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.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.