After a dunkfest in Game 1, Cavs must slow Warriors at rim

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The first-half list of baskets for Golden State’s Kevin Durant in Game 1 of the NBA Finals went like this: layup, dunk, jumper, dunk, dunk, dunk, dunk, layup, dunk, layup.

Most were easy.

And easy isn’t supposed to happen, especially not at the rim in the NBA Finals.

Forget all the things that Cleveland did wrong offensively in Game 1, the poor shooting and the 20 turnovers and how the bench basically contributed nothing and how Rihanna got – and merited – more commentary from ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy than J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson did.

The Cavs can score. They’ll likely be better on Sunday night in Game 2. That isn’t the issue.

The issue is this: If the reigning NBA champions don’t show some toughness – especially at the rim – soon, they won’t be reigning NBA champions much longer.

“I think that’s how Cleveland is going to approach it, make it a physical game,” Michael Cooper, now the coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream who went through some epic Lakers-Celtics battles as a player in the 1980s, said before the series began. “Golden State wants a finesse game.”

Finesse won Game 1.

And after a team has been blown out in the playoffs, history shows that team typically tries to make a statement in Game 2 that things will be different.

Funny thing is for Cleveland, the Cavs had the answer they needed to just that three months ago in Andrew Bogut. Problem is, they only had him for 58 seconds .

Let’s clear up a misconception: Golden State’s biggest undoing on the way to blowing that 3-1 lead in last season’s NBA Finals was not Draymond Green‘s Game 5 suspension for connecting with LeBron James‘ midsection.

The Warriors lost that series because Bogut – their best rim protector – got hurt in Game 5 .

And this year, it was Cleveland’s turn to lose Bogut.

He started the year in Dallas, got traded to and ultimately waived by Philadelphia, and signed with Cleveland because the Cavs knew they needed – and wanted – another tough guy who could clog the lane and had playoff experience. And there is no doubt he would have been eager to go against the team that jettisoned him to the Mavericks to make room for Durant.

But Bogut checked into a game against Miami for his Cavs debut, collided with Heat rookie Okaro White, and broke his left leg. Season over. So while he was tweeting Thursday about Santa Claus and Australian Rules Football, Durant was dunking on the sort of nonexistent defense typically seen at an All-Star Game and not the NBA Finals.

Durant had six dunks, all in the first half.

– The first came off a great cut to beat James.

– The second, James got no help after he swiped unsuccessfully at the ball.

– The third, James slipped and again no help came.

– The fourth, Kyrie Irving didn’t stop the ball as Durant sailed past.

– The fifth, Shaun Livingston faked the Cavs out and Durant was left all alone.

– The sixth, Durant drove the lane and Smith ran away to cover Stephen Curry.

“We made a lot of mistakes. They capitalized,” James said. “And we get an opportunity to get a couple days to see what they did and see what we did wrong and how we can be better in Game 2.”

To be fair, playing the Warriors is a slew of pick-your-poison decisions. Overcommit to the lane, and their shooters will tee off from 3-point range. Overplay the perimeter, and the rim is undefended. They’ve won 28 of their last 29 games. They’re 80-15 this season. They could post the second-best record in NBA history when counting the regular season and playoffs, behind only the 1995-96 Bulls.

Today’s NBA isn’t the sort of league where someone is going to clothesline Durant or any other Warrior to send some sort of foolish overly physical message, nor should it be. Though Kevin McHale’s aggressive at-the-rim takedown of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 title matchup remains a quintessential moment in postseason lore (and swung that Celtics-Lakers series totally Boston’s way).

And this series is a long way from over. James has been on the losing end of Game 1 of the Finals seven times in eight tries. He was down 1-0 in all three of the series where he went on to win a ring. Not even a 3-1 deficit last year was enough to faze him.

But someone from Cleveland, maybe many someones, had better find a way to make life tougher for the Warriors going forward starting on Sunday.

Or else a lot more dunks are coming.

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.

Report: Eric Bledsoe requested trade from Suns before season

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Suns guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted yesterday:

In light of Phoenix’s 0-3 start and Earl Watson getting fired yesterday, that sure looks like a trade request. Still, there’s risk in making assumptions about vague tweets.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Why wouldn’t Bledsoe want out? The 27-year-old is in his prime and stuck on a young team that would rather tank than play him.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bledsoe explains the tweet. He previously paid lip service to his situation in Phoenix, but it appears he’s ready to open up. On the other hand, public trade requests typically draw fines from the NBA.

Another Hornets backup PG injured

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Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williamsout.

Nicolas Batum, who handled a lot of playmaking with Charlotte’s second units – out.

Julyan Stone, another Hornets backup point guard – out.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee.  Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.

Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.