Cavaliers bring intense, active defense, offense follows in 120-90 rout of Warriors in Game 3

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On the first possession of the game, Stephen Curry walked the ball up and was met by Kyrie Irving out higher than he had been all series, just a few steps over half court. Irving got into Curry’s body. It was a sign of things to come — Cleveland brought an energy and, more importantly, constant activity on the defensive end all night. It disrupted the Warriors.

That defense fueled their offense, LeBron James at the four was explosive setting a tone, and back in the comfort of their home — and with a raucous crowd behind them — suddenly Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith were sharpshooters again. Pace and spacing returned to the Cavalier offense, and behind a team attacking the rim and moving the ball Cleveland raced out to a fast 20 point lead in the first quarter. The Cavaliers are a dangerous front-running team, and they were overwhelming a Golden State team that seemed caught off guard by Cleveland’s intensity.

“We weren’t ready to play” Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said. “Obviously, they just punched us right in the mouth right in the beginning. We’re turning the ball over like crazy. Soft, we were extremely soft to start the game, and then they set the tone with their intensity. I think it was 9-0, and we had to call timeout. Steph got beat back door, couple turnovers. Just a horrible way to start.”

Still, the question remained: How would the Cavaliers respond when the Warriors went on a run? Which Golden State did in the second half to cut the lead to eight at the half.

Cleveland responded like a team worthy of a ring. They opened the second half on a 7-0 run, stretching the lead out to 22 again and running away with the game. This series (and these playoffs) have had a lot of blowouts.

Cleveland won Game 3 120-90, making this a 2-1 series in favor of Golden State. This was the most lopsided Golden State playoff loss since Steve Kerr took over as Warriors’ coach.

Game 4 is Friday night in Cleveland — it will tell us a lot about both teams. And how long this series might go.

“I just think it’s two words, physicality, and aggressiveness,” Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought we were very physical defensively, and I thought we were aggressive offensively, attacking the basket, getting out in transition, running the floor. We talked about it before, that opens up shots for J.R. Smith and those guys in transition. So that’s how we have to play.”

The Cavaliers were without Kevin Love, who is sidelined with a concussion, and with Richard Jefferson starting in his place the Cleveland defense was far more active and alert. It leaves Tyronn Lue with some challenges if Love is cleared to return Friday for Game 4 (Love needs to come off the bench or at least play much short shifts, this series is not a good matchup for him).

It was the Cavaliers starters that won them this game. Kyrie Irving had 16 points in the first quarter and 30 for the game, LeBron had 32, and Smith added 20. It literally was just them — through three quarters the Cavaliers bench had zero points.

Stephen Curry was just terrible in this game. He finished with 19 points and for a stretch in the fourth found his three point shot again, but he was 3-of-9 from deep overall. He started slow, with just two points in the first half. More troublesome was his six turnovers on the he. And his poor defense, which Cleveland attacked all night (and got him in foul trouble). Things were so bad for Curry that at one point that Kerr benched him for Shaun Livingston.

“He did not start the game well,” Kerr said. “Turned it over, got beat back door, and he was not his usual self. Now, it happens sometimes. I mean, that’s what everybody was saying about them the last two games.”

Klay Thompson had 10 points, Draymond Green 6 — that combined 35 was the lowest output from the Warriors big three all season.

Credit the Cavaliers defense for that, which was much better from the opening tip.

Cavaliers much more energy defensively to start, Warriors offense is aimless — Curry and Thompson both had airballs — and the Cavaliers were moving better on offense. Race out to a 9-0 lead. That lead stretched out to 15 as the Cavaliers attacked the rim and the Warriors started 0-of-6 from three.

Kyrie Irving was hot early, 16 first quarter points and started feeling it with the Uncle Drew side steps and hitting threes. He looked far more comfortable.

Meanwhile, Curry and Thompson had zero points in the first quarter, and it was 33-16 Cavs after one.

Early in the second, it was the Warriors bench — as it has been all series — the Warriors bench was their spark. They opened the second on a 7-0 run and pushed the lead down to nine at one point. Warriors defense settles down, and the Cavaliers opened the second half 3-of-17 to start the second half, they also were just slow getting in their offense, again letting Warriors set. Golden State cut the Cleveland lead to 51-43 at the half, just eight points.

“I thought tonight even when they made runs, we kept our composure,” Lue said. “We stayed with it, we stayed physical, we continued to play hard, and we didn’t let it deflate us.”

The Cavaliers opened the second half on a 7-0 run with the starters again, and they stretch the lead back up to 19 thanks to a much better defense and hitting their threes in transition, taking the lead up to 22 on a LeBron three.

Later in the third the Warriors started to find a bit of an offensive groove when they went small (why was Anderson Varejao in at all?) but by this point the Cavaliers were full of confidence. LeBron was hitting jumpers (which he missed the first two games), Smith was feeling it, and the Cavaliers were flying around on defense. The Warriors could not close the gap.

