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

69 Comments

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.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

Leave a comment

Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.

J.J. Redick loses NBA’s longest-active individual playoff streak (13 years)

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

As J.J. Redick stared into the distance, he had to see this coming.

Redick will miss the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career. His Pelicans were eliminated from the postseason race yesterday.

At 13 years, Redick’s playoff streak is tied for the 13th-longest in NBA history. No current player has a longer streak at any point his career. LeBron James also had a 13-year playoff streak (which was snapped last year).

Here are the longest individual postseason streaks in NBA history:

Obviously, some of Redick’s streak was out of his control. He got drafted in 2006 by the Magic, who were rising with Dwight Howard. But Redick’s competitiveness and professionalism made him a steady contributor, and he chose winning situations with the Clippers then 76ers.

But New Orleans was too flawed to make a major leap in this Western Conference.

This clears the way for Bucks wing Kyle Korver to take over the longest active playoff streak. He has played in the last 12 postseasons, and Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff berth.

Here are the longest postseason streaks that could remain active this year.

Players whose teams have already clinched a playoff berth are in blue. Players whose teams are still in the race but haven’t clinched are in gold.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs with their current team, that team is listed in brackets:

Deandre Ayton misses coronavirus test, arrives late to underway Suns-Thunder game

Suns center Deandre Ayton
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Another testing issue for Deandre Ayton.

This one comes at a terrible time for the Suns.

Phoenix is trying to complete a longshot run to the playoffs and playing the Thunder in a key game today. But Ayton arrived late to the arena after missing a coronavirus test yesterday.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like many Suns, Ayton has played well in the resumption. Phoenix doesn’t have another big-man option like him, especially with Aron Baynes sidelined. The Suns started Dario Saric in a small lineup today.

Ayton arrived to the arena and is warming up on an exercise bike. He could still get into the game and make a difference.

Already locked into the 4-6 range in the Western Conference and perhaps trying to keep its top-20-protected first-round pick, Oklahoma City is playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Dennis Schroder. None of those will players will make a late entrance into the game.

Also: It’s ridiculous this wasn’t publicly disclosed sooner. The NBA continues to tout transparency while trying to draw more gambling revenue. Yet, a major lineup issue like this remains secret? That opens the door for some bettors to get inside information, which would be so damaging to the league’s integrity.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.