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.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.