kurthelin

Kevin Durant attacked the rim and it was exactly what the Warriors needed

1 Comment

OAKLAND — Kevin Durant did what the Warriors either could not or would not one year ago.

Cleveland’s defensive plan for Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals didn’t change much from what worked for them in the final games of the 2016 Finals. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue described it as “kind of backwards” — the top priority was defending the arc and chasing the Warriors off the three-point line. Last year, the Warriors kept settling for those threes anyway.

Not Durant.

“If I see a lane, just try to attack,” Durant said of his mindset after the game. “Coach and my teammates always want me to attack and try to open it up for everybody else and try to score as well. So I felt like in transition they were running out to the three-point line, and we got the best 3-point shooters in the world on our team, so obviously, teams want to take away our 3-pointer, but just tried to be aggressive to the rim and loosen them up a bit.”

The result was plays like this.

Durant took over Game 1 early, and had 23 first-half points on his way to finishing with 38 points (shooting 53.8 percent and hitting 3-of-6 from three), eight rebounds, eight assists, and zero turnovers in the Golden State. Oh, and for large chunks of the game he also guarded LeBron James and did a solid job.

LeBron said after the game that Durant was the difference that led to a Warriors rout.

“I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the post-season, and then in the off-season you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” LeBron said.

“We were talking about it before the game, and Steve (Kerr) suggested we try to get the ball in (Durant’s) hands right away and put him in position where he can attack downhill,” Warriors interim coach Mike Brown said. “So we tried to do that early on, and K.D. didn’t settle.”

No, he didn’t — look at his shot chart and the 13 shots in the restricted area.

“When Kevin Durant has the ball, you don’t want to leave him and get to shooters,” Lue said. “But I thought they got him going early in the game. I thought he got out in transition, got four or five dunks early and it just kind of opened everything up for him. So we got to make it much tougher on him, can’t give a great scorer like Durant easy baskets like that, especially in transition, especially early. So we got to do a better job of taking that away.”

The challenge for the Cavaliers is how to take that away without opening up something else.

For Durant, this was his first time back on the NBA Finals stage since he was still teammates with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and he took a moment to try to soak it all in.

“What other option did I have?” Durant said. “This is what every player wants to be, is the highest level of basketball. That’s what you dream about as a kid, is to play at the highest level. So I would have — I wouldn’t done my teammates any good if I wasn’t just enjoying the moment, no matter what. So I just tried to stay locked in on that, at the same time have some fun.”

He had some fun, and made sure the Cavaliers didn’t have any. Do that a few more times this series and he may well get a new MVP trophy to add to the case at home.

 

Warriors defense, Kevin Durant overwhelm Cavaliers on way to 113-90 Game 1 rout

Associated Press
9 Comments

OAKLAND — Cleveland hadn’t seen a defense with this kind of length and aggressiveness all playoffs. It showed.

More importantly, they hadn’t seen a player like Kevin Durant all playoffs. They had no answer.

“Steve (Kerr) suggested we get the ball in his hands early on so he could be aggressive…” Warriors coach Mike Brown said. “KD didn’t settle.”

Durant had 38 points on 14-of-26 shooting, hitting 3-of-6 from three and having some monster dunks, plus he had eight each of assists and rebounds. Then on the other end, he guarded LeBron James for long stretches and held his own there. Stephen Curry pitched in 28 points and 10 assists, and with that you end up with a rout — the Warriors won 113-90 to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals.

Game 2 is Sunday night at Oracle. That gives Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers a couple days to come up with answers.

The Warriors moved the ball — 31 assists and just four turnovers for the game — and with that got the shots they wanted. Cleveland hung around for the first 24 minutes only because the Warriors missed a lot of shots they normally make.

How complete was the Golden State domination? Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson had just four total rebounds, one on the offensive glass. The Warriors held their own on the boards, an area Cleveland has to dominate to win.

