Golden State vs. Cleveland NBA Finals Game 3 Preview: Five Things to watch

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Two games, two overtimes. Two games that could have gone either way. As a fan, you can’t ask for a more entertaining NBA Finals.

Game 3 Tuesday night is when the real chess match begins. After Game 1 the Warriors didn’t make many adjustments, they thought they had an off night in the opener and would simply hit more shots and play better in Game 2. Didn’t work out that way. With Matthew Dellavedova tracking Stephen Curry, the Cavaliers played better defense, the Warriors got out of rhythm and for a second game in a row everything was played at the Cavaliers pace and style. Now it’s on the Warriors to make adjustments.

Here are five things to look for in Game 5 from Cleveland.

1) Warriors will attack the rim and use that to create space. The Warriors have been here before these playoffs — they were down 2-1 to a physical, grinding Memphis team that had Mike Conley living in the jersey of Curry and taking the team out of its flow. I went back and watched Game 4 from that series and what you saw was Curry and the Warriors start to attack the rim — the were not hunting threes, they went to get their points at the bucket. Didn’t matter if Marc Gasol was there, they went at it, then used that to create space for threes off kick-outs. It worked, the Warriors won and didn’t lose again that series. Expect some of the same here, we already started to see it in late in Game 2 including the game-tying scoop shot.

“I was able to get to the paint a little bit more in the second half,” Curry said. “I didn’t finish many of them, but I was able to get in there and either make a play or try to  especially that last shot down the stretch in overtime  I mean of regulation.”

The Warriors are going to come off the picks and go right at the rim, even if Timofey Mozgov is there. How the Cavaliers handle that and how the Warriors finish around the Cavs bigs will be at the heart of deciding Game 3.

2) Can LeBron continue to control the tempo? Of all the monster numbers LeBron James has put up these Finals — the triple-double in Game 2, the 41.4 usage rate through two games — it has been his controlling of the pace of that been maybe the biggest key. This has been a slow, grinding series because he is comfortable at that pace and his patience with the ball is part of what has taken the Warriors out of their flow. The Cavaliers defense is getting the credit, but LeBron’s offensive tempo combined with the aggressive offensive rebounding of the Cavaliers has stymied the Warriors transition game. It has taken away the easy points. For the Cavaliers to keep winning, this cannot change.

3) Matthew Dellavedova vs. Stephen Curry. This is the matchup that got all the hype — and no doubt Dellavedova did a good job in Game 2.

“I don’t expect to shoot like this.  I’ve got to play better, find better shots and be more in a rhythm throughout the course of the game for us to really assert ourselves as a team,” Curry said after Game 2.

“It had everything to do with Delly,” LeBron said of Game 2. “He just kept a body on Steph.  He made Steph work.  He was spectacular, man, defensively.  We needed everything from him.”

As noted above, expect to see Curry start to attack the paint more off the bounce in Game 3, he’s not going to settle, he’s not going to hesitate. Dellavedova has played great defense all playoffs, that’s not about to change, but the Warriors will put a lot more pressure on him starting Tuesday night.

4) Would somebody knock down a shot. Please. I know both teams are playing good defense, but come on — the Cavaliers won Game 2 shooting 32 percent. J.R. Smith was 5-of-13, Iman Shumpert was 2-of-11, and Tristan Thompson was 0-of-5 and all at pretty close range. It wasn’t just the Cavs end of the court, Curry was 1-of-9 on uncontested looks. At some point during this series one of these teams is going to start knocking down their good looks, right? Right? Both of these games have been griding and ugly. Hopefully, a few more shots fall on Tuesday.

5) Fatigue. LeBron is averaging 48.1 minutes per game while carrying an insane load (41.4 percent usage rate). He admitted after Game 2 it’s getting to him a little.

“Did you see how I walked in (to the press conference)?  I’m feeling it.  I’m feeling it right now for sure,” LeBron said after Game 2. He also said he’ll have a couple days to recover and that he is built for this.

Still, at the end of games he lacks lift, he’s not been quite the same. Other players on the Cavaliers are logging heavy minutes, too, while the Warriors have a little more depth. The games now move to every other day for a few games, after having a week off, then a game, then a couple more days off. Will the fatigue and drain start to catch up to the Cavaliers? Or can they continue to put up these kinds of physical, grinding performances?

James Harden: Media narrative contributed to Giannis Antetokounmpo winning MVP

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James Harden scored 36.1 points per game last season, the highest-scoring season since Michael Jordan. Harden’s 32-game 30-point streak was the second-longest streak ever. He scored 30 points against every team besides the Rockets.

My favorite Harden stat is just looking at the highest-scoring games of the season:

1. James Harden 61

1. James Harden 61

3. Kemba Walker 60

4. Devin Booker 59

5. James Harden 58

5. James Harden 58

7. James Harden 57

7. James Harden 57

9. LaMarcus Aldridge 56

10. James Harden 54

This was a special season.

So, why did Giannis Antetokounmpo win Most Valuable Player?

“Politics” was suggested to Harden.

Harden on 97.9 The Box:

I think the same way you think.

I think once the media, they create a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year.

I don’t want to get into details. But all I can do is control what I can do, and I went out there and did what I was supposed to do at a high level. You know what I’m saying?

The season, there’s probably only a few seasons where anybody’s ever done that before.

People were tuned in onto how many points that I was going to score the next game. You know what I’m saying? It was a thing.

Harden is right. Narrative factors way too much into MVP voting.

Michael Jordan lost 1997 MVP to Karl Malone due to voter fatigue. In 2011, everyone was so mad about The Decision, voters picked Derrick Rose (and Dwight Howard) over LeBron James for MVP. Those results didn’t reflect what actually happened on the court.

As Houston started slow last season, Antetokounmpo became MVP favorite. That early inclination probably had an anchoring effect for final voting.

The most important step in eliminating biases is acknowledging biases. I have railed for years against letting narrative affect award voting. I think MVP should honor the player who had the best season. Nothing more, nothing less. When analyzing candidates, I make a concerted effort to separate superfluous factors like narrative.

I favored Harden a huge chunk of the season. I entered my final review expecting to pick Harden. But I ultimately landed on Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo was excellent offensively – not as good as Harden, but close enough to offset the massive defensive difference. Caught up in Harden’s scoring brilliance, I hadn’t properly appreciated Antetokounmpo’s defense until late in the process.

Harden had a great year. It was widely judged to be the second-best year in the entire NBA. He should be proud of that.

It’s unsurprising he answered this way, though. After all, he he has been enabled by a general manager who once said Harden’s previous runner-up MVP finishes meant maybe the award shouldn’t exist at all.

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

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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?’

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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’

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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.