Kevin Durant, Warriors come though in clutch to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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It was the one remaining question about these Golden State Warriors:

How would they handle a tight end-of-game situation? Only three of their previous 14 playoff games had been within five points in the final five minutes, none since Game 1 against the Spurs. How would they respond down six points with 3:10 to go to an excellent Cavaliers team on the road in the NBA Finals?

Kevin Durant has your answer.

The Warriors closed out the game on an 11-0 run.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played their best games of these Finals, combining for 77 points, relentlessly attacking the rim. J.R. Smith played better and hit some threes, as did Kyle Korver. Cleveland was physical on defense. From the start, this felt like a game they not only could win but knew they needed to win.

It wasn’t enough. Durant, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry combined for 87 points, including 15 threes, and the Warriors got the 118-113 Game 3 win on the road.

The Warriors are now up 3-0 in this series and can close out the Cavaliers Friday night. With that win, the Warriors also would complete the first perfect postseason in NBA history, going 16-0.

“Obviously K.D. made some huge plays down the stretch. I thought Klay’s defense on Kyrie was amazing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Overall, it was just an incredibly tough, resilient performance. It wasn’t our smartest game that we have played all year, but it was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there.”

From the opening tip, this was the Cavaliers we had hoped we would see all series — and it was another game to remind everyone why LeBron is the best player in the game.

The pace was up early, and Cleveland was hitting their shots — LeBron started 4-of-4, but more key J.R. Smith hit his first two threes. Cleveland was finally playing with energy, getting back in transition, and doing so much of what they didn’t in Oakland to start the series.

LeBron was 7-of-8 shooting for 15 points in the first quarter, including this steal and dunk.

And in a bit of foreshadowing, all that wasn’t enough. LeBron went to the bench with 1:49 left in the first quarter and his team up two. By the time the quarter was over the Warriors led 39-31. In part that was because Klay Thompson was white hot early and had 16 in the first quarter including going 4-of-5 from three. As a team Warriors started 7-of-9 from three.

The LeBron vs. the World trend continued in the second quarter. LeBron returned at the start of the second, with Curry and Durant out, and suddenly the game was tied again at 39-39. LeBron finished the first half with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, the rest of the team had 34 points on 10-of-27 shooting. The Cavaliers bench was 1-of-8 shooting in the first half. The Cavaliers did a much better job attacking the paint, particularly LeBron and Irving, but the Cavs shot 7-of-25 from outside the paint so the Warriors could pack it in a little.

Put it all together and despite the Cavs best half of the Finals was 67-61 Warriors at halftime. Curry, Durant, and Thompson combined for 51 points on 29 shots.

In the third quarter of Games 1 and 2, the Cavaliers settled in the third quarter, but not Wednesday. Irving had his best quarter of the series scoring 16 points in the third and relentlessly attacking the rim, while LeBron played more of a facilitator role. It worked. The Cavs won the third quarter by 11 and led 94-89 after three. There was a real reason for hope in Cleveland because this looked like the Cavs team that came back to get a ring last year.

The Cavaliers were up five inside four minutes to play, but that’s when Golden States’ final push made the difference.

“Like I said, tonight our guys felt, I felt we had a game that we had won that we let slip away,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue sid. “And they made the plays down the stretch, so you got to give credit to those guys.”

“I think we’re a better team partly because, obvious reasons, we have Kevin Durant on our team, but I think we’re better from our experiences,” Kerr said. “You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.

“So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, oh, man, we’re down five, you just say there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.”

Last year in Game 3, LeBron and Irving combined for 62 points, and the Cavaliers won going away. This year those two did better, LeBron scoring 39 and Irving 38. LeBron was +7 for the game, but the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 12 in the 2:23 he rested.

But this year the Warriors have Durant, and that is making all the difference. Including in the clutch.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.

Raptors promote Bobby Webster to general manager

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TORONTO (AP) — With rumors swirling about the Knicks chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors have promoted Bobby Webster to general manager.

Webster, 32 years old assistant the youngest GM in the NBA, replaces Jeff Weltman, who left Toronto in May to become president of the Orlando Magic.

A former staffer at the NBA league office in New York, Webster joined the Raptors in 2013 and was named assistant GM in 2016.

He’ll help decide what to offer All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who opted out of the final year of his contract last month after Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the playoffs.

Forwards Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson are all unrestricted free agents.

Also Wednesday, Toronto promoted Dan Tolzman to assistant general manager.

The Raptors have posted consecutive 50-win seasons and made four straight playoff appearances.

Jason Williams out 6-8 months after injury in Big3 debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Former NBA point guard Jason Williams will miss six to eight months after suffering a knee injury in the opening game of the Big3.

Corey Maggette, also injured in the opening week of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league of former NBA players, had surgery for a leg injury. There is no timetable for his return.

The injuries were announced Wednesday during a conference call with Cube and Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz, who also detailed a couple rules changes starting with this weekend’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Games will be played to 50 points, instead of 60, with halftime coming when the first team reaches 25 points. Cube said that would help the four games per day move more quickly.