Kurt Helin

LeBron has heartfelt exchange with Craig Sager after win

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CLEVELAND — After taking down one of the best teams in NBA history, LeBron James had a heartfelt moment with one of the game’s most popular sideline reporters.

James was interviewed by Craig Sager after Cleveland’s 115-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 tied the NBA Finals at three games apiece.

It was Sager’s first NBA Finals in 34 years on the job. His employer, TNT, worked out a deal with ABC, the network that broadcast the game, to get Sager on the air.

Sager was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 and has been in a fight for his life over the last two years. After asking James several questions about the game and his 41-point performance, Sager congratulated him on the victory.

“First of all, let me ask you a question,” James said with a wide grin. “How in the hell do you go 30-plus years without getting a finals game? That don’t make no sense.”

Decked out in one of his trademark colorful suits, this one a black number with blue and silver flowers, Sager beamed as James continued his salute.

“I’m happy to see you, man,” James said. “Much love and respect. I’m happy I was able to witness it in front of these fans. We really appreciate you.”

Sager replied, “Thanks for entertaining me.”

Steve Kerr goes off on officials postgame, invites fine from league to plant seed

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CLEVELAND — Steve Kerr knew exactly what he was doing.

In a time-honored NBA Finals tradition used by the likes of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, Golden State coach Steve Kerr fired shots at the officiating in his postgame news conference Thursday night. His team just had played poorly, and his star Stephen Curry fouled out (then was ejected for throwing his mouthpiece), in a loss to Cleveland 115-101. Kerr wanted to plant a seed for the next game.

“But (Curry) had every right to be upset. He’s the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous,” Kerr said in his rant. “You know, he steals the ball from Kyrie clean at one point. LeBron flops on the last one. Jason Phillips falls for that for a flop. As the MVP of the league, we’re talking about these touch fouls in the NBA Finals.

“Let me be clear, we did not lose because of the officiating, they totally outplayed us and Cleveland deserved to win. But those three of the six fouls were incredibly inappropriate calls for anybody, much less the MVP of the league.”

Kerr wasn’t done. He was asked about Curry throwing his mouthpiece into the crowd after the sixth foul (which based on past precedent will lead to a fine for Curry).

“Yeah, I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece. He should be upset,” Kerr said. “Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There’s fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”

Kerr will see this as money well spent if his team wins Game 7.

The officiating has been inconsistent through parts of this series, including Game 6. That cuts both ways, Kevin Love was called for a phantom foul in Game 6 where the official anticipated contact that never occurred.

But through that officiating, Cavaliers have been the more physical team these past couple games. Also, the Cavaliers have played through those calls while the Warriors have focused more on them then lost their composure.

If the Warriors don’t get it back and play through the officiating in Game 7, their historic season will end with a historic collapse.

 

LeBron’s transcendent play lifts Cavaliers into Game 7

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CLEVELAND — The numbers are staggering.

In two games where his team would be eliminated if it lost, LeBron James has 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, has hit 7-of-14 from three, and is a +37. As Matt Moore of CBS noted, in the last two games LeBron has had 188 touches and just three turnovers. Through the Finals, LeBron leads all players (on both teams) in points, assists, blocks and steals, and he’s tied with Tristan Thompson for most rebounds. In a crucial stretch of Game 6, he scored or assisted on 27 straight Cavaliers points.

And the numbers don’t do his play justice.

LeBron has set the tone and carried a Cavaliers team that looked beaten and dejected after Game 4 all the way to a Game 7 chance to win it all. When Cleveland needed him most, he put on transcendent performances and made himself the Finals MVP favorite (regardless of who wins).

“It’s LeBron being LeBron. He’s one of the greatest of all times,” Warriors coach Tyronn Lue said. “Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself in the last couple games, himself and Kyrie (Irving), to really put this team on their backs and really get us to where we’re trying to get to and that’s a Game 7 in Golden State.”

He took it upon himself, and Lue has put the ball in his hands during key stretches the past couple games, turning LeBron into the fulcrum of the offense.

“Then down the stretch we decided to put the ball in LeBron’s hands, let him facilitate, get guys open shots because we had a lot of shooting on the perimeter, and it opened up the floor for LeBron to get into the paint, score some, and also distribute,” Lue said.

