Warriors play fast, drain threes, blow out Cavaliers 110-77 to take 2-0 series lead

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OAKLAND — Cleveland’s plan going into Game 2 was to play faster to get easy buckets, move the ball, and score better in the paint.

Strike one. Strike two. Strike three.

While they are not out, the Cavaliers are now down 0-2 in the NBA Finals to a very confident Warriors team just playing at a higher level — particularly on defense. It’s hard to see how Cleveland wins four of the next five games.

“I thought early we did hit first. I just thought when they went to the small lineup, their small lineup was a lot faster than what ours was,”Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “Being faster and being longer and athletic gave us some trouble. It gave us some problems.”

More than some. Golden State won Game 2 110-77, shooting 54.3 percent as a team and 45.5 percent from three. Game 3 is Wednesday in Cleveland.

This time it was Draymond Green who led the way with 28 points — including going 5-of-8 from three. Stephen Curry had 18 points but was limited by some foul trouble, while Klay Thompson added 17. Neither Splash Brother has had a breakout Finals game, and yet the Warriors are 2-0 having outscored the Cavaliers by 48 points.

Playing fast is the Warriors natural state of being, their comfort zone, and after a sluggish first quarter the tempo of the game picked up in the second just like Lue wanted — and that’s when the Warriors started to pull away. The Warriors defend better at pace than any team in the league. They are used to defensive cross matches and switches — they do it all season long — and they know how to protect the rim even while scrambling. It worked, Cleveland was 20-of-44  shooting in the paint for the game, and they again got bogged down in isolations when trying to exploit switching mismatches. The Warriors can defend isos if they see them coming, and Cleveland is telegraphing theirs. The result is this shot chart.

Cavaliers shot chart Game 2

And offense is not even the Cavs biggest problem in this series.

On the other end, Cleveland knows they should switch everything against Golden State (they saw Oklahoma City do it), but they lack the discipline and communication as a team to pull it off consistently, they lack the athletic defenders of OKC, and the Warriors eventually start to carve it up. There were moments where Cleveland defended in Game 2 like they will need to if they want to make any kind of comeback in this series. They simply can’t sustain it.

Then once the Warriors momentum gets rolling, it’s over.

“Whenever we make a run they stay the course, and whenever they make a run we get erratic a little bit,” J.R. Smith said. “They’re just a better team right now.”

LeBron James — 19 points on 17 shots — is clearly frustrated, in part with himself and his seven turnovers. Last season he tried to put the less healthy Cavaliers on his back in the Finals, and that was not good enough. This season he is supposed to have help, but the Cavaliers as a team shot 35.4 percent and only veteran Richard Jefferson showed the kind of fight this team needs much more of.

“I’m not disappointed in our guys or frustrated,” LeBron said. “We’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to be better at all facets of the game both offensively and defensively, both physically and mentally. They just beat us at every — we didn’t win anything. No points of the game did we beat them in anything.”

The Cavaliers may also have lost Kevin Lovehe suffered a concussion from an inadvertent Harrison Barnes elbow, which had Love in the locker room most of the second half. He is now in the NBA’s concussion protocol, meaning he has to pass a series of tests and levels just to be able to play in Game 3 (or any future game).

What ended being a Warriors blowout didn’t start that way.

There was a sluggish first six minutes to the game, with the Warriors missing threes (they started 0-of-5 from deep) and the Cavaliers not playing with the pace or ball movement Lue preached between games. Both teams shot less than 40 percent in the first quarter. The Cavaliers had a small lead early thanks to offensive rebounds giving them four second chance points, but the Warriors responded thanks to them taking over control of the boards — Golden State had seven offensive boards in the first quarter. The Cavaliers ended the first on an 8-2 run and led 21-19 after one.

In the second quarter the tempo picked up — and so did the Warriors. Cleveland was much more active defensively, which got them some transition buckets. But they can’t sustain that level of defensive focus, and when the breakdowns came the Warriors exploited it — Draymond Green was 3-of-5 from three in the second quarter, the Warriors liked the tempo and got into their natural state, and led by 15. The reasons the lead was down to 52-44 at the half was Curry picked up a third foul, and when he sat Lebron led a 7-0 run to end the quarter, a run fueled by the Warriors missing some wide-open threes.

While the game was still close, Golden State was getting good looks, winning the 50-50 balls, and it felt like they could blow it open at any point — and they did in the third outscoring Cleveland 30-18 behind 10 more points from Green and 9 from Thompson.

“I think our focus has been there,” Green said. “We’ve really locked in on the game plan. The intensity level has been there, and most importantly we’ve gotten it done on the defensive side of the basketball. To hold this team to 77 points, that’s a very good ballclub, that’s not something that’s easy to do. But we really locked in. We stuck to the game plan, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Once the Warriors’ train started rolling, Cleveland could do nothing to slow it.

Can slow it at Quicken Loans Arena is the big question? They need to in Game 3 or this series is all but over.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.