Draymond Green at center strikes again

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Steve Kerr waited and waited and waited. Then, the Warriors coach finally played his trump card:

Draymond Green at center.

The lethal lineup didn’t appear until the final possessions of regulation, but it outscored the Cavaliers 8-2 in overtime of Golden State’s Game 1 win.

The Warriors have now played 367 minutes with Green at center and four wings/guards – a combination of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush – behind him. The results:

  • Offensive rating: 119.0
  • Defensive rating: 93.2
  • Net rating: +25.8

Thursday, Green was flanked by Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes the entire time.

The Warriors first used the lineup on the final two possessions of regulation.

With five shooters on the court for its final shot, Golden State spread the floor and cleared the lane of any defenders. Curry drove for what appeared to be an open layup, but Kyrie Irving made an incredible block at the rim.

The Warriors stuck with the small group to defend Cleveland’s final possession, which was essentially a one-on-one battle between LeBron James and Iguodala.

The unit reappeared in overtime, and that’s when Golden State went on a run to pull away.

Green drives it all.

Watch how he fortifies the paint defensively and gets the ball going the other direction quickly:

This lineup thrives because Green strong enough defensively to allow the Warriors to play four skilled and fast players behind him. Plus, Green is comfortable running with the rest.

Initially, the Cavaliers had Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in the game against this group, but they couldn’t capitalize on their size advantage. David Blatt tried to match up by going smaller, inserting James Jones for Mozgov, but that played into Golden State’s hands. That’s a major talent drop for the Cavaliers, and Jones isn’t quick enough to keep up, anyway.

Unlike many small lineups, the Warriors don’t sacrifice defense for offense. The Cavaliers’ only overtime points came on this LeBron pity bucket:

 

Kevin Pelton of ESPN argues the game didn’t swing because of Golden State’s small lineup, but because of Irving’s injury costing the Cavaliers during a crucial defensive possession.

On the most pivotal play during small ball – Harrison Barnes’ corner 3 (starts 40 seconds into the Green highlight video above) – the Warriors were playing 5-on-4 because Irving couldn’t move. Pelton argues Cleveland, with a foul to give, should have hacked the Warriors to stop the game and get out Irving. Barnes’ open triple was due more to that numbers advantage than a size mismatch.

And that’s true.

But why didn’t the Cavaliers make the correct call to foul?

I’d argue they were too busy scrambling to keep up with Golden State’s up-tempo attack to realize they should have fouled. They just got matched up defensively and had a moment to catch their breaths when Barnes hit the shot.

With Green at center, the Warriors go quickly and pressure opponents into quick decisions.

The Cavaliers, already in a bad spot due to their injury misfortune, couldn’t handle it. Maybe they would have fared better against small ball without that possession. Or maybe they would have fouled if Golden State weren’t pushing the pace.

But the Warriors weren’t waiting to find out.

They’re going to play Green at center and show no mercy.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

Ty Lawson China
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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.