Kurt Helin

150607_NBAFinalsGame2

LeBron James, Cavaliers’ defense holds off late-charging Warriors to win Game 2, even series

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OAKLAND — Are you not entertained?

Two NBA Finals games, two overtimes. It’s the first time in NBA history the first two Finals games have gone to OT.

A lot of fans (and media) may have thought this series was over when Kyrie Irving went down, but Cleveland did not. Fantastic Cavaliers defense all night, a masterful game from LeBron James, and a couple Matthew Dellavedova free throws with 10.1 seconds left (after he hustled for an offensive board) gave the Cavaliers a 95-93 Game 2 win that silenced a deafening Oracle Arena.

The Cavaliers and Warriors are now tied 1-1 with the NBA Finals heading back to Cleveland for Game 3 on Tuesday.

“It’s the grit squad that we have,” LeBron said of how the Cavaliers won Game 2. “It’s not cute at all.  If you’re looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, then that’s not us.  That’s not us right now.  Everything is tough.  You know, we’re going to come in with an aggressive mindset defensively and offensively. And for us to win a Finals game shooting 32 percent from the field, it’s just a testament of how gritty we can be.

“It has to be that for the rest of the series, no matter how many games it takes.”

LeBron was every bit the best player in the world, finishing with 39 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, and 11 assists — and finishing the game by slamming the ball into the ground, as pumped up as he’s ever been on the court.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a guy anywhere, anytime,  I can think of a name or two, but that’s the whole history of basketball  that can give you the kind of all-around performance and all-around leadership that LeBron does for his group…” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “He really willed his guys to win that game.  That’s what a champion does, and obviously he’s a champion.”

Just as important as all the numbers, LeBron controlled the tempo of the game and kept the Warriors from their patented runs.

Well, except for one — Golden State went on a 13-4 run late in the fourth quarter to come back and force the game into overtime. They did it with Andre Iguodala hitting a three and Klay Thompson making plays inside, and they sent the game to OT on a Stephen Curry scoop shot in the lane that tied the game at 87-87. LeBron couldn’t hit as the clock expired and the second extra session was on.

But none of that happens without the Cavaliers defense.

I think they deserve a lot of credit for the way they played,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They got into the passing lanes.  They took our rhythm away.  Then we’ve got to do a better job ourselves of trying to create that pace and rhythm.”

All season long, when Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were off the floor, but LeBron was still on it, the Cavaliers played very good defense (allowing 93 points per 100 possessions). That was not a fluke.

Cleveland held Golden State to 39.8 percent shooting overall and 22.9 percent from three (8-of-25).

How bad a shooting night was it for Golden State? Look at these numbers.

• Stephen Curry set a record for most missed three-pointers in an NBA Finals game with 13. Curry was a perfect 7-of-7 from his preferred left corner in the last round, was 0-of-2 early in this game.

• Curry was 1-of-9 on uncontested looks in Game 2 (using the NBA’s SportsVU camera data). The Warriors as a team shot 31.6 percent on uncontested looks.

• At one point in the fourth quarter it was Klay Thompson with 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting; the other four Warriors starters had 22 points on 6-of-27 shooting.

“Didn’t feel right all night, but no time to worry about it, but no time to worry about, just have to keep shooting,” Curry said of his off night. “I’ve got to play better.”

Curry didn’t hit a shot all night when Dellavedova was covering him, shooting 0-of-8 (according to ESPN).

If this game felt familiar to Warriors fans, it’s probably because they saw similar games like this when Golden State was struggling and went down 2-1 to Memphis in the second round. This was a grinding game. Slow, physical and now the Cavaliers wanted it played. That showed on the scoreboard. The Warriors are entering the fourth quarter down 62-59 — that was their lowest point total after three all season. The Cavs lack of offense is what kept the game close.

The game was that way from the start and the Cavs were thriving. It was very scrappy, and played in the paint. LeBron was a beast with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds — statistically he had never put up numbers that good. He shot 7-of-13 and was in attack mode with nine of those shots coming in the paint. He had the Cavaliers up 47-45 at the break.

If it hadn’t been for Klay Thompson the Warriors would have been in serious trouble in the first half. Thompson had nine of first the first 11 Warriors points. Dellavedova was switched on him a couple times but couldn’t hang with him. The only thing that slowed Thompson was fouls — he picked up a second and came out midway through the first quarter. When he returned in the second, he hadn’t cooled down.

At the half Thompson had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The rest of the Warriors were 8-of-25 for 25 points — Stephen Curry was just 2-of-10 in the first half.

The Cavaliers needed other guys besides LeBron to step up and they got it. James Jones came in and went 3-for-3 to give the Cavaliers a lift, while Timofey Mozgov was strong in the paint with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

J.R. Smith was his own story. He had 13 points on 13 shots, but his mistakes — and there were many, he fouled out of the game with a number of silly ones — almost cost the Cavaliers the game.

Almost. But there was LeBron and Dellavedova to save the day.

And we have a real series on our hands.

LeBron with the skip pass to J.R. Smith for open three (VIDEO)

2015 NBA Finals - Game Two
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OAKLAND — LeBron James said before Game 2 he needed to get his teammates involved more. This is what he was talking about.

LeBron has been putting up big numbers and had the Cavaliers up by six late in the third quarter, but he needed help. He has been getting some from Timofey Mozgov in beast mode inside.

But some J.R. Smith threes like this would certainly help, too.

Klay Thompson to Andre Iguodala for the alley-oop throwdown (VIDEO)

2015 NBA Finals - Game Two
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Klay Thompson was saving the Warriors’ bacon in the first half — he had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while the rest of the Warriors were 8-of-25 for 25 points. If not for Thompson, the LeBron James and the Cavaliers would have been up by far more than 2 (47-45).

But Thompson was doing more than just shooting, he also had this sweet alley-oop in transition to Andre Iguodala.

It’s the kind of play the Cavs have masterfully limited so far in the Finals.

Stephen Curry with circus shot high off the glass, then behind-the-back pass (VINE)

2015 NBA Finals - Game Two
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OAKLAND — Stephen Curry started off the game cold, shooting 1-of-6 to open the game.

But his one make was impressive — over the outstretched arm of Tristan Thompson and high off the glass.

Curry also made a nice pass to set Leandro Barbosa up for a three.

The game was tied 20-20 at the end of one quarter.

Report: Mike Malone given second interview for Denver Nuggets coaching job

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Mike Malone was hired as the Sacramento head coach to help change the team culture. In the final years of the Maloof ownership things had spiraled out of control, Malone was brought in to right the ship.

He did that. He built a defensive identity for the team, connected with DeMarcus Cousins and created a structure, one that was just starting to result in wins on the court. Then Cousins got hurt, the Kings went on a losing streak, and the new Kings ownership decided what they really wanted was a running team. So Malone got axed.

Denver could use some culture shock after the Brian Shaw era. Malone could provide that, and he’s getting a second interview, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Melvin Hunt is considered the clear frontrunner here. Players like him and the team responded and played well for him — so well that it started to mess up their draft pick, so management forced Hunt to rest guys down the stretch.

The Nuggets still seem to be undecided on a direction — the defensive-minded Malone and the offensive-minded Mike D’Antoni are radically different in style and would require radically different rosters.

The Nuggets want to have their new coach in place before the draft. Then on draft night and into the summer expect Denver to be active trading partners as they try to reshape that roster and culture.