Golden State’s offense will draw the headlines, but it was their defense that seemed to overwhelm the Cavaliers. Cleveland got the isolations they wanted at times, only to find a Warriors defense that was up to the task and hung with them. Golden State also did a great job of having Durant, or Draymond Green, or Zaza Pachulia, stay near the rim and help on the drives of LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

LeBron finished with 28 points on 9-of-20 shooting, while Kyrie Irving had 22 points on 24 shots. Between them the Cavs two primary ball handlers had 12 turnovers, and as a team the Cavaliers had 20. That let the Warriors get out and run, where they are comfortable.

“We talked about it before we come into this series, like our best defense is going to be our offense, of taking care of the basketball, not a lot of turnovers,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And tonight we had 20, and that’s way too many against this team.”The game started less with rust and more with both teams looking like they felt the pressure of the moment — there were bad passes, hesitations, and it looked like a Saturday morning rec league game for a few minutes.

The game started less with rust and more with both teams looking like they felt the pressure of the moment — there were bad passes, hesitations, and it looked like a Saturday morning rec league game for a few minutes.

However, a clear pattern emerged. The Cavaliers were selling out to take away threes and the Warriors — unlike the last couple games of last year’s Finals — were willing to take advantage of that and drive to the rim, or use back cuts to get looks. After the game, Lue said “our game plan was kind of backwards” with the focus on the three allowing Durant to get open. Also, LeBron struggled to defend Durant.

On the other end, it was LeBron who kept the Cavaliers in it with 13 first-quarter points on 3-of-5 shooting — he was the best player on the floor early, and he embarrassed JaVale McGee.

At the end of one, it was 35-30 Golden State, with the game at a pace that better suited the Warriors’ style.

While LeBron kept scoring, it was Durant that was the difference — he was getting to the rim for dunks and attacking in ways the Cavaliers could not stop. And that was with LeBron on him much of the time.

Golden State was up 60-52 at the half, and that was despite shooting 19-of-34 at the rim in the first half and being 3-of-13 from three. It felt like they could break the game open with some good looks. They did.

The Warriors started the second half on 13-0 run, complete with a ridiculous Zaza Pachulia three-point play, and the Warriors started to break the game open getting up by 20. The Cavs cut that to 12 when they took advantage of Pachulia’s defense vs. a small lineup, but the Warriors were 6-of-10 from three in the third, were getting stops at the rim (Cavs 5-of-14 in the restricted area in the third), and the Warriors led 93-72 after three. It felt over.

Turns out it basically was. The Warriors pushed the lead and ran away with the game.

Kyrie Irving with ridiculous, falling four-point play (VIDEO)

6 Comments

If a guy makes that shot in a game of H-O-R-S-E you just take the H and move on.

In the second quarter of Game 1 of the Finals, Kyrie Irving made a smart play we have seen all season — he came off a high pick from Tristan Thompson for the dribble hand-off, then as he came around it with Klay Thompson trailing him, he just stopped. He drew the contact, and was smart to start his jump and shot before the contact.

Then he hit a ridiculous shot.

Just take the H, Thompson.

Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals Preview: Five Things to Watch

3 Comments

Finally, after a week off — and frankly a season of waiting for this matchup — we get the trilogy. The rubber match. The third Finals in a row between the two best teams in the NBA: The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. A battle of legacy. A series featuring maybe the three best players in the game right now. A real NBA rivalry on its biggest stage.

Game 1 tips off tonight (Thursday) and here are five things to look for as the series unfolds.

1) Is Cleveland’s defense ready for the task ahead?
We heard this coming into the playoffs: Cleveland has the 22nd ranked defense in the NBA this season, teams don’t win titles unless they are in the top 10. So far it hasn’t mattered, the Cavaliers lost one game on the path to the Finals. Cleveland did not play good defense in the first round against Indiana, but they have looked much sharper the past couple of rounds — but against a Raptors team minus Kyle Lowry for much of the series, then against a Celtics team where Isaiah Thomas went down. The bottom line: Now comes the real test, and there are two key areas of focus.

