Did Cavaliers miss their best chance to win at Oracle?

28 Comments

OAKLAND — LeBron James had a career NBA Finals high of 44 points, posting up and overpowering every defender the Warriors threw at him (although Andre Iguodala did a solid job). Kyrie Irving, coming off eight days rest for his sore knee, was moving well and making plays. The Warriors started off ice cold shooting in the first quarter, opening the game 4-of-18 (1-of-5 from three).

In the end, the Cavaliers had a situation they will take every time — the ball in LeBron’s hands with a chance to win the game.

And still the Cavaliers lost.

Now — especially considering Irving’s knee injury — it feels like the Cavs best chance to earn a split of the first two games in Oracle Arena went skipping off the rim, like Iman Shumpert’s shot at the regulation buzzer.

“Realistically, we put ourselves in position to win that game the way we played it,” Cavs coach David Blatt said.

“It’s our game plan, and our game plan worked,” LeBron said. “ We put ourselves in a position to win, we just didn’t come through.”

LeBron, Blatt and the rest of the Cavaliers went into these NBA Finals knowing they were about to face their toughest test by far — their margin for error was nonexistent. They couldn’t miss out on opportunities.

That’s exactly what happened.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, in fact Blatt said fatigue from that effort may have played a factor in Cleveland scoring just two points in overtime. Cleveland doesn’t have the depth of Golden State.

To open the game Cleveland was the more mature, focused team — they were the team that had guys that had been there before. The combination of rust and the bigger stage seemed to overwhelm the Warriors. Meanwhile LeBron and Irving were making shots, and when they missed Tristan Thompson seemed to get his hands on the rebound.

“We did start extremely well,” Blatt said. “We were prepared, and we had a game plan that we followed well early. But the NBA game is a long game. A 48-minute game is a long game, lot of stops, lot of changes in momentum. You know, a tough away game.

“Teams are going to make their runs. They did. We ran back. They did, we ran back. But still we were in a position to win that game in a very tough and hard fought game by both sides.”

What should worry the Cavaliers — outside of Irving’s potential knee injury — is that the Warriors can play a lot better. The combination of Cleveland’s athletic defense and some nerves/rust had the Warriors not looking like the Warriors early. As the game wore on the Warriors started to find and exploit the holes in the Cavs defense. That will only get worse with time to watch the film, plus a comfort level with the stage.

The same is true of the Cavaliers.

“We had a lot of miscues tonight. I think they would say the same,” LeBron said. “We had a lot of breakdowns, a couple of transition threes they made that we kind of pinpointed on saying we don’t want to give those up. But at the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance, man. I missed a tough one. But we had so many opportunities to win this game, and we didn’t. It’s up to us now to look at the film, watch and make some adjustments, what you need to do and be ready for Sunday.”

Adjustments as the series has gone on has been the purview of the Warriors this postseason — by the third or fourth game of every series they had figured out what they wanted to do, and the opponents couldn’t counter.

The Warriors are going to get better as this series goes on.

The Cavaliers may have just missed their best chance to steal a game. It certainly feels that way.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.