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Mike Brown returns to Cleveland, this time with Warriors

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Mike Brown happily slid into his normal seat to coach Steve Kerr’s left for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. For the first time in weeks the Warriors were whole again.

Brown has moved before – not always so willingly – and over the next few days he’ll return to a familiar place.

Golden State’s well-liked top assistant, whose first two stints as a head coach were to nurture a young LeBron James and then pamper Kobe Bryant, is heading to Cleveland, the city that shaped him more than any other.

It’s where he was hired twice and fired twice by the Cavaliers, who are paying him until 2020. It’s where he raised his two sons. It’s where he rooted himself in the community and stayed after losing his job in 2014. And it’s where he still has a home and keeps one of his Harleys, which he took for cruises along Lake Erie to clear his mind.

“He loves those Harleys,” said Warriors forward Draymond Green. “That just means he has `em in every city he goes to. That’s an addiction.”

When Game 3 tips off Wednesday night with the Warriors holding a 2-0 lead that feels insurmountable, Brown will be back in a building where he and James appeared in their first Finals together 10 years ago.

In 2007, the Cavs were no match for the powerful San Antonio Spurs, who overwhelmed Cleveland and swept the series. Brown can surely appreciate the irony in coming back as part of a juggernaut.

“Circle of life,” Brown said last week. “Like the `Lion King,’ everything comes back around, I guess.”

Brown’s Finals debut must seem like a lifetime ago for the 47-year-old, who guided the Warriors to an 11-0 mark in this postseason while Kerr battled intense pain stemming from back surgeries.

“My guy did OK while I was gone,” Kerr said after the Warriors won Sunday night.

During last year’s Finals in Cleveland, Brown met with Kerr about joining the Warriors staff and replacing Luke Walton, who was bound for the Los Angeles Lakers. The interview came before the Cavs rallied from a 3-1 deficit, and before Kevin Durant announced he was headed to the Bay Area.

After he was fired for the second time by the Cavs, Brown had stepped outside the coaching circle, choosing instead to watch oldest son Elijah play hoops at New Mexico and filming his other son Cameron’s Friday night high school football games. All the while, he stayed connected by talking with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, his mentor and former boss.

Popovich urged him to join Kerr.

Brown’s willingness to accept an assistant’s job despite 563 career regular-season wins and 47 in the playoffs underscores his humility. But that’s Brown: unassuming, ego-less, the consummate teammate.

And while he hasn’t strayed from preparation and the attention he learned growing up in a military family, Brown has shown a willingness to change. He has loosened up. With the Warriors, he had no choice.

Borrowing philosophies from other coaches, Kerr has created a loose atmosphere, believing a less-structured environment allows players to perform more freely and effectively. Kickball games are not uncommon and yoga is practiced regularly. Warriors practices typically begin with loud music booming through loudspeakers.

It can be jarring to outsiders.

“I remember the first few practices, me and Mike, we were new guys and we were looking at each other like: `This is how it goes down here?”‘ Durant said. “So it was an adjustment for both of us. It was great for me to have Mike to kind of like go through the season with me, and kind of help me out and help me get adjusted. It was different for both of us.”

If things had gone differently, Brown might still be Cleveland’s coach. Given only one season on his return, he was dismissed despite a nine-win improvement and a colossal jump defensively. He still had four years left on his contract, and unfinished plans.

Last week, Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he wished his time with Brown had gone better.

“I was a 21-year-old kid, just trying to lead a franchise, and he was a new head coach that I had to get introduced to a new offense, new players, as well as a new system,” Irving said. “I kind of regret being part of that because he was just trying to teach me a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily understand as a 21-year-old. So, he definitely had some great things and the knowledge of the game that’s up there with some great coaches.”

Brown could be in demand again. Kerr’s health may prompt a reshuffling at Golden State, and there are certain to be other vacancies next season.

Brown though, isn’t in any hurry to pack up, and he’s not viewing his trip to Cleveland as anything more than business.

“I’m not looking at this as Cleveland fired me twice, this is the time to get back at them or is there any extra incentive?” he said. “I just want to win. I just want to be a part of a winning program and be the last team, quote/unquote, standing.”

 

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.