Video: Carmelo Anthony says he’d have won 2-3 titles if drafted by Detroit

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In an Instagram Live chat with friend Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony said he’d “have won 2-3 championships if drafted by the Detroit Pistons:

Anthony was drafted third overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. LeBron James went off the board first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons then drafted Darko Milicic with the second pick. Chris Bosh was drafted fourth by the Toronto Raptors, and Wade was selected with the fifth pick by the Miami Heat.

James, Wade and Bosh would famously team up in Miami seven years later. Those three and Anthony all put together Hall of Fame careers. Milicic was another story entirely.

Detroit had that second overall pick by virtue of a 1997 sign-and-trade with the then Vancouver Grizzlies for forward Otis Thorpe. Vancouver didn’t even keep Thorpe for one full season, as he was shipped to the Sacramento Kings at the 1998 trade deadline. By the 2003 draft, the team had moved from Vancouver to Memphis.

The Pistons went on to win the championship in 2003-04, despite relatively limited production from rookie Milicic. The seven-footer played in just 34 games as a rookie during Detroit’s title run. Milicic then appeared in just 62 games over the next two seasons before he was traded to the Orlando Magic at the 2006 trade deadline.

Despite never living up to his draft position, Milicic did carve out a 10-year NBA career. On the other hand, Anthony blossomed into a 10-time All-Star.

Anthony went on to make six All-NBA teams over the course of his time with the Nuggets and New York Knicks. He holds a career average of 23.6 points per game, but has yet to win that elusive title.

Detroit passing on Anthony is one of the more interesting  what if’s in recent NBA history. The Pistons only got the one championship, but made the Finals back-to-back years. They had a multiple year run of contention behind a core of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamiltion in the backcourt. The frontcourt was anchored by Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. The one thing that group struggled with on occasion was scoring, which Anthony would have provided.

Had Anthony been drafted by the Pistons, he’d likely have a ring and Detroit would have a fourth banner. Who knows? Maybe they’d each have a couple more beyond that.

Former NBA player OJ Mayo to sign in China

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When the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association return to play, they’ll have a familiar face to NBA fans suiting up for them. Liaoning announced they are signing former NBA player O.J. Mayo to a contract for the remainder of this season.

Mayo has been out of the NBA since the end of the 2015-16 season. The scoring guard was banned from the NBA due to a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. He was eligible for reinstatement at the start of the 2018-19 season.

Since being banned from the NBA, Mayo has signed to play with various clubs in Puerto Rico, Taiwan and with a team in China’s second division.

During his eight-year NBA career, Mayo played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks. The 32-year old guard holds a career average of 13.8 points per game on 43/37/82 shooting splits.

With Liaoning, Mayo may suit up alongside former NBA players Lance Stephenson and Brandon Bass. The club announced that Mayo will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which they expect him to back up Stephenson.

Neither Stephenson nor Bass have returned to China following the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear when either player will return, as the CBA has delayed their return to play until May.

Alabama’s Herbert Jones declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Alabama junior forward Herbert Jones announced via Instagram that he’s declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft:

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All Glory to God 🙏🏽

A post shared by Herb Jones 🛸 (@yung.ch0) on

Jones says he’s declaring while maintaining his eligibility.

In his third campaign with the Crimson Tide, Jones turned his best collegiate season. The six-foot-seven forward scored 7.9 points on 48.4% shooting. He also grabbed 6.4 rebounds per game. Jones was also one of Alabama’s best defensive players.

Alabama has also seen starting guard Kira Lewis and John Petty Jr. declare for the draft.

Lewis is expected to be a first-round pick, while Petty and Jones are considered to be late second-round talents.

Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, DePaul’s Paul Reed declare for NBA draft

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Nobody knows when the NBA Draft is going to take place — like everything with the NBA calendar, it is up in the air — but for college players whose season has ended now is the time to declare and throw their hats in the ring.

Two possible draftees did that Saturday.

Arizona center Zeke Nnaji was one.

The 6’11” Nnaji averaged 16.1 points per game on 57 percent shooting, plus grabbed 8.6 rebounds a game his freshman season at Arizona. In a good sign, he shot 76% from the free throw line, meaning he should be able to space the floor and hit midrangers (and maybe someday threes). He brings a lot of energy to the court, but is considered raw still on both ends of the floor and not an elite defender.

Nnaji is a bubble first-round pick.

The other player coming out is DePaul forward Paul Reed.

A projected first-rounder is a generous description by Charania, Reed is seen more as a second-round pick (and without a Draft Combine or workouts with teams it will be difficult to move up). He’s a 6’9″ power forward who averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game this season. Reed shot the three well as a sophomore (40 percent) but regressed this past season. He’s athletic but needs to get stronger, and he needs to be able to fit into a role at the NBA level to last.

That said, he will likely get a chance somewhere to prove he belongs.