Small ball works, Golden State handles Cleveland comfortably to even series

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CLEVELAND — They went small from the opening tip. The ball flew around the court. Three pointers fell at a 40 percent clip, led by the MVP hitting four. They pushed the ball off the other team’s makes and misses, then attacked the rim. They made the extra pass.

Put simply, the Golden State Warriors looked more like the 67-win Warriors from the regular season again.

And the result was a comfortable win 103-82 victory for Golden State, behind 22 points each from Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry.

With the win, the Warriors evened the NBA Finals at 2-2 and are heading home for Game 5 Sunday.

And now it’s David Blatt and the Warriors’ turn to come up with answers, because the first big adjustment of the Finals came from Steve Kerr — and it worked.

“We did it for pace and floor spacing and just to get the tempo going…” Kerr said of the switch to starting small. “We controlled the tempo and the rhythm of the game. But that I think had more to do with us competing and getting to long rebounds and loose balls. I thought the first three games they were the more competitive team. Maybe it’s our first trip to The Finals, we thought we can play hard. It’s not just about playing hard. It’s about playing every single possession like it’s your last. And I thought tonight our effort took a step up, and that’s why we were able to win.”

“It made sense when (Kerr) told us just because we’ve been getting off to such slow starts,” Curry said of being told about the switch. “When we have that lineup out there in parts of the game, we were able to turn defensive stops into transition and just pick the tempo and the pace of the game up.”

Kerr altered his starting lineup for Game 4, starting Andre Iguodala in place of big center Andrew Bogut. This small lineup had been +18.8 per 48 minutes in limited run (20 minutes in the Finals) but Steve Kerr was going to use it to pick up the pace and make this a more Warriors friendly pace. It worked.

Well, not for the first minute, the Cavaliers raced out to a 7-0 lead (including a no-look LeBron James feed to Timofey Mozgov). But then Stephen Curry hit a couple threes, the small lineup opened up the floor, the attacked the rim, and the Warriors started to look like themselves again.With balanced attack (Green and Barnes each had five early) and Warriors came back to lead 22-20 and never looked back from there.

The Warriors pulled away and were up 54-42 at the half. They shot 46.5 percent overall and hit 6-of-17 from three in the first half — not vintage numbers for the Warriors, but far better than we had seen through three games. Most importantly Curry got some help, from Draymond Green who had 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first half, and Andrew Iguodala had 9 points (all in the first quarter). The energy of the Warriors was just different this game.

“I think if we played as hard as we were playing the last couple of games, it would have won us probably 67 regular season games, but it would have lost us the Finals 4-1, and that’s what we had to change,” Green said. “And we were able to do that tonight.  That’s what helped us out a lot.  That’s what helped me out.”

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were 2-of-13 from three in the first half and 4-of-27 for the game — the new Warriors lineup gave them looks, couldn’t hit them. On the night, the Cavaliers were 6-of-29 on uncontested looks.

“We didn’t make shots,” Blatt said. “And that put a little bit more pressure on (LeBron), too, because he was passing the ball, and the normal shots that we make in that situation, we didn’t.”

On the other end, the Cavs defense in the paint wasn’t the same when Mozgov had to come much farther from the perimeter to protect the rim compared to how close he was with Bogut.

But the third quarter was far more the Cavaliers kind of game. The Cavaliers defended well and the Warriors were 5-of-15 from the floor, plus the Cavaliers out-rebounded Warriors 17-6 in third. All that led to a 12-2 run midway through the third cut the lead all the way down to three.

The Cavaliers tried to punish the small lineup by going inside, Timofey Mozgov led the Cavaliers with 28 points. He did an excellent job sealing off smaller guys and getting early, deep position all night long.

But at the start of the fourth, LeBron had to rest — he said he was “gassed” — and the Warriors got back in their flow and stretched the lead back up to double-digits. Fatigue was an issue.

“Tonight was the third game in five days, including the trip back from the West Coast, and it seemed to have an impact on us, yes,” Blatt said.

