LeBron James, Miami Heat. LeBron James does bleed — we have now all seen it — blowing up the alien conspiracy theories out there. He also remains the best player on the planet and he showed that early and often Thursday night. He came out with a Durant-sized chip on his shoulder and scored Miami’s first 12 point and LeBron finished the first quarter with 16 points. He pushed Miami out to a lead on a 22-4 run that they would not surrender. He showed every shot in the arsenal — he drove and dunked, he hit threes, he posted up, he showed a little floater. As LeBron started to distribute more later in the game vintage Dwyane Wade showed up to seal the deal. LeBron finished with 33 points and could have had more if it had been motivation late in the game. Instead he’ll take an easy win.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets. The book on Faried is to force him to his left, make him use his left hand. The Bucks ignored the conventional wisdom and paid a serious price for that. Faried had 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting and all but one of his shots came on the block and within 8 feet of the rim. I wouldn’t go around expecting consistency from Faried now, but this was one his better games ever and Denver picked up a win because of it.
Golden State’s defense. Just a reminder that Golden State may have the sexy shooters and All-Star starting point guard, but their offense is pedestrian — 104.2 points per 100 possessions, 12th in the NBA this season. Against the Rockets Thursday night they scored barely over a point a possession. What the Warriors are winning with is defense — they held the Rockets to 36.6 percent shooting and some good shooters struggled (Chandler Parsons 8-of-24, Terrence Jones 1-7, Patrick Beverly 1-of-6, Dwight Howard 4-of-14). They did it without Andrew Bogut. This is why to me it seems Golden State could make a playoff push — they defend well when Andre Iguodala is on the court and they have guys who can score in the half court. They could take a series from a team like Houston based on defense alone.
Marcus Smart on Game 7: “It’s not going to be pretty.”
Game 7s are not pretty basketball. Everyone is tight, shots clank off the front of the rim, and players tend to think rather than just react, sucking the flow out of the game. It’s a game for grinders.
“It’s not going to be pretty. You got to be able to get down and get dirty. You can’t go out and try to look pretty. You have to be ready for a dogfight. We got to be ready to come up with our nose bloodied. We got to be ready to come out with our mouth bloodied. We have to come out ready to fight.”
If Boston is going to win this game, they will do so with the physical, smart, and unrelenting defense that carried them all season. That’s their grit. Without Kevin Love (out with a concussion) the Celtics have one less scorer to worry about, but things do not necessarily get dramatically easier — LeBron James is going to get his buckets, but can the Celtics keep George Hill, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and the rest of the role players from helping out with big nights of their own.
Which one of these teams is better positioned to win a grinding, sloppy game? Who is willing to dive on the floor and give that little extra effort? A case can be made either way, but Sunday night will decide it.
Report: Warriors’ Patrick McCaw cleared, will be available for Game 6
The Golden State Warriors are planning to activate swingman Patrick McCaw for Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
McCaw, on paper, would help the Warriors — he’s a 6’5″ switchable defender who can provide some offense in transition. That’s especially true if Andre Iguodala is out for Game 6 (his status is a game-time decision). McCaw played about 17 minutes a night for the Warriors during the regular season.
However, the idea of taking a second-year player who has not been on a court in six weeks and throwing him into Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals — a win-or-go-fishing game for Golden State — is risky, at best. Don’t expect him to get on the court unless this is a blowout.
Kevin Love in concussion protocol, listed as out for Game 7
As if winning a Game 7 on the road against a younger, more athletic team that has not lost on its home court all playoffs was not difficult enough, things just got harder for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kevin Love has a concussion and is not expected to play in Game 7 on Sunday.
STATUS UPDATE: @kevinlove is experiencing concussion-like symptoms and has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol. He is now listed as OUT for Game 7 in Boston. DETAILS: https://t.co/VXk3tptOwo
While it is technically possible for Love to clear out of the concussion protocol in 24 hours, it is highly unlikely. He would have to pass a rigorous physical test and have no concussion-related symptoms, something cleared by both the team doctor and a league-approved neurologist. This is something that tends to take days if not weeks to get over.
Love was injured just five minutes into Game 6. Love had set up position in the midpost and was setting a screen for George Hill, who was curling out to the arc. Jayson Tatum was trailing Hill and he banged heads with Love. It wasn’t pretty.
Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and did not return to the game.
LeBron James is going to have to carry even more load in Game 7, and now more pressure falls on George Hill (the bellwether for this Cavs team), J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and others to step up without Love there to space the floor and get buckets.
Report: Raptors interview Spurs’ assistants Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka for coaching job
San Antonio Spurs assistant coaches Ettore Messina and Ime Udoka interviewed with the Toronto Raptors for the franchise's head coaching job on Thursday and Friday, respectively, league sources told ESPN.
Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri fired Dwane Casey right after Casey’s peers voted him Coach of the Year for leading the Raptors to 59 wins and the No. 1 seed in the East. That said, after several frustrating years of running into the brick wall that is LeBron James in the East, maybe the Raptors did need a new voice and some changes to try to take the next step (especially with Boston and Philadelphia coming on fast in the East hierarchy).
But if you’re going to fire a 59-win Coach of the Year kind of guy, you better have an impressive replacement in hand or at least a clear plan.
Ujiri reportedly wanted Mike Budenholzer, but the former Hawks’ head coach took the job in Milwaukee after meeting with Toronto.
The leading candidate for the job is still considered to be Nick Nurse, the Raptors’ assistant who was in charge of their changed and improved offense last season. The Raptors also interviewed two other internal candidates, assistant coach Rex Kalamian and G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse.