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.

French point guard Theo Maledon declares for NBA draft

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French point guard Theo Maledon has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot-five Maledon is declaring as an Early Entry candidate from the international ranks. International players who do not turn 22 in the calendar year of the draft can declare as Early Entry players.

At 18 years old, Maledon was a part-time starter for ASVEL Basket in France in the French Pro A League. ASVEL Basket is owned in part by former NBA player Tony Park, who also serves as the club’s president. Maleon started in 23 of the 46 games he played for ASVEL Basket this season.

In 46 games with ASVEL, Maledon averaged 7.3 points per game. He shot 42.1% from the floor, including 33.3% on three-pointers. He also averaged 2.7 assists per game. In mid-January, against former NBA player Shane Larkin and Turkish club Anadolu Efes, Maledon started and dished out 10 assists, while scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds.

In part due to his size for the point guard position, and his excellent play on the youth level, ESPN has Maledon ranked 15th in their top-100 prospects. He’s widely expected to be in the mix to be a lottery pick.

Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. The deadline to withdraw as an Early Entry candidate is Monday, June 15. The 2020 NBA Draft is currently scheduled to be held on Thursday, June 25.

Report: Pacers GM Chad Buchanan turns down interview with Bulls

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Indiana Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan has reportedly declined an opportunity to interview for a front office job with the Chicago Bulls.

Buchanan joined the Pacers in 2017 as their general manager under President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. Prior to moving to Indiana, Buchanan was the assistant general manager with the Charlotte Hornets.

In turning down the Bulls opportunity, Buchanan cited how well he and his family have been treated in Indiana. Buchanan had previously worked with Pritchard when both were members of the Portland Trail Blazers front office.

Chicago is replacing John Paxson and Gar Forman at the top of their front office structure. Paxson and Forman have led the Bulls basketball operations together since 2009. Chicago’s search will now reportedly focus on Arturas Karnisovas of the Denver Nuggets, Adam Simon of the Miami Heat and Bobby Webster of the Toronto Raptors.

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

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It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”