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.

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing with brothers: ‘Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome’

Giannis Antetokounmpo in Bucks-Lakers
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Giannis Antetokounmpo – on the elite Bucks and nearing his super-max decision – has the NBA by the tail.

Teams are trying to impress the family-oriented superstar. Milwaukee signed his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. The Lakers added another brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo. (The Knicks drafted Thanasis, but Thanasis’ tenure in New York reportedly left a sour taste in Giannis’ mouth.)

Now, Giannis – who once said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles – is singing a slightly different tune

USA Today:

Antetokounmpo:

I think that would be amazing. Obviously, we’d spend more time together, and I’m 100 percent sure my mom would love that. But if we could team up on a team – Milwaukee, L.A., wherever – that’d be awesome.

Maybe Antetokounmpo is just paying lip service to the Lakers, because they added Kostas. But at this point, that’s progress for Los Angeles.

Considering Giannis’ agent just said “everything is open,” it seems Giannis could be planting the seeds for leaving Milwaukee. He could definitely stay. But by at least mentioning other possibilities, he’d soften the blow if he chooses to depart.

Giannis’ views on loyalty have always been more complex than people realized. Tastes change. It sounds as if Giannis isn’t quite as averse to Los Angeles as he once was.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between that and actually joining the Lakers. Giannis hasn’t suddenly transformed into a totally different person.

But this quote will keep the candle of hope burning in Los Angeles.

Report: All-Star fourth quarter featured more than 15 minutes of gameplay

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One overlooked feature of the NBA’s new All-Star game format: It seemed designed to shorten the game.

Sure, the league wanted to add an interesting wrinkle to a game that had grown stale. The exact details were tweaked to honor Kobe Bryant.

But – in the era of load management – shaving a few minutes off the exhibition game should be taken as a feature, not a bug.

This year’s game ended when a team scored 24 more points than the leading team had entering the fourth quarter. The last time a team had scored 24 or fewer in All-Star quarter: 2010, when the East scored just 23 in the fourth quarter.  In the decade since – including the first three quarters Sunday – All-Star teams averaged 24 points every seven minutes.

But Sunday’s fourth quarter took a while longer than the standard 12 minutes for LeBron James‘ team to outscore Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s team, 33-22.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

Defenses really turned up in the fourth quarter. Here’s how the teams’ shooting percentages changed from the first three quarters to the fourth quarter:

  • 2-pointers: 73% to 46%
  • 3-pointers: 34% to 23%

More shots being contested also led to more fouls. After attempting just 13 free throws in the first three quarters, the teams took 26 free throws in the fourth quarter.

In The Basketball Tournament, which first introduced the Elam Ending, the target score is eight more points than the leading team has at the first whistle inside four minutes. By turning off the game clock later, there’s less room for variance in gameplay length.

I suspect the NBA would have also turned off the clock later if not using the target score to honor Bryant. Because Bryant wore No. 24 last, the league has generally used that – not his other number, No. 8 – in tributes, including the All-Star jerseys.

With All-Star MVP now named for Bryant – a perfectly fitting lasting tribute – the league can alter the ending format next year.

The concept is sound. The exact execution just needs tweaking.

Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn may be out for season with knee injury

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Bulls starting point guard Kris Dunn missed the last four games before the All-Star break with a sprained knee.

He could miss a lot more — like the rest of the season.

From K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

But sources said there’s a growing belief that Dunn will miss the remainder of the season with the injury, which occurred when Thaddeus Young took a charge and inadvertently crashed into Dunn’s knee on the first possession of a Jan. 31 road game against the Nets. When Dunn suffered a similar injury last season, he missed 23 games…

“Dunn still has some swelling in that knee,” coach Jim Boylen said before the Bulls lost to the Wizards on Feb. 11 in Washington, their final game before the break. “Once his swelling goes down, he will get re-scanned and re-evaluated.  But he had a lot of swelling.”

That’s less than ideal for Dunn as he heads into restricted free agency. He has averaged 7.3 points and  3.6 rebounds per game, however, his most significant contribution has been quality defense for Chicago this season.

This is the latest in a string of injuries for the Bulls. Otto Porter has only played nine games due to a broken foot. Big men Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are currently sidelined due to injuries, although Carter could return after the All-Star break and Markkanen by early next month. Now Dunn.