Kurt Helin

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Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals Game 2 preview: Five things to watch

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals raised questions — “if the Cavaliers can’t win when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are off, when can they win? — but it did not provide a blueprint for the rest of the series. Expect Game 2 to look and feel different. Here are five things to look for on Sunday night.

1) The Cavaliers are going to try to play faster, but can they keep the ball moving? On a very basic level, the idea of the Cavaliers trying to play faster and out Warrior the Warriors seems flawed. Know that the Warriors hope the Cavs try to play faster in Game 2. That’s not how Cleveland sees it — the Cavaliers know they are an excellent offensive team that can create havoc they play fast. This is the style they are committed to.

“I just told LeBron (James) I need him to play faster,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”

By faster, that’s not just pace trying to create cross matches they can exploit in transition (although that is part of it, the Cavaliers need some easy buckets). It’s also about moving the ball in the half court. The Cavaliers did a poor job of that in Game 1.

“I think the way they play defense, they switch 1 through 5, and it makes you play one-on-one basketball,” Lue said. “So your movement with floppy stuff coming off of pin-downs, they just switch out and try to deny those passes. And then you’ve got to post Kevin (Love), you’ve got to post LeBron against those mismatches. So I don’t see any reason for change. We’ve just got to convert.”

2) Cleveland has to hit its open looks. The Cavaliers missed some open threes — notably Kevin Love and J.R. Smith — and missed 28 shots in the paint. Part of that should be credited to Golden State’s defense; Cleveland had not played anyone this fast, this smart, and a team that recovers and challenges shots as quickly as Golden State. Plus, when the Warriors do double (particularly in the post) their zones on the weak side are as smooth and good as you will see in the league.

That can’t matter. It’s hard to generate good looks against the Warriors defense and when the Cavaliers do they need to knock the shot down. Expect Smith to be far less tentative and more of a gunner in Game 2 — you don’t have to tell him to shoot more twice — but he’s got to be efficient doing so.

3) Expect a better game from Stephen Curry. We know that the ridiculous Curry 7-minute run of threes is coming this series, likely a couple of times. It doesn’t matter what Cleveland, LeBron, or anyone does, it’s coming. The Cavaliers just need to survive it and battle back. The questions for Sunday are: Does that run come in Game 2? Can the Cavaliers survive it or does it knock them out of the box? Curry is not going to miss shots in Game 2 like he did in Game 1, taking some pressure off the Warriors bench.

4) Also, expect another good game from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. That 20-point Game 1 from Livingston was not an aberration. He likely doesn’t score that many points again, but he will impact the game and the Cavaliers do not seem to have a good answer for him. Livingston is a 6’7” and he is long, which creates some defensive advantages, plus he can happily live in the midrange.

Also, expect another strong game defensively from Iguodala. That was no fluke — the guy is the defending Finals MVP and the Warriors aren’t even in these Finals without his defense on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook last series. He brings that defensive energy and a sense of calmness to their offense nightly.

5) Expect a big push from the Cavaliers early. Cleveland is going to respond to their Game 1 loss — they will come out and play with force. LeBron is 9-0 in Game 2s of playoff series after losing Game 1, you know he is going to play well. There will be a sense of desperation around the Cavaliers — if they go down 0-2 in this series it’s hard to imagine them winning four out of the next five games to take it.

Cleveland hadn’t played a team executing at near the level of the Warriors through the playoffs, The Cavaliers hadn’t been pushed by their opponent to get better and sharper each game to advance, the Warriors had. It showed in Game 1. But now the Cavaliers are up to speed — or they had better be.

Warriors GM Myers feared knee injury would cost Stephen Curry entire playoffs

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It could have been much worse.

Having just returned from an ankle injury, Stephen Curry slipped on a wet spot on the court against Houston and sprained his MCL. It turned out to be a Grade 1 sprain — the mildest level, which takes a couple of weeks to return from — but Warriors GM Bob Myers told Ken Berger on CBS Sports Radio he feared much worse, via Eye on Basketball.

“Two series ago, with Steph,” Meyers said, “I thought he was maybe done for the postseason. A slip on a wet spot. That’s where in the position of being a front office, coach, anyone who’s not playing, the way you survive emotionally is you feel like you left it all out there.”

Here’s where Myers deserves a lot of credit: He built a roster good enough to still beat the Rockets handily without Curry. What’s more, this is a team that not only survived without him but could pick Curry up for a couple of weeks upon his return when he still wasn’t consistently playing at 100 percent (returns from injuries are not black and white situations, guys tend to show flashes then regress the next game when things tighten up, which is what Curry did until Game 6 against Oklahoma City).

That was also true in Game 1 of the Finals. Curry was off, Klay Thompson was off, yet the Warriors won by 15 and showed Cleveland they are not in Toronto anymore, where they just stop the two stars and the team falls apart. Myers built a very deep team.

Jerry West says Stephen Curry would have been just fine in more physical NBA era

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We can debate whether it’s a good thing or not, but there is no doubt the NBA is less physical today than it used to be. That is by the league’s design; they have tightened the calls up, both on the perimeter and in the paint, wanting to sell the skill of players rather than watch the get mugged.

