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?

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

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Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

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Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.

Clippers’ Lou Williams won second-straight, third overall Sixth Man of Year Award

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The Clippers bench play this season was the reason they made the playoffs (and pushed the Warriors to six games in the first round). Montrezl Harrell blossomed into his own as part of that.

However, it was Lou Williams who made it all work, which is why he won his second straight (and third overall) Sixth Man of the Year Award on Monday night. He garnered 96 of the 100 first-place votes.

Williams spoke from the heart about second chances and his faith in himself.

“Four years ago, I thought I was done, like I was coming to the end of my career,” Williams said.

Williams averaged 20 points a game and he is still one of the better bucket getters in the NBA, an isolation master. What he did better this year, however, was playmaking, dishing out 5.4 assists per game. His teammate Montrezl Harrell — the NBA’s best energy big off the bench last season who finished third in the Sixth Man voting — was the biggest beneficiary of those passes.

Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis came in second in the voting, with Spencer Dinwiddie of the Nets third and Terrence Ross of Orlando fifth. Here is the voting breakdown.