Warriors vs. Cavaliers NBA Finals Game 3 preview: What will Cavs do about Draymond Green?

7 Comments

The Golden State Warriors are up 2-0 and didn’t just win those first two games, they won them in historic fashion. LeBron James is right, Wednesday night’s Game 3 is must win for Cleveland because if they go down 0-3 it is over. Here are five things to watch for on Wednesday night that will help determine the outcome (and if you want more detail, check out the PBT Podcast looking at Game 3).

1) What