LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks

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Once Kyle Korver was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason, the prospect of the Hawks winning even a single game against the Cavaliers seemed highly improbable.

Once Al Horford was ejected in the second quarter of Game 3, that task became essentially impossible.

Atlanta battled throughout, and forced an overtime session. But in the end, Cleveland got the 114-111 victory, and took a 3-0 series lead that has the Cavaliers one game away from the NBA Finals.

It certainly wasn’t easy.

LeBron James opened the game by missing his first 10 shots — the first time in his career, regular season or playoffs, that it’s ever happened. He found other ways to impact the game, however, setting up his teammates with on-point passes, or crashing the boards when shots were missed.

James was laboring overall, and may have been dealing with the effects of a season’s worth of minor bumps and bruises beginning to take their toll. He finished with his 12th career playoff triple-double — 37 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists, while launching a career-high 37 shots.

The Hawks were in this one for most of the contest, and even seemed to have control of it at times. That changed for a stretch late in the second quarter, though, when Horford was ejected for appearing to throw an elbow at Matthew Dellavedova after the two had gotten tangled up, and Dellavedova had already fallen to the floor.

This play was reminiscent of the one that involved Dellavedova and Taj Gibson in the previous round of the playoffs that saw Gibson get ejected. The final action by both Gibson and Horford may or may not have been worthy of the flagrant-two all by itself, but when looking at the plays in their entirety, a case could certainly be made.

With Horford, he had Dellavedova with a Kelly Olynyk arm-lock that caused the two to fall to the floor in the first place. Dellavedova fell awkwardly into Horford’s leg, the same way he did in (inadvertently) taking Korver out for the remainder of the playoffs. Horford obviously felt it was intentional, and retaliated. But Dellavedova may have flashed back to Kevin Love’s season-ending injury when Horford had a hold of him, and could have felt justified in attempting to inflict some damage. Either way, the call by the officials — while harsh, controversial and appearing initially to be the final nail in Atlanta’s coffin — seemed to be correct.

The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 points in the fourth, but couldn’t put the Hawks away. Atlanta played with a level of desperation that Cleveland couldn’t match, and had a chance to win it at the end of regulation. But hero-ball in isolation is not this Hawks team’s strength, and Jeff Teague dribbling down most of the final 17 seconds remaining before launching (and missing) a tough three-pointer at the buzzer wasn’t the best use of Atlanta’s resources.

In the overtime session, the difference was James.

LeBron scored his team’s last five points, hitting a corner three with 36 seconds left to give his team the lead for good, before sealing the victory with a driving bank shot going to his left to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead which would remain in place when the final buzzer sounded.

It was an incredible effort by the shorthanded Hawks. But this game will ultimately be remembered for the brilliance of LeBron James, and the way he was able to overcome a career-worst start to finish with an historic effort that put his team one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.