Three Things to Watch in Game 4: How will the Cavs respond to the inevitable Warriors run?

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The Warriors small ball “death lineup” ripped the heart out of the Cleveland with an 11-0 run that closed out the game and gave the Warriors a 3-0 advantage. It feels over, but here are three things to look for in Game 4.

1) When the Warriors inevitably go on a 10-0 run (or more) to grab a lead, how will Cleveland respond? Do not doubt the pride of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers — they are going to come out in Game 4 with a “not in my house” attitude. They will be physical. They will attack the paint. They will do everything they did in Game 3 that made it close, and probably do it with more desperation. Closing out teams in the NBA is hard.

“We understand what’s at stake, our whole entire season,” Kyrie Irving said. “There’s really no other decision, other than to leave it all out there.”

However, the Warriors have their own motivation: perfection. They can be the first 16-0 playoff run in NBA history — and they want that for their legacy (no matter what they said to the media). They too will come to play, Golden State is not thinking “it’s okay, we can just win it at home next game.” The Warriors want this bit of history, and they will come in waves at the Cavaliers.

At some point, the Warriors are going to go on a 10-0, or 12-0, or 15-0 run, as they do every game. There will be a three-minute stretch where the Warriors incredible defense shuts the Cavs down, everything Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson throw up from 28 feet falls, and it will push the Warriors to an 8-10 point lead. How will the Cavaliers respond to that? In Game 3 they fought back, made it close again, even took the lead themselves.

But down 0-3 following an emotional, gut-punch loss, when the Warriors make their run in Game 4 will the air come out of the balloon in Cleveland? Will the Cavaliers’ players shoulders slump a little? Will the fans go quiet in Quicken Loans Arena? Will there be a sense of inevitability that overtakes them? I would not be surprised. The Cavaliers will play hard, but if the Warriors pulled away in the second half it would not be a shock.

2) With less rest between games 3 and 4, will we again see LeBron and the Cavaliers’ stars wear down in the fourth? Two trends have been well documented through this series. First, the Cavaliers struggle when LeBron sits — he was +7 in Game 3, but in the 2:23 he sat they were -12. Second, because of the extra minutes he’s on the court and the crazy workload at both ends, LeBron is wearing down in the second half. In Game 3 LeBron had 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting in the first half, with half his shot attempts coming within eight feet of the rim as he attacked the basket; In the second half he had 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and while six of his shots were within eight feet he only hit three. He’s worn down like that in every game, and the idea of getting him more rest just means bigger deficits.

“There’s no tomorrow. So we just have to play,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He needs a break, he’ll let me know. We’ll get him out, get him right back in. But right now our season’s on the line, and we just have to play.”

How do the Cavaliers get out of this cycle, especially in a game with just one day off between (the only game in the series with one day of rest)? The only hope is better play from their reserves — when LeBron goes to the bench Cleveland had to be able to hang close. There can’t just be a 10-0 run (like at the end of the first quarter in Game 3 when LeBron sat), which forces Lue to bring him back quickly. LeBron is as well conditioned an athlete as there is on the planet, but he’s human, you can’t ask him to run the offense on one end then guard Kevin Durant/Draymond Green on the other and not see a drop-off.

Cleveland needs things to change in Game 4, in terms of rest and strategy, but the mantra from the coaching staff and players seems to be one of “we just need to do what we do better.” That does not bode well.

3) Watch Kevin Durant hoist up the Finals MVP trophy. If the Warriors in this game — and after the first three games of this series, it’s hard not to predict that — then Kevin Durant will be named Finals MVP on Friday night. He has earned it. Through three games Durant has averaged 32 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists per game, he hit the game-winner in Game 3, and on the other end he’s been the Warriors best defender on LeBron. He’s been brilliant.

“We knew how good he was, but just how clutch he’s been, how many big shots he’s hit for us,” Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said of what has impressed him about Durant this series. “I think I said it last night, it just looks like he understands this is his moment, this is his time. He’s earned it. He’s been in this league for a long time, and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”

Is that vindication for his much-maligned decision to join the Warriors? Maybe, but I don’t think Durant sees it that way — what he wanted was his best shot at a title, and he’s going to get that. He has had a series on the biggest stage that made people question who is the greatest player on the planet right now.

He has had a series on the biggest stage that made people question who is the greatest player on the planet right now. He has earned the trophy coming his way, and if he has one more strong night in Game 4 he will get that trophy Friday night.

 

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.