The Warriors have had no answers for this LeBron. And they are impressed.

“He’s playing great,” said Stephen Curry, who himself dropped 30 in a losing effort. “He’s doing things that are game-changing and helping his team win. He’s been more aggressive shooting the ball.”

“I mean, he’s making his three ball, shooting 50 percent from three the last two games, maybe above,” Klay Thompson said (and it is 50 percent). “His jumper’s going in. We’ve got to do a better job of contesting at the rim with him. But give him credit, he’s making shots. Hopefully, he’s off Sunday.”

The Warriors need to try and come up with an answer for LeBron, but like countless teams before them Golden State is finding stopping this peak LeBron is next to impossible. And while LeBron looked exhausted at times he didn’t come out until the game was decided.

“I don’t think he got tired,” Lue said with a laugh. “I thought he was great. He said he felt good. With our season on the line, at the end of the third quarter he said, “I’m not coming out.” I didn’t have any intention on taking him out anyway. I don’t care what y’all say. We’re going to ride him.

“He had another unbelievable game, and that’s what we expect of LeBron, and that’s what he’s been doing his whole career. So, one more game, and we need another one out of him.”

Irving said part of the challenge is not to become a spectator and fan yourself.

“You try not to sit back and watch because you’re trying to make sure that you create space for him and able to give him outlets when he needs it, but I mean, when a guy’s got it going like that, I mean, it’s just unbelievable to be a part of,” Irving said.

LeBron, for his part, tried to deflected the chance to hype up his play.

“My teammates, like I said, have put me in position to be successful either when I have the ball or don’t have the ball, they give me the ball wherever I would like it,” LeBron said. “Setting great screens and trying to put pressure on their defense. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the ball go through the hoop the last couple of games. So, you know, I feel pretty good.”

LeBron’s “pretty good” has his team on the doorstep of an NBA Finals win — but now they have to do it on the road.

“I’ll take it. It don’t matter to me,” LeBron said with a laugh. “Like I told you guys the other day, it’s two of the greatest words in the world, and that’s “Game 7”, so I’ll play it anywhere.”

And if he plays like he has the last two games, LeBron may well end the long title drought in The Land.

Stephen Curry gets ejected for throwing mouthpiece, fine from league coming

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CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry lost it.

He had been frustrated with the officiating all night long and when he got called for a late foul on LeBron James — Warriors coach Steve Kerr said LeBron flopped on the play — he lost all poise. In frustration, he threw his mouthpiece, which hit a fan.

“I’ve thrown my mouthpiece before,” Curry said after the game. “I usually aim at the scorer’s table. I was off aim. I definitely didn’t mean to throw it at a fan, but it happened. I went over and apologized to him because that’s obviously not where I was trying to take my frustration out.”

There’s a lot of precedents here, Curry will get a fine from the league. Earlier last season, the Clippers’ Austin Rivers threw a seat cushion into the crowd and hit a fan, he got a $25,000 fine. A couple years ago, Enes Kanter threw his mouthpiece into the stands and hit a fan, he got a $25,000 fine.

Some on social media — Cavs fans? — have tried to suggest a suspension is in order, but that has only happened when a mouthpiece was thrown at an official (Udonis Haslem did that a few years back). That’s not what happened here. Curry will get a fine and that will be it.

He will be playing in Game 7, which is Sunday after the Cavaliers comfortably handled the Warriors on Thursday night in Cleveland.

“I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece,” Kerr said as part of a rant on officials postgame that will bring him a fine, too. “He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There’s fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”

Warriors dig early hole with misses, Cavaliers don’t let them out, win 115-101 to force Game 7

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CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry tried. With the rest of his team ice cold, he went Davidson for a stretch and just tried to do everything himself, on his way to 30 points. But in the end, he fouled out — and in frustration chucked his mouth guard, which will bring a fine from the league.

Klay Thompson tried, he went off for 15 third quarter points to close the gap.

But LeBron James would not let it happen.

In a game that makes him the Finals MVP favorite — whichever team wins Game 7 — LeBron had 41 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds hitting 16-of-27 shots. And he had an emphatic rejection of Curry that was the exclamation point on the night. In two elimination games, LeBron has 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, and is a +37.

“It’s LeBron being LeBron,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s one of the greatest of all times. Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself in the last couple games, himself and Kyrie, to really put this team on their backs and really get us to where we’re trying to get to and that’s a Game 7 in Golden State.”

Behind LeBron and a big night from Tristan Thompson — 15 points and 16 rebounds — the Cavaliers raced out to a 22-point first-quarter lead behind ice-cold shooting from the Warriors (who got good looks and clanked them), then held off a couple of Golden State rallies to win 115-101.

Game 7 is Sunday night in Oakland.

Cleveland fans — with five decades of built up passion — roared their approval all night and by the end were chanting “see you Sunday” and “Cavs in seven.”

Cleveland earned this win by playing harder, with more force and desperation than the Warriors all night. But they were aided by a Warriors team that couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean, got frustrated with the officiating and let it impact their play, and made some stupid passes and poor defensive gambles for a usually smart team.

The Cavaliers won this game by bringing that force from the opening tip.

Cavaliers got off to an 8-0 start because Warriors started 0-of-7 shooting, and that trend continued through the first quarter. Harrison Barnes remained ice cold and bricked a trio of wide open threes (he was 0-of-8 shooting on the night and by the end the Cavs let him take jumpers). Golden State shot 5-of-22 in the first quarter (22.7 percent) and 1-of-9 from three — a number of those very clean looks — with four turnovers, which allowed the Cavaliers to get out run, score a dozen points in the paint and shoot 57.1 percent in the first.

The result was a 31-11 Cleveland lead after one quarter. It was the hole the Warriors could never climb out of.

“Obviously Cleveland brought a lot of force to the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought we had some good shots early that didn’t go in, and it was like 6-0 after about four minutes. Our defense was pretty good. They had a couple run-outs where they got lay-ups, but our halfcourt defense was good. We just could not get a shot to fall, and then they just blitzed us. As I said, they deserved to win the game. They outplayed us. It was too difficult to come back from 20 down.”

“But once again, they won the game in the first quarter,” Klay Thompson said. “Come Sunday, we’ve got to blitz them. We can’t be on our heels and them be the aggressor. We’ve got so many good players on this team that if they’re trying to take out me, Steph, or whoever, someone’s going to step up.”

Golden State did make a few runs. One came in the second as the Warriors settled down, got stops, hit a few shots (they started 4-of-8 from three in the quarter behind Curry) and chipped away at the lead, getting it all the way down to eight. However, Curry picked up a third foul on a stupid reach, Green picked up a third going over Dahntay Jones back and after Barnes kept missing the Cavaliers went on a run to get the lead back up to 16. At the half, it was 59-43 Cleveland, with the Warriors shooting 5-of-21 from three (Curry was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the team 1-of-13 with Barnes and Thompson a combined 0-of-9).

To start the third Barnes missed three more open looks and the Cavaliers stretched the lead out to 24 again. Stephen Curry was the only Warrior hitting and resorted to Davidson mode trying to do everything himself, and he got the lead cut to 15. But a turnover by the Warriors and an offensive rebound by the Cavs stomped on any momentum the Warriors would build. Cleveland just continued to out work Golden State.

Then suddenly the Thompson-inspired run came — he had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the third. Warriors went on a 10-0 run as Thompson hit threes and the Cavaliers slowed down and isolated on offense, allowing the Warriors to defend and get stops. The score was 80-71 Cavaliers after three, just nine points.

Once again in the fourth the Warriors got the lead down to eight. But they struggled to get stops consistently – especially when LeBron started taking over with strong drives and smart passes to set up Thompson and others. Plus, the Warriors would break out a little playground passing — something that works for them against lesser teams during the season — and it would lead to momentum-killing turnovers and transition chances for the Cavaliers.

The end came ultimately when Curry fouled out with a few minutes to go — in frustration he threw his mouth guard into the stands and it hit a fan, which got him ejected and will bring a $25,000 fine from the league. Curry was hot. But he and the Warriors let the inconsistent officiating get into their heads.

“Yeah, I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece,” Kerr said postgame as part of a rant about the officiating that will bring him a fine from the league Monday. “He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There’s fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”

The officiating was inconsistent all game. LeBron played through it.

Because of it, on Sunday his team has a chance at history.