Kurt Helin

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Four things to watch in Game 4 of Warriors vs. Cavaliers NBA Finals

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LeBron James is right — Game 4 remains must win for the Cavaliers. Go down 3-1 heading back to the Bay Area and things get ugly. Expect a better game from Golden State on Friday, but this is a series now, and Cleveland expects to even things up. Here are four things that will decide the game.

1) If Kevin Love is back, does he start? How much does he play? It’s not official yet, but Love is expected to return for Game 4 after missing the last game due to a concussion. Which leaves Tyronn Lue the unenviable task of sitting Love down and saying, “I know how hard you worked and how desperately you wanted back on the court, but you need to come off the bench for us.” That is what is rumored to be happening (although we likely will not find out officially until just before game time) and it is the correct move to make. Cleveland’s defense was vastly superior with Richard Jefferson starting, although Cavs coach Tyronn Lue tried to say Love was not the reason.

“No, it didn’t make it easier,” Lue said of Love being out. “I thought what made it easier is we played harder. We competed, we played harder, and we were able to get matchups in transition. It didn’t have anything to do with Kevin being on the floor. It’s just the way we approached the game.”

This is simple: don’t mess with what worked.

2) Can Cleveland keep up that defensive focus, and how does Golden State counter it? Cleveland’s defense was dramatically better in Game 3, holding the Warriors less than 100 points per 100 possessions on the night after allowing at least 116 per 100 in the first two games. The improvement was not about an Xs and Os move, they simply played defense with far more intensity and focus. In the first two games the Cavs seemed to be thinking not playing all out, then one or two players would lose focus and a Warrior would get loose on a bad switch or a back cut and get a lay-up. Stephen Curry got good looks curling off screens (he just missed a lot). In Game 3 the Cavaliers didn’t change strategies — they were still switching off ball screens — they simply executed it all much better.

“Everyone extended their defense a little bit more,” LeBron said. “They’re such a great three-point shooting team that you have to extend your defense to start off with…. So, you’ve got to do a good job of trying to help the back-line defense by putting a little ball pressure on them.”

Cleveland has shown this level of defense before, sustaining it has always been the issue. Can they sustain it for Game 3? Golden State certainly will come out with more intensity and some game plan tweaks, for example don’t be surprised if they go small and start Andre Iguodala and bring Andrew Bogut off the bench (he was -21 in Game 3). Also, Golden State turned the ball over 17 times under that Cavaliers defensive pressure, do that again and they will lose again.

3) Golden State needs it to be Stephen Curry time (or Klay Thompson time will do). Stephen Curry has been pedestrian this series. Give Cleveland credit for executing a “Curry/Thompson are not going to beat us” strategy, picking them up very high on the court and forcing the ball out of their hands whenever possible. But it was more than that in Game 3, with coach Steve Kerr benching Curry for Shaun Livingston for a short stretch.

Curry didn’t play well in last year’s Finals until Game 3, and this time around Curry started to find his shooting groove in the third quarter of Game 3. He needs to bring it full throttle in Game 4 — complete with the side-step threes and defensive steals. Even if it’s just a few threes early, that will bend the defense toward him more, so other guys get looks. Golden State needs Curry to play like the MVP.

4) Will the Cavs keep knocking down threes at this rate? Through the first two games, Cleveland was 12-of-44 from three, 27.3 percent. In Game 3 they hit 12-of-25 threes, with J.R. Smith hitting 5-of-10. Cleveland wants to play small and fast, that means they need to hit their threes. Simple as that. Expect a better defensive effort from Golden State; the Cavaliers are going to have to hit contested threes, but if they want to win the shot has to fall.

New “Chef Curry” version of the Curry 2 shoe gets pummeled on Twitter as “Dad shoe”

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Stephen Curry had a rough Game 3 against the Cavaliers.

But not as rough as the “Chef Curry” version of the Curry 2 Low shoe, which were promoted and became a side topic during Game 3.

