Cavaliers’ defend, hustle, hang on for Game 3 win, take control of NBA Finals

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Stephen Curry found his shot in the fourth quarter — he had 17 points and was 5-of-8 in the final frame, and the Warriors as a team hung 36 up. Curry made it interesting down to the final minute. In the second half, he had 24 points on 14 shots. He finally started to look like the MVP.

But the Cavaliers defense had already put the Warriors in a hole so deep Curry could not shoot them out.

Through three quarters the feisty Cavaliers held the Warriors to 35 percent shooting and 5-of-20 from three, led by 20 at one point in the third quarter, and had seemed to get in the Warriors’ heads.

Combine that with 40 points from LeBron James and 20 from Matthew Dellavedova and you have enough for Cleveland to hang on for a 96-91 win. The Cavaliers now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 in their building on Thursday.

“I don’t think our guys gave in, and I don’t think that they let up. Golden State  made some plays,  made some shots, which they are capable of doing,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said of the Warriors’ fourth quarter. “I thought we let down a little bit on the offensive end and that put us in a back up kind of mode. We weren’t as aggressive as we were.”

While the fourth quarter made it interesting, the Cavaliers won the game in the third quarter. That’s when they cranked up the defense, and the wheels seemed to come off the Warriors. Golden State had just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. Meanwhile on the other end the Warriors’ defense, which had been solid all series, started to show some crack. Cleveland got 13 points from LeBron in the third, and their lead stretched out to 20 points at one point. At the end of the quarter, it was 72-55 Cleveland, and they had taken control of the game. And it felt like maybe the series.

“You want to show some fight and I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our head a little bit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It was good to see us bring some fight to the game. That’s how we have to play the whole way through.”

However, Golden State opened the fourth on an 8-0 run, and things got interesting as the Warriors started to just hit shots throughout the quarter. The lead fell all the way to one, 81-80, after a Curry three.

That’s when Dellavadova made a circus floater in the lane for an and-one. He had struggled early in the night with his shot, he and Draymond Green got in a little battle of hard hits (Delly’s was a little low), but Dellavedova continued to defend hard all night and hit shots when needed. Then down the stretch he was the first guy on the ground to get loose balls.

After the Dellavedova shot, Curry turned the ball over on a behind-the-back pass — he expected Green to pop after a pick, but Green has stopped thinking about threes he’s been so cold.

AP

Then LeBron hit a three, and it felt like the dagger. Even some more big Curry shots were just not going to be enough.

The fourth quarter was the polar opposite of the first half, which had been exactly the kind of half Cavaliers wanted — defensive, grinding, holding the Warriors to 3-of-16 from three and their starters to 6-of-27 shooting. It was 44-37 Cavaliers at the half. Curry was 1-of-6.

Cavaliers get off to a 12-5 lead to start, but the key was all 12 points came in the paint. They attacked while the Warriors were still running a lot of one-pass, easy to defend offense. LeBron was clearly emotional to start the game — a Finals game back at home — and he carried the offensive load, but was 6-of-17 shooting for 13 points in the first half.

It was the role players for the Cavs again early: LeBron and Dellavedova shot 5-of-17 to start the game, Every other Cavalier was 6-of-6. Tristan Thompson was fantastic again in the first quarter with six points and seven rebounds.

The Warriors got a little roll player help as well — Andre Iguodala had 15 points and was Golden State’s best player with 15, David Lee came in and found a chemistry with Curry on the pick-and-roll, and Lee had 11 points.

“I think what helped (Curry in the fourth quarter) was David Lee as the roll man,” Kerr said. “Steph was able to find David and that softened them up a little bit, David was terrific.”

In the end, Tristan Thompson had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and J.R. Smith added 10 points. They pitched in a little.

But it is LeBron carrying this Cavaliers team — not efficiently, but with their defense he hasn’t had to be. He just has to get up points.

The Cavaliers did that again Tuesday night and now are in control of the series. However, the fourth quarter showed they still have a lot of work to do — the Warriors will not go quietly.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.