Kyrie Irving saves his best for when Cavs face Finals elimination

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Whether it’s his lightning quick dribble, supreme confidence that doesn’t seem to waver or ability to score from almost anywhere on the court, Kyrie Irving seems to be at his best when things look the bleakest for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LeBron James said his teammate is built for the drama of an NBA Finals elimination game, a trait the Golden State Warriors have learned all too well these past two years.

Whether it’s extending a season with a pair of 40-point performances or hitting the series-deciding 3-pointer in a Game 7 win last year, Irving’s already stellar game has risen to another level whenever the Cavs have faced elimination.

“It’s a time to definitely show everything that you’re made of in those moments,” Irving said Sunday on the eve of another elimination game with Cleveland trailing the Warriors 3-1 in the NBA Finals.

“You never want to be in those moments of elimination games, but when you are, you want to be as prepared as possible. And regardless of any situation, I always feel like if I do a great job of giving confidence in my teammates and remaining calm in the situation.”

Cleveland has won four straight Finals elimination games, rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to win the championship last year and then winning 137-116 in Game 4 on Friday night to extend this series.

Irving scored 40 points in the Game 5 win at Golden State last year, hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 7 and scored 40 more on Friday, raising his average in those elimination games to 32.5 points per game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only seven times a player scored at least 40 points to win when facing elimination in the Finals and Irving and James have each done it twice the past two years. Elgin Baylor did it twice in the 1960s and Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1970 for the Lakers.

“We love how aggressive Kyrie’s been, and it’s been great for our team, obviously, with his individual ability to make shots and to take big shots and to knock them down,” James said. “That’s been key for our team. And for the rest of us, we have to do everything else.”

Irving played just one game before injuring his knee in the first Finals meeting between these teams in 2015. He has been the barometer for Cleveland the past two years around the constant greatness from James.

Irving has scored nearly seven more points per game in Cavs wins than losses in the past two Finals with the biggest difference being his long-range shooting; he is shooting 27 percent in the six losses and 53 percent in the five wins.

That was especially evident in the Game 4 win when Irving hit seven of Cleveland’s record-setting 24 3-pointers.

“That’s a big difference,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “When he’s getting 39 points off 2s, you can live with that. When he’s extending the floor and hitting those 3s, it opens the floor for everybody. We can’t let him do that again. We have to limit that number to two or three. Seven is too many.”

Thompson has spent most of the series chasing Irving around the court like a yellow lab who keeps chasing a ball, at least that’s how it looks at times to coach Steve Kerr. Thompson frustrated Irving early, holding him to 40 percent shooting the first two games.

But after getting moved off the ball at times, Irving played much better in the two games at home. He scored 38 points in the Game 3 loss before his big Game 4 performance.

“I think that in Game 1 and 2, as well as part of 3, just definitely got caught up in trying to find that rhythm with the basketball in my hands,” Irving said. “But as long as collectively as a group that everyone feels good, then my opportunities will come on breakdowns from their defense and offensively and things that we can be sharper at. I have to be implementing in those opportunities, and the way to do that is just being an open screener, being just a willing sacrificer, and the opportunities will come.

“And when those opportunities come, then you kill it.”

 

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.