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

3 Comments

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.

 

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

Getty Images
2 Comments

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)

Leave a comment

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

Associated Press
1 Comment

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)

Leave a comment

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.