First, can Cleveland stay disciplined dealing with Golden State’s off-ball movement and back-door cuts? This is the hardest thing for any defense against the Warriors, they don’t set a lot of ball screens (fewest in the NBA in the playoffs per game) and when they do it’s often just to buy time or create a little space to get the ball to a guy coming off a screen away from the play. We saw in Game 3 and the first half of Game 4 against Boston, this kind of motion can give the Cavaliers trouble — and if you can’t slow it when Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk are doing it, watch out when it’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. If Golden State gets 8-10 easy points off cuts or guys just losing their man each game, Cleveland will not make that ground up.

Second, who does LeBron James guard? Last Finals he was often on either Draymond Green, to screw up the Curry/Green pick-and-rolls and allow him to switch on to Curry, or he was on Harrison Barnes, who was ice cold shooting, and that allowed LeBron to help off him and play free safety. Cleveland’s defense is best with LeBron as the help defender (really only he and Tristan Thompson are reliable as help defenders). With Kevin Durant now instead of Barnes, the idea of helping off him is right out. Expect LeBron to be asked to handle KD, which means Thompson on Green and that could work but puts a lot of pressure on Thompson. Kevin Love likely starts on Zaza Pachulia, don’t be shocked if he sets a lot of ball screens for Curry to try to force a switch — regardless of the last minute of last year’s Finals, Golden State wants that matchup.

2) How do Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ defense handle it when he is dragged into pick-and-rolls? Over the last five games of last year’s NBA Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers had Stephen Curry’s man come up and set the pick for the ball handler 13.2 times per game (stat via NBA.com) — and it seemed like more than that. Curry is not as bad a defender as some fans seem to think, but he’s the Warriors weakest isolation defender of its regular players — and isolation of Kyrie Irving and LeBron is the bread-and-butter of the Cavaliers’ offense. They get a pick set, force the switch, then attack the mismatch with shooters around them spacing the floor — LeBron is scoring a ridiculous 1.35 points per possession attacking off the pick these playoffs (stat via NBA.com). It’s not complex, but it works because James and Irving are so good in this setting.

Curry has to defend better than he did last playoffs, and the Warriors need to be sharp on their help rotations. Cleveland is going to score, their offense is elite, but the Warriors are also the best defensive team they have faced. This showdown when the Cavs have the ball will be fun to watch.

3) Is LeBron knocking down his jump shot? The book has long been — and in a lot of ways remains — on LeBron that teams should go under the pick and dare him to shoot a jump shot (better that than letting him drive and finish, or dish to an open guy at the arc). Last NBA Finals, LeBron shot 27 percent outside the paint in the Cavs losses (stat via NBA.com), and that’s not a coincidence. However, in these playoffs LeBron is shooting 42.1 percent from three and 44.8 percent from 16 feet out to the arc — go under the pick and he knocks down the shot. When LeBron is shooting like that the Cavaliers are almost indefensible. The Cavaliers need those shots to fall to keep pace with a Warriors team that will put up points this series.

4) Can Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, and the Cavaliers own the offensive glass? One key way the Cavaliers can slow Golden State’s deadly small-ball lineups is to make them pay by grabbing offensive rebounds. It’s rather simple: Green can’t throw an outlet pass to Curry to start the break if he doesn’t have the ball. Cleveland’s second chance points and opportunities will bring the pace down and get them some easy buckets, both things the Cavs have to have. Also, success on the offensive glass could force the conservative Mike Brown to stick with lineups longer that feature Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West or other bigs that the Cavaliers can exploit. There will be a lot of threes launched in this series, but battle on the boards will matter just as much.

