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

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.