Even otherworldly play from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving not enough against Warriors

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CLEVELAND – LeBron James silenced the questions about whether he’s the still the best player the world, nearing a triple-double with 39 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists. Kyrie Irving added 38 dazzling points.

And the Cavaliers still lost.

The Warriors ended a 118-113 Game 3 win on an 11-0 run, spoiling masterful performances by Cleveland’s biggest stars.

“It definitely hurts,” Irving said, his voice quivering. “I’m human.”

Had Golden State – with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and a 15-0 playoff record – finally ground the Cavs into submission? Irving sounded shook.

“I apologize if I’m shivering,” Irving said. “I just got out of the cold tub. So don’t think I’m like getting sensitive on you guys. Just pretty cold.”

So, the Cavs aren’t quite on the verge of tears. But here’s a frigid reality: They’re on the verge of elimination, facing a 3-0 deficit – never before overcome – against arguably the greatest team of all-time.

If LeBron and Irving can play like this and still lose, what hope do the Cavaliers have? What else can they do?

“I gave everything that I had to this game, so I don’t look at it saying I wish I could have did this or I would have did that,” LeBron said. “I left it out on the floor.

“It’s probably the most, most firepower I’ve played in my career. I played against some great teams, but I don’t think no team has had this type of firepower. So, even when you’re playing well, you got to play like A-plus-plus.”

That’s a different tune from before the series, when LeBron put Golden State in the mix with the Spurs and Celtics as the best teams he has faced. While Irving claimed his demeanor was unrelated to emotion, LeBron is clearly the frustration of playing the Warriors

LeBron slammed the ball after his final turnover practically clinched the game for Golden State. He stewed, barely engaged in the final seconds. As the clock mercifully neared zero, he stormed through hugging teammates on the bench toward the locker room.

Cleveland outscored the Warriors by seven in LeBron’s 45:37 and got outscored by 12 in the other 2:23. Irving played 44:23, making plenty of big shots when the Cavs’ offense might have otherwise stagnated.

All along, Golden State coach Steve Kerr implored his players to keep defending as they were and bet fatigue would set in. After carrying such heavy loads, LeBron and Irving each shot 0-for-3 in the final five minutes.

“When you get guys playing 45, 44 minutes, basically attacking one-on-one the whole game, it’s – you hope eventually it’s going to take its toll. I wasn’t sure after awhile. They just were going nuts,” Kerr said. “But I think that we just stayed with it, and our defense finally kicked in.”

Said LeBron: “At times throughout the game I was tired, but that’s just because I was just playing as hard as I could. But I was able to get second and third and fourth winds. I don’t contribute us losing this game because we got tired.”

LeBron keeps saying he’s not tired, but he looked worn down late – which is understandable.

The last teammates to play as many minutes as LeBron and Irving in regulation of a Finals game were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in 2012 Game 4. The Heat cinched that game when Westbrook committed a boneheaded foul in the final seconds.

Durant has moved on from the Thunder and those problems. After carrying a relatively lesser load than his star counterparts from Cleveland, Durant was fresh late and made all the key plays down the stretch.

Meanwhile, LeBron and Irving are left with the tiring burden of keeping up with a super team. The challenge, always immense, has never seemed greater.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.