Despite LeBron James’ brilliance, Golden State wins Game 5 to come within one win of title

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OAKLAND — LeBron James played the single best game of these NBA Finals Sunday in Oakland. He was otherworldly — he scored or assisted on 26 of the 32 Cleveland buckets. He had 40 points, 11 assists and 14 rebounds, plus played good defense inside. He carried the Cavaliers as far as any player could have. It was an epic Finals effort for the ages.

And it wasn’t enough.

Stephen Curry had his best game of the Finals scoring 36 and taking over late in the fourth dropping 17 in the frame; Andre Iguodala continued his fantastic play all series, and the small ball lineup of the Golden State Warriors got them the pace they wanted. In fact, the Cavaliers had to go small to match them just to stay in the game.

“It’s the way we had to play to have a chance to win the game,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said, noting that lineup kept them close until late while their big lineups were getting torched.

It still didn’t work.

Golden State won Game 5 104-91 and now lead the best-of-seven NBA Finals 3-2. The Warriors can close out the series on the road Tuesday night in Cleveland.

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But you can bet LeBron is not going to let that be easy.

“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” Curry said. “The locker room, if you walked in there, was the exact same as after a regular-season win.”

The Cavaliers hung around this one because of LeBron, but in the final five minutes the Warriors pulled away — because of the jump shot.

In answer to a LeBron three that was closer to the half court line than the three point arc (34 feet, according to NBA.com), Curry showed off a shake-and-bake move to create space and drain a three. Then after a stop, Klay Thompson hit a 29 footer, and the Warriors were up five. The Cavs would not quit, they would not let the Warriors run away as they had done so often during the season. LeBron answered with a bucket and, after a stop, he drove and assisted Tristan Thompson for a bucket that made it a one-point game again. LeBron would not let the game go.

But the Warriors’ threes kept raining. Iguodala from the corner. Then Iguodala on the old-school and-one three after an offensive board. That had the lead up to seven.

LeBron drove and drew a foul, but he was clearly gassed at this point. His shots started to come up short, his drives lacking just that little bit of power he had earlier.

Soon came another Curry shake-and-bake three, and the lead was up to 10.

Eventually came another Curry three with 1:24 left that was the dagger, after another ridiculous move.

“It was an incredible play and I enjoyed watching it from my front-row seat,” Draymond Green said. Yet both he and Curry refused to call it a signature play because only the team holding the trophy has those, and they are not holding yet.

But Curry found his groove and the narrative that Matthew Dellavedova was a Curry stopper finally died.

“From the very beginning, when they went small, had their shooters out there, I thought, ‘This is Steph’s night,’” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Curry finished with 36 points on 13-of-23 shooting and hit 7-of-13 from three. After that, the Warriors had balance: 16 points from Draymond Green, 14 from Iguodala, 13 from Leandro Barbosa, 12 from Klay Thompson. The Warriors played their game all around.

“(Curry’s shooting) not why we lost.  We gave up 18 fast breakpoints.  We gave up 15 second-chance points,” LeBron said. “Steph was special, obviously, but him hitting those step-back threes is not why we lost the game.”

In the first half, it was the LeBron James show.

“He’s phenomenal, he’s doing everything,” Kerr said of LeBron James. “But I’m not enjoying the marveling (at his play).”

After starting 0-of-3, the Warriors hit the next 4-of-5 as they attacked the rim for dunks. They were getting out in transition and getting to the rim with Mozgov pulled out on the perimeter and unsure what to do (and in no position to recover).

The Cavaliers decided to match the Warriors by going small, and it mostly worked. Because of LeBron. — he was otherworldly in the first half.

LeBron had 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the first 24 minutes. He scored or assisted on all but one of the Cavaliers buckets in the first half. He got them to 50 (with JR Smith pitching in and hitting some threes). He also did a good job in the paint protecting the rim.

But all that left the Cavaliers one short after a Harrison Barnes putback dunk, the Warriors were up 51-50 at the break. The Warriors shot 54.1 percent and hit 5-of-10 from three in the first half, Stephen Curry had 15 points hitting 3-of-4 from three.

The third quarter saw LeBron struggle some, getting four points and an assist, as he started to wear down and was missing shots outside the paint. The Cavaliers were getting great play inside from Tristan Thompson, who kept making plays at the rim.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.