5) What happens when the Warriors face adversity? If there’s one thing we really don’t know about Golden State is how they will handle being actually challenged. To use the sports cliché, how will they respond when they are punched in the mouth? We don’t know because it hasn’t happened much — in these playoffs, only three of the Warriors 12 games have been within five points in the final five minutes. Golden State — particularly Curry — have looked good in those limited minutes, but they are limited. During the season, the Warriors were far from always smooth at the end of close games as they figured out how to use both Curry and Durant in those settings. Golden State is a team that when the shots don’t fall, when the game gets slowed down and mucked up a little, can start to come apart at the seams. To win, you have to take them out of their flow.

Think back to Christmas Day against Cleveland. Golden State was in control of that game much of the way, but when (for a variety of reasons) the tide started to turn and Cleveland made it’s run, the Warriors came apart. On both ends. Six months later have the Warriors learned their lessons and figured it out — because we know Cleveland knows how to close out a game. And a series. Cleveland is comfortable in tight games, we will find out if Golden state is.

Adam Silver doesn’t see Cavaliers/Warriors as bad for NBA’s competitive balance

8 Comments

It’s billed as The Trilogy.

It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA right now, maybe in professional sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, two teams dripping with stars and the biggest names globally in the sport, are facing off in the NBA Finals again. It’s what we should want — the two best teams on the biggest stage.

But is it good for the NBA?

Is it good optics for the league that there’s a sense right now the other 28 teams are just along for the ride? Because we know that, barring something major happening over the summer, we’re going to head into next NBA season predicting another Cavaliers/Warriors Finals.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver pushed back against that narrative speaking on “Mike & Mike” Wednesday morning.

“When I hear people say that these are now the two teams that are dynasties. You know, think back, you guys know the history. We have the Lakers and Celtics — the Celtics have won 17 championships, Lakers 16 — that’s almost half of all championships won in the NBA by those two teams. Now [the Cavs and Warriors] are being called dynasties. One, [Cleveland] before last year had never won in the history of the NBA. Golden State hadn’t won in 40 years. These are the two teams now that are playing and everybody’s saying ‘Now they’re dynasties.’ So they have a lot of winning to do before I think they should be declared dynasties in the way that the Celtics and Lakers dominated for so many years, or even San Antonio with their five championships or the Bulls with their six championships.”

In a historic context, he’s right. But with Kevin Durant now in Golden State, hasn’t that created a powerhouse superteam that will dominate the league the next four or five years?

“I will say, and I heard Kevin Durant say something like this the other day, I think it’s a little unfair to him to blame him for the lack of so-called ‘competitive balance’ at the moment in the league. I mean, he could have only impacted one team, had he stayed in Oklahoma City or gone somewhere else, there’s no doubt that team would have been better, but it wouldn’t have changed the fortunes for 27 other teams in the league.”

This season, the NBA has followed form, but that is not the norm in terms of our predictions of superteams. When LeBron first went back to Cleveland, there were people trying to hand them the title the first year, that didn’t work out — and nobody saw those Warriors coming. Same thing when LeBron went to Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, people wanted to hand them the title and they lost the first year to a Mavericks team nobody saw coming (except Mark Cuban, of course). When Steve Nash and Dwight Howard went to the Lakers people wanted to hand that team the Larry O’Brien Trophy, didn’t exactly work out that way. To put it kindly. All of which is to say, there are no sure things.

The problem for the NBA is the perception it’s a two-team league. Through the last couple of CBA’s the league has tried to find ways to flatten out the talent pool, and you can argue that hasn’t worked, but it hasn’t worked for flukey reasons. In the East, it hasn’t worked because LeBron James is one of the game’s all-time greats and is a dominant force. He is a force of nature, and he throws all balance out the window. In the West, the Warriors built their core the right way — they drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green — and developed them. Kevin Durant came on board, but only because a one-time massive spike in the salary cap (due to a new television deal) made it possible. And even with that it only worked because Stephen Curry had ankle problems before signing his last contract so he came at what is now a massive bargain.

It is not good that the NBA will head into next season with everyone expecting round four of these Finals. But it’s not devastating for the league. And things will probably not play out the way we expect anyway.