That truth leads to a lot of this from fans:

Stephen Curry couldn’t play in that era, he would have got knocked on his a&* and not been able to shoot.”

Jerry West says you are wrong. Via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

I love that West is not down with the #getoffmylawn crowd. He and Larry Bird have that in common.

If you think Curry is soft, you are not watching him play. Teams have tried to knock him around, and just as he would have then he gets back up. He’s tough. Plus, I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

If you can hit 26-foot step-back jumpers off the dribble, you’ll be impossible to stop in any era.

Report: No league punishment for Dellavedova’s shot to Iguodala’s groin. Nor should there be.

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OAKLAND — If this wasn’t Matthew Dellavedova — a man with a history of reckless, some would say dirty, play — we wouldn’t be talking about this.

But the Cavaliers’ guard does have that history, and he did hit the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala in the, er, groin area during the third quarter of Game 1. That has led some to wonder if the league would step in. No, they will not, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

This is the right call. In both cases.

Dellaveova clearly is trying to make a play on the basketball, Iguodala wisely moves it out of his way, and Delly’s hand follows through to a place he didn’t intend. I understand Iguodala’s reaction, but this was a common foul, nothing more. The referees and the league got it right.

All of this is the same with Draymond Green‘s “kick” of Kyrie Irving. There is a backlash going on — particularly on Twitter — about the play of Green. And no doubt, the man does flail to get calls. But in this case, he was pulled backwards off his feet and the reaction was natural, not intentional. Again, if this were any player but Green right now nobody would care.

Nothing to see here, move along.

No stranger to adversity, Cavs have more of it in NBA Finals

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers know what’s being whispered – and sometimes shouted – at the NBA Finals.

The Cavaliers play in the Eastern Conference, they say. They haven’t been tested, they say. What happens when the adversity finally hits?

It came in Game 1, with the Golden State Warriors not even needing their two biggest stars while flattening the Cavaliers in the din of Oracle Arena. Now everyone wants to know how the Cavaliers will respond, how will they react after a body blow in Round 1 showed no indication that a fully health Cavaliers team was any more capable of defeating the mighty Warriors than the depleted unit that James dragged along with him for six games last year.

The Cavs cruised through the inferior Eastern Conference all season, the narrative goes, and now their reckoning is upon them. Game 2 is on Sunday in Oakland, and the Splash Brothers will be frothing at the mouth after a tepid Game 1. It’s up to the Cavaliers to show they belong on the same court with the defending champions.

“We’re not a team that loses our composure over anything,” James said.

In reality, the Cavaliers have been tested like few others. Such is life on Planet LeBron, the most scrutinized, most followed, most nit-picked athlete in America. His gravitational pull draws in fans, teammates and anybody with a notebook, a microphone or a blog, for better and worse.

“It was funny because people were talking about not having been through adversity, and, I mean, we’ve been through adversity all season,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “And I thought our guys did a great job of just coming together and understanding we have one common goal to start the season, and throughout that we had a lot of bumps in the road and a lot of things that happened.”

No adversity? How about firing a coach who led them to the NBA Finals a year ago and got them off to a 30-11 start to this season?

How about James raising eyebrows with his cryptic tweets, public challenging of teammates and midseason refreshes in South Beach?

How about Kevin Love trying to find his way in an offense dominated by James and Kyrie Irving?

Sure, they won their first 10 games of the playoffs. Sure, the Raptors were never truly a threat to them in the East finals, even after tying the series 2-2. Sure, the Eastern Conference remains far less challenging on a night-to-night basis than the West.

But these Cavaliers have lived in a pressure cooker ever since James decided to return to Cleveland two summers ago. They know that the city’s tortured fan base pins its hopes on them to end a 52-year championship drought. They have been pushed and prodded and poked at all season long.

“There’s good things that can come from it and feeling like your back is up against the wall,” Love said. “Then you have to push back and fight. I think we’ve been a team that has kind of thrived in, I don’t know if chaos is the right word, but thrived in adversity and been able to bounce back. We’re going to look to Sunday as definitely a bounce-back game and try to go 1-1 back to Cleveland.”

Then again, there is adversity, and there is Golden State.

The Warriors have returned the finals even better than the team that throttled the league a year ago. They won a record 73 games in the regular season, survived some injuries to star Stephen Curry in the early rounds of the playoffs and then were pushed to the brink by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West finals.

Surviving that crucible – coming back from a 3-1 deficit – only served to embolden a team that needed no such emboldening.

“I think that experience of going through that definitely makes us closer and a lot tougher,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “That wasn’t an easy series by any means. Then coming down and coming back from down 3-1, it gives you a certain amount of confidence.”

The Warriors also know what can happen when they ease up against James. Last year they took Game 1 and then dropped two straight to a James-led team missing Irving and Love due to injury.

They also know it’s highly unlikely that Curry and Klay Thompson clank jumpers like they did Thursday night.

“I don’t think it will be a problem,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think we’re much more experienced. We have that memory in our mind. We’ve been through this now, and we understand you can’t let up ever. Sunday is obviously a huge game. We’d like to go take care of business and get out on the road with a 2-0 lead. But we’ve got to play well.”