The Warriors’ best lineup had Shaun Livingston on the floor, and that made things happen. Plus the Warriors got good minutes from David Lee, who had 9 points on the night.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.

Rockets sign Ben McLemore

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The Kings couldn’t figure out what to do with Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

Now, the Rockets will try.

Rockets:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The link in the Rockets tweet leads to an inaccessible page, which is pretty fitting.

McLemore has talent, athleticism and size. He probably doesn’t have as much talent and athleticism as it seemed when he became a lottery pick. But he still has some. He also plays shooting guard, a common position of need throughout the league. Maybe Houston can find a way for the 26-year-old to become productive for the first time in his career.

It’s a low-risk bet considering the cheap cost, and the upside probably isn’t that high. But it’s still an interesting attempt considering McLemore’s stature when he entered the league.

Report: Clippers tried to trade for James Harden before landing Paul George

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Kawhi Leonard tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Leonard eventually got Paul George to join him on the Clippers.

Two other stars the Clippers tried to land? Bradley Beal and James Harden.

Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Clippers inquired about Washington’s Bradley Beal and Houston’s James Harden, according to league sources, but neither star was available.

Beal fits the most obvious parameter of an available star: He’s on a bad team. But the Wizards aren’t interested in trading him. For most of the summer, they didn’t even have a general manager to negotiate a potential deal.

Harden is the far more interesting target. The Rockets have built around him, but they reached a rough spot with Harden and Chris Paul. Houston could have viewed that as the end of the road. The Clippers parted with an elite package for George – five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. That’s the kind of offer that can open many doors. Instead, the Rockets went the other way by acquiring Russell Westbrook.

Still, a Leonard-Harden pairing would’ve been quite interesting. Both work best as offensive focal points, not contributing much off the ball. Harden’s defensive deficiencies would’ve put more pressure on Leonard. But the talent level would’ve been astronomical.

I think the Clippers are just happy with Leonard and George, who fit better together and still carry elite talent.

Report: NBA opens investigation into tampering following ‘tense’ owners meeting

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Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) appeared to have their next teams lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford. Several other players agreed to terms so quickly after free agency began 6 p.m. June 30, it’s impossible to believe the deals weren’t pre-arranged.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said free-agency rules should be revised and enforced.

The league will also investigate.

Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN.

In the midst of it, Rick Buchanan, the NBA’s longtime general counsel, issued an evenhanded but sobering message to the room, multiple sources said.

Buchanan told the governors that as partners they were entitled to expect all teams to abide by a common set of enforceable rules for free agency — and that the league office would come back with a proposal for a revised set of rules that would then be strictly enforced. He asked the group if they were comfortable with the league “seizing servers and cellphones,” a line that stuck with many in attendance, according to sources who recounted the scene later.

It’s unclear whether this investigation will be punitive, exploratory or both.

Teams and players are absolutely violating the written rules. Some teams occasionally get punished. The rules are arbitrarily enforced, which is unfair. This investigation could lead to widespread punishment, though proving which teams did and didn’t tamper would be difficult. If it goes this route, expect uneven enforcement.

I’m with Silver: The rules should be enforced. An easy way to do that is writing the rules to match what currently occurs. As much griping as everyone does, the system mostly works. It’d work even better if everyone were on the same page about what is and isn’t allowed. So, this investigation could uncover details of how free agency actually happens. Then, the rules could be tailored around that.

This is clearly trending toward allowing contact with free agents sooner. That’s already happening, anyway. And billionaire team owners sure don’t want their privacy invaded for strict enforcement of a more-prohibitive system.

Tricky questions remain, though.

How will the NBA handle players tampering with each other? That’s forbidden by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Silver has practically said he’ll allow it. And it happens plenty. I’d prefer it becomes officially allowed. Having unenforced rules can lead to selective enforcement.

When will teams and free agents be permitted to contact each other? Seasons end at different times, depending how far teams advance. Even with the starting period moved up, some teams will still seek an edge.

So, there’s no perfect solution.

But there are obvious problems with conditions now. It sounds like the NBA might finally be addressing them.