure – in the U.S. anyway – Chinese shoe company. He signed an $80 million, 10-year extension to wear the sneakers.

“Life’s good,” Thompson said. “I never thought I’d get paid millions of dollars to wear shoes and apparel. I’m very proud to be a part of Anta. … It’s so cool that I’m big in China. I never thought I’d be on billboards and posters in China.”

Thompson has found a balance during the offseason to stay sharp, mixing up his workouts with outdoor activities he enjoys.

“It took years for me to figure out how to prepare the best I can for the season. I finally learned in my sixth year,” he said. “You’ve got to stay in shape almost year-round because as you get older it’s harder to get back into shape. It’s easier to get out of shape than it is to get back into shape. I do other things besides basketball to stay in shape in the offseason. I think that just keeps my mind fresh.”

He hopes to do a formal swim from Alcatraz, or even a triathlon. He swims in the ocean – “my favorite place in the world” – whenever he can. Freestyle is his strength, butterfly not so much. He plays hours of beach volleyball or just throws the football around and runs routes through the sand.

At work, he has been a model of consistency. Thompson is determined to be a better passer, creating for teammates whenever possible. He also usually guards the opponent’s top perimeter scorer.

Thompson is off to his best shooting season ever, with career highs of 49.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.6 percent on 3-pointers.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it’s been in his career,” Kerr said. “He’s really doing a good job of putting the ball on the floor and moving it on, drive and kick game, finding the centers in the pocket for little floaters. … It’s been his best passing season so far.”

Thompson used to get teased for his lack of assists, and it remains a running joke.

“I got thick skin,” Thompson quipped, “honestly I don’t really care.”

That carefree approach has taken time, and the Warriors are better for it.

 

Report: Mark Cuban in process to buy Mavericks’ G-League team

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There will come a day, in the not too distant future, when every NBA team will have an owned and affiliated G-League team. It will be a place for them to develop young players — guys they drafted but need more run than they’d get in the NBA, guys on two-way contracts, and just players they like and want to give a chance. The NBA is more and more becoming a development league — and if the one-and-done rule is replaced with something akin to the baseball rule for players going to college, having a strong G-League team will matter even more.

Which is why the news that Mark Cuban is about to buy the G-League team already affiliated with the Mavericks makes sense. Marc Stein of The New York Times broke the news.

While the name of the guys signing the checks will change with the Texas Legends, little else will.

It’s just another sign of the future in the NBA.

Isaiah Thomas is up for a Cavaliers vs. Celtics playoff clash

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Isaiah Thomas says he has moved on from the trade this summer that caught him off guard, shipping him from Boston — where he was a fan favorite — to Cleveland.

Sort of. Like a lot of sudden relationship ends, Thomas says he’s moved on, but it doesn’t sound like he totally has yet. Look at what he told Sam Amick of the USA Today in an interesting Q&A.

“I’ve put it behind me, and I’ve continued to try to do that… But other than that, every day that I’m in the gym or that I’m on the court or in the weight room or doing whatever I have to do to get back to who I was, and get back to being 100 percent healthy, yes I do use it as motivation.”

Thomas has yet to set foot on the court as a Cavalier, spending the start of the season rehabbing a hip injury. He’s expected back next month.

It’s very early in the NBA season, we’re not at 20 games or even Thanksgiving yet, but it has become evident that the Cavaliers have some legitimate defensive concerns, and that the Boston Celtics are a legitimate threat to them.

That would set up a series between Thomas’ old team that he’s still a little angry at, and his new team in Cleveland. And Thomas is good with that.

“Oh, that would be lovely. That would be the story that God made, and it probably will work that way. It always does. It always works – I’m not going to say in my favor, but it seems to always work out no matter what the circumstance is. That would be a special moment. If they make it there, and we make it there, and then we clash, and then you never know what’s going to happen. But I’ll be ready for whatever happens.”

Not enough NBA players use the word “lovely” anymore.

But I’m with Thomas, I want to see that series, too.

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out two more weeks due to sprained ankle

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With Isaiah Thomas still rehabbing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, when he is available (he’s only played in half of Cleveland’s games). More Rose has not been good for Cleveland’s defense, and it’s forced Tyronn Lue to play Kevin Love more at center just to have enough shooting on the floor, so there are driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Now we will have to see what Lue and the Cavaliers do without Rose for a couple more weeks. Rose will be out for a couple of weeks with his sprained left ankle, the team announced Friday afternoon.

“Due to continued symptoms, the ankle will be immobilized in a boot for the next week and he will also undergo an extended treatment process over the next two to three weeks.”

Rose has averaged 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting this season in Cleveland.

With Rose and Thomas out, Cleveland has gone with Iman Shumpert technically as the point, although LeBron handles the playmaking duties. He brings some size to the position, but he can’t defend quick point guards well (not that Rose could). This new lineup has won the Cavaliers a couple of games in a row, although that has been far more about their offense making runs rather than their struggling defense (last in the NBA) stepping up.

It’s been tough to get a feel for this Cavaliers team and what they really are this season, in part due to all the injuries. This simply adds to that mess.

The Cavaliers take on the slumping Clippers Friday night.