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.

 

Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

TIP-INS

Warriors: The 47 points allowed in the first quarter was their most given up in any quarter since Portland had 48 in the fourth quarter of a game on Nov. 14, 1992.

76ers: J.J. Redick scored 20 points, and Dario Saric had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Continue their four-game road trip Sunday afternoon at Brooklyn.

76ers: Host Utah on Monday night.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.