Warriors break game open in the 3rd, hold on late to clinch series over Nuggets

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There will be no game 7. The Warriors did what many, including me, thought they could not do before this series started. By holding on to beat the Nuggets 92-88 in game 6, they clinched the series and head to the 2nd round where they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs for the right to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The Nuggets didn’t make it easy, however. In the first half, Denver struggled make shots but picked up their defensive intensity to force some turnovers while also pounding the Warriors on the offensive glass to take control of the game. Combined with an assertive Ty Lawson, the Nuggets jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead early, flashing signs that they would carry over their energy and effectiveness from their game 5 win.

The Warriors, meanwhile, didn’t look ready to deal with a Nugget team that was clearly ready to fight for their playoff lives. Golden State was sloppy in executing their offense and couldn’t find ways to free up their back court for the open looks that fuels their effectiveness. And even though they got a nice emotional boost from David Lee playing a short stint in the 2nd quarter, it didn’t translate into them being more accurate from the floor as they only hit 15 of their 39 first half shots and a two point deficit heading into halftime.

In the 3rd quarter that all changed however. After the game Stephen Curry said that head coach Mark Jackson kept telling him  that it was his time and that he needed to find a way to raise his game. Curry must have taken those words to heart because when the 2nd half started he was a changed player.

In that 3rd period, Curry was nearly unstoppable scoring 14 points on 4-6 shooting with all of his makes coming from behind the arc. Beyond his shot making, Curry also dished out 3 assists and roasted the Denver defense when they tried to overcommit to him in the the open court.

Joining Curry as a difference maker in the period was Andrew Bogut, who scored 6 of his 14 points and grabbed 7 of his game high 21 rebounds in those 12 minutes. Bogut was masterful on defense, contesting shots at the rim and closing out possessions with his strong work on the glass. Further, when Curry drew attention on the perimeter, it was Bogut who slipped open around  the rim and was able to finish inside.

With Curry rolling as both a scorer and distributor, the Warriors broke the game open, turning that 2 point halftime deficit into an 11 point lead heading into the final period.

However, the Nuggets weren’t simply going to go quietly with their season on the line. In the 4th quarter they rallied to pull the game within striking distance, even after falling behind by as many as 18 points. Led by a masterful Andre Iguodala (24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists for the game), the Nuggets scratched and clawed their way back into the game by turning up the defensive pressure and then feasting on the Warriors mistakes. In the 4th quarter alone, the Warriors turned the ball over 10 times — many of them on careless plays where they simply didn’t value possession of the ball.

As the game got close and closer, you could sense the Warriors tightening up and the mistakes continued to hurt them. But a few calls in their favor — including a dicey blocking call on JaVale McGee — and some big free throws from Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack were enough to allow them to hold on down the stretch. It certainly wasn’t their best effort to close a game, but it was enough. Moving forward, they’ll have to clean things up if they’re to hang with the Spurs but that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile the Nuggets are going to have a long summer to think about all the things that went wrong in this series. From the lack of adjustments in the first few games to some bad mistakes on individual possessions in the clincher, there’s a lot for them to contemplate. The injury to Danilo Gallinari certainly didn’t help, but they had many good chances in this series and couldn’t find a way to get it done. And now, for the 9th time in 10 seasons, their playoffs end in the first round.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 3 and 4 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

LeBron James says we don’t know full story of his upbringing, but he’ll reveal it after retirement

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school – as a junior.

He has been in the spotlight ever since, somehow living up to the outsized expectations set while he was a teenager. His story has been told and retold – how he and his mom moved around Akron as she struggled to provide for him, how his athletic ability lifted himself and those around him.

But are we missing key details?

Upon passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most shots made in the playoffs, LeBron reflected on his journey.

LeBron:

To know where I come from, you guys know a little bit of the story. But you guys don’t know the full story about where I come from and the struggle that I had. You guys know about the single-parent struggle, and y’all done heard that story. But there’s a lot more to it, which I’ll talk about when I’m done playing ball.

But to know where I come from, small city 35 miles south of here, and to hear I’m in the same category or talked about and jumping these greats in the playoffs — it’s like I was a kid and I watched the playoffs so much and I was like, I would love to be a part of that, that moment, that atmosphere. I think it’s pretty cool. You hear the scoring, the field goals made, and for a kid that really doesn’t care much about scoring.

Like with LeBron’s secret motivation a couple years ago, I’m totally intrigued. When LeBron decides to share, I’ll be all ears.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala questionable for Game 5

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Andre Iguodala missed the Warriors’ Game 4 loss to the Rockets with a leg injury.

It’s not certain he – or Klay Thompson, who played through a knee injury suffered in Game 4 – will be available for Game 5 tomorrow.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Klay Thompson, who suffered a left knee strain during the first half of Game 4, is listed as questionable, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

Iguodala missed Game 4 with a left lateral leg contusion and is questionable for Game 5.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Iguodala:

He’s feeling a little better today, and he’s out on the floor. Not doing a whole lot, but making progress.

Kerr on Thompson:

Klay is moving around really well. I think Klay is going to be fine.

That sounds better than “questionable” for Thompson.

The Warriors need one, maybe both, of those two on the court. Golden State’s depth, especially on the wing, is looking shaky.

In Game 4, Golden State outscored Houston by 20 in the 31 minutes Stephen Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green played together. In the in the 17 minutes they played without even one of those stars, the Warriors got outscored by 23. Nick Young, who received more playing time when Thompson left the court area due to his injury, looked particularly overwhelmed.

James Harden‘s defense is a huge bellwether in this series. The Warriors spend a lot of focus trying to exploit him, and if that fails, the shot clock gets low before they move into another action. If Thompson is even just slowed, that’d make it easier for Harden to keep up.