Curry’s Under Armour signature shoes are a huge success, selling domestically at a rate slightly better than LeBron James and Kobe Bryant (those two are stronger internationally, and nobody is touching Jordan yet). Curry and his shoe sales are fueling profits for Under Armour.

But not all versions of his shoes are so beloved. Check out the reaction to the “Chef Curry” shoes from around Twitter (hat tip Zach Harper at CBSSports.com, who probably has a pair of these).

And, of course, the crying Jordan meme:

These are Dad shoes, but I bet Dell Curry loves them. Even the younger Curry did.

LeBron James on Game 4: “It’s a do-or-die game for us still”

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CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers dominating Game 3 made it feel like the NBA Finals finally, really started.

But if Golden State wins Game 4, it goes back to feeling over very fast. The Cavaliers know that.

“We can’t afford to go down 3-1 and go into their building and give them confidence going back. So it’s a do-or-die game for us still,” LeBron James said Thursday.

An emotional LeBron helped lead the big Game 3 win — he told his teammates he would lead, they just needed to follow. They did — Kyrie Irving (32 points) and J.R. Smith (20) found their jump shots again, while Tristan Thompson was a beast on the glass.

The other thing that sparked the Cavaliers in Game 3 was a much more intense, much more focused, much more physical defense that knocked the Warriors back on their heels. That was led by LeBron on Draymond Green.

“I think not only myself, but everyone. Everyone extended their defense a little bit more,” LeBron said. “They’re such a great three-point shooting team that you have to extend your defense to start off with. More than that, they move the ball so, so well. And Draymond being one of those guys, one of their playmakers along with Steph, along with (Shaun) Livingston, along with (Andre) Iguodala that makes so many great passes above that, well beyond the three-point line. So, you’ve got to do a good job of trying to help the back-line defense by putting a little ball pressure on them.”

The Cavaliers put pressure on them, and the Warriors did not respond.

“I think we were extremely soft,” Draymond Green said. “We got bullied, punked, and any other word that you can find for it. That’s pretty much what it was, and that’s why the game went the way it went.”

Green, as he usually does, tried to take the blame for the loss, but much like the Warriors’ wins this series the loss was a complete team effort. What does Green want to do differently in Game 4? Wear LeBron down.

“I think I’ve got to be more active on the offensive end and kind of wear him out more,” Draymond Green said. “I don’t think I was that active or aggressive last night. So I’ll be more aggressive and like my chances.”

Game 4 is going to tell us a lot about both teams. How will the Warriors respond to getting thumped? (They did pretty well with that last series.) Can Cleveland sustain the intensity and focus they had in Game 3?

Game 4 also is going to tell us if we are going deep into this series or not.

Remembering Sean Rooks

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Former NBA big man and current NBA assistant coach Sean Rooks passed away unexpectedly this week at the age of 46.

The NBA put together this video remembering the former Arizona player who spent a dozen year in the NBA.

Our thoughts are with his family.

Hawks’ Jeff Teague posts he played last season with torn patella tendon, quickly deletes

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Did Hawks’ starting point guard Jeff Teague play last season injured?

He posted on picture and comment on Instagram describing his surgery to repair a torn patella tendon, but he quickly deleted the post. Here is the image from Twitter.

If this is true, it could not have been a complete tear, Teague could not have played through that. It is possible it was a partial tear that could be surgically repaired. Whatever it was it doesn’t seem to be that serious.

Teague’s numbers last season were similar to, but slightly less efficient than, the season before. He scored almost the exact same number of points per game (15.9 to 15.7), he shot better from three (40 percent) but his assists were down. He struggled more in the playoffs, shooting 38 percent overall and 34.1 percent in the second round.

Teague has been mentioned in potential trade with the 76ers, and while how likely that one is to come to fruition is up for debate Teague will come up in other rumors. Now you can be sure those other teams will have their doctors take a long look at Teague’s knees, and if there are issues that buzz will get around the league quickly.