Andre Iguodala shows his value to Warriors in masterful Game 1 performance

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OAKLAND — All season, the Warriors’ depth and versatility off the bench has been a huge part of their success. Things were no different in Game 1 of the Finals, when one reserve player in particular was the difference. Throughout his career, Andre Iguodala has been the “LeBron stopper” wherever he’s gone. If all the Warriors got out of him was strong defense, that would have been enough. But Iguodala contributed 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including two three-pointers.

LeBron James scored 44 points and singlehandedly kept the Cavs in the game in the second half, but it wasn’t an easy 44 points. Iguodala did the only thing you can do: make him work. James had 7 points on 13 shots during possessions when he was defended by Iguodala, according to Synergy Sports.

“Andre is one of the smartest defenders I’ve ever seen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I mean, he understands angles, he understands where everybody is on the floor. You know, it’s funny to say when a guy gets 44 points that the defender did a really good job, but I thought Andre did extremely well. Made LeBron take some tough shots.”

There was a noticeable difference anytime another defender was switched onto James. The Warriors started the game with Harrison Barnes on him, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green taking some possessions as well. Thompson and Barnes simply weren’t up to the task. James overpowered both of them. But Iguodala gave him a hard time.

“Andre, he’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Thompson said. “And obviously LeBron had a great game. But he made it so tough on him that last quarter and a half. He’s got long arms. He’s very active. Some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, and he did it on both ends.”

This is Iguodala’s first time in the Finals, following an 11-year career filled with elite defensive performances like this one, but that also miscast him as a primary scoring option. In Golden State, under Kerr, he has found the perfect role: scoring if needed, but mostly making sure the LeBron Jameses of the world don’t get easy baskets.

“My years in Philly, I always had to guard the best players, and then I had to try to create on offense as well,” said Iguodala. “But it was always those nights when it was kind of  I shouldn’t say second-tier, but those second-tier guys  that gave me problems because I’m so used to having so much energy on the defensive end guarding the elite guys. underneath them and they seem to bite me a little bit.”

Iguodala wasn’t the only Warriors bench player who stepped up. Marreese Speights contributed 8 points while Festus Ezeli had 5. Overall, Golden State’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 34-9. Their attack was all James, and in the end, even his Finals career high wasn’t enough. But that depth and consistency is what got the Warriors where they are.

“That’s going to be pivotal in this series, is our bench play, and they played great tonight,” said Thompson. “We’re one of the deepest teams I’ve ever been on. That’s what we’re doing all year is just wearing on teams, and Andre was an example of that tonight. He played both ends like a champion, and really stepped up for us.”

“Andre has been fantastic all year,” Kerr said. “The numbers don’t always show it, but he’s a great player for us.”

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.

Former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell “sad, angry, disgusted” with Breonna Taylor decision

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NBA players — like large swaths of the United States — are shaking their heads at the decision not to prosecute the police sho shot Breonna Taylor in her home. That includes LeBron James, who said the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Now former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell has spoken out on the issue.

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We’re Sorry Breonna😔🤦🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) on

The hate and racism in too many of the responses to that Instagram post highlight the injustice and additional hurdles Black people in America have to clear every day.

Louisville has faced a night of protests and backlash to the decision by the grand jury, which included the two police officers getting shot (they both survived).

 

Report: Bulls paying Billy Donovan $6 million-plus annual salary

New Bulls coach and former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf just spent the NBA hiatus – at least if you looked beyond “The Last Dance” itself – getting dragged for not spending enough to give Michael Jordan another year of title contention in Chicago.

Paying to hire Billy Donovan is a way for Reinsdorf and the Bulls to repair their reputations.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I’d be surprised if all four years are fully guaranteed. Coaching contracts of this length usually contain a team option or two.

But that’s still a hefty salary. Especially in these times. Especially considering it was believed the Bulls would keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons.

Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering him a new contract. He likely knew he could get more elsewhere.

Credit Chicago for being the team to spend. The Bulls needed a solid coach after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg.

Donovan won’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he should help on multiple fronts. This upgrade costs nothing but Reinsdorf’s money, which every Chicago fan is perfectly willing to spend.