Nuggets, Andre Miller use second half surge to defeat Warriors

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Game one proved to be the perfect example of why this series has a chance to be the best of the first round match ups. Both teams dueled down the stretch with some fantastic shot making, but it was Andre Miller’s lay up in the final seconds that lifted the Nuggets to a 97-95 win over the Warriors to take a 1-0 series lead.

If there was any surprise to this game it wasn’t that there was a fantastic finish, but that it took so long for both teams to find their stride. The first half featured better defense than anticipated, but also both teams missing shots that they would normally make.

Stephen Curry seemed particularly off his game early on, hitting only 1 of his 10 first half shots while scoring 4 points. But he wasn’t alone. Off the bench, Carl Landry also had 4 first half points on 1-6 shooting and Jarrett Jack had 8 points on 3-7 shooting. Were it not for Klay Thompson’s 15 points on 7-11 shooting, the Warriors would have found themselves behind rather than up by 4 at the half.

But the Warriors did have the lead, mostly because the Nuggets were equally out of sorts. The Warriors did a very good job of mixing up their defense and keeping the Nuggets’ offense off balance. Golden State flashed several possessions of zone defense, inviting the Nuggets to shoot long jumpers rather than getting into the paint. The Warriors also did a good job of sending multiple players back in transition defense to avoid the run outs the Nuggets rely on for easy points.

In the 2nd half, however, the Nuggets finally started to find their stride by sorting out how to attack the Dubs’ defense. In the third quarter Ty Lawson got aggressive going to the basket, Corey Brewer got a few shots to fall, and even JaVale McGee got into the act with a couple of baskets. The Nuggets were became the team they’ve been all season, getting to the rim for baskets and using better energy to fuel their attack.

They also picked up their defensive intensity. Denver forced 5 turnovers in the third period, and while that didn’t translate to fast break points it did help them hold the Warriors to only 16 points in the period and turn the tide of the game.

It was the final frame, though, that provided the real fireworks. Golden State battled to make this a game when they just as easily could have folded in the face of a Denver team that typically dominates at home. Curry started to hit some shots, Carl Landry found some cracks in Denver’s interior defense for some baskets, and Andrew Bogut combined stellar defense with solid scoring. So even though David Lee went down with an injury early in the period, the Warriors were able to persevere and keep the game close enough that they could steal it at the end.

But those hopes were dashed by Andre Miller’s fantastic fourth quarter. Miller scored 18 of his game high 28 points in the final 12 minutes, getting into the paint. His old-man game was on full display as he posted up whichever defender happened to be on him and scored at will when the double team never came. His combination of step throughs, turnaround jumpers, and lay-ins at the rim  were simply fantastic. And when the game was on the line, there was Miller again, driving from the top of the key and hitting a nifty lay-in around Andrew Bogut’s challenge to win the game.

If it wasn’t clear coming into this series, this game showed that the Warriors have what it takes to play with the Nuggets regardless of where the game is played. The Nuggets needed a fantastic finish from Miller to claim this game and that was only enough after several Warriors struggled more than anyone could have expected.

That said, while the Warriors should be confident, they should also be kicking themselves for losing such a winnable game. Denver isn’t likely to give them so many chances in the rest of the games that are played in their home arena and with David Lee’s prospects up in the air and Kenneth Faried likely to make his return soon, the Warriors’ uphill climb may have gotten a lot steeper.

We’ll see what adjustments Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson has up his sleeve and whether or not his team can claim some of the momentum back after surrendering it in the 2nd half. But, after one game, they still have as many questions as they do answers while the Nuggets can simply regroup from a position of strength.

As for the fans, we all just hope we can get six more games just like this one.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.