LeBron James, Cavaliers’ defense holds off late-charging Warriors to win Game 2, even series

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OAKLAND — Are you not entertained?

Two NBA Finals games, two overtimes. It’s the first time in NBA history the first two Finals games have gone to OT.

A lot of fans (and media) may have thought this series was over when Kyrie Irving went down, but Cleveland did not. Fantastic Cavaliers defense all night, a masterful game from LeBron James, and a couple Matthew Dellavedova free throws with 10.1 seconds left (after he hustled for an offensive board) gave the Cavaliers a 95-93 Game 2 win that silenced a deafening Oracle Arena.

The Cavaliers and Warriors are now tied 1-1 with the NBA Finals heading back to Cleveland for Game 3 on Tuesday.

“It’s the grit squad that we have,” LeBron said of how the Cavaliers won Game 2. “It’s not cute at all.  If you’re looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, then that’s not us.  That’s not us right now.  Everything is tough.  You know, we’re going to come in with an aggressive mindset defensively and offensively. And for us to win a Finals game shooting 32 percent from the field, it’s just a testament of how gritty we can be.

“It has to be that for the rest of the series, no matter how many games it takes.”

LeBron was every bit the best player in the world, finishing with 39 points (on 34 shots), 16 rebounds, and 11 assists — and finishing the game by slamming the ball into the ground, as pumped up as he’s ever been on the court.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a guy anywhere, anytime,  I can think of a name or two, but that’s the whole history of basketball  that can give you the kind of all-around performance and all-around leadership that LeBron does for his group…” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “He really willed his guys to win that game.  That’s what a champion does, and obviously he’s a champion.”

Just as important as all the numbers, LeBron controlled the tempo of the game and kept the Warriors from their patented runs.

Well, except for one — Golden State went on a 13-4 run late in the fourth quarter to come back and force the game into overtime. They did it with Andre Iguodala hitting a three and Klay Thompson making plays inside, and they sent the game to OT on a Stephen Curry scoop shot in the lane that tied the game at 87-87. LeBron couldn’t hit as the clock expired and the second extra session was on.

But none of that happens without the Cavaliers defense.

I think they deserve a lot of credit for the way they played,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They got into the passing lanes.  They took our rhythm away.  Then we’ve got to do a better job ourselves of trying to create that pace and rhythm.”

All season long, when Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were off the floor, but LeBron was still on it, the Cavaliers played very good defense (allowing 93 points per 100 possessions). That was not a fluke.

Cleveland held Golden State to 39.8 percent shooting overall and 22.9 percent from three (8-of-25).

How bad a shooting night was it for Golden State? Look at these numbers.

• Stephen Curry set a record for most missed three-pointers in an NBA Finals game with 13. Curry was a perfect 7-of-7 from his preferred left corner in the last round, was 0-of-2 early in this game.

• Curry was 1-of-9 on uncontested looks in Game 2 (using the NBA’s SportsVU camera data). The Warriors as a team shot 31.6 percent on uncontested looks.

• At one point in the fourth quarter it was Klay Thompson with 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting; the other four Warriors starters had 22 points on 6-of-27 shooting.

“Didn’t feel right all night, but no time to worry about it, but no time to worry about, just have to keep shooting,” Curry said of his off night. “I’ve got to play better.”

Curry didn’t hit a shot all night when Dellavedova was covering him, shooting 0-of-8 (according to ESPN).

If this game felt familiar to Warriors fans, it’s probably because they saw similar games like this when Golden State was struggling and went down 2-1 to Memphis in the second round. This was a grinding game. Slow, physical and now the Cavaliers wanted it played. That showed on the scoreboard. The Warriors are entering the fourth quarter down 62-59 — that was their lowest point total after three all season. The Cavs lack of offense is what kept the game close.

The game was that way from the start and the Cavs were thriving. It was very scrappy, and played in the paint. LeBron was a beast with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds — statistically he had never put up numbers that good. He shot 7-of-13 and was in attack mode with nine of those shots coming in the paint. He had the Cavaliers up 47-45 at the break.

If it hadn’t been for Klay Thompson the Warriors would have been in serious trouble in the first half. Thompson had nine of first the first 11 Warriors points. Dellavedova was switched on him a couple times but couldn’t hang with him. The only thing that slowed Thompson was fouls — he picked up a second and came out midway through the first quarter. When he returned in the second, he hadn’t cooled down.

At the half Thompson had 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The rest of the Warriors were 8-of-25 for 25 points — Stephen Curry was just 2-of-10 in the first half.

The Cavaliers needed other guys besides LeBron to step up and they got it. James Jones came in and went 3-for-3 to give the Cavaliers a lift, while Timofey Mozgov was strong in the paint with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

J.R. Smith was his own story. He had 13 points on 13 shots, but his mistakes — and there were many, he fouled out of the game with a number of silly ones — almost cost the Cavaliers the game.

Almost. But there was LeBron and Dellavedova to save the day.

And we have a real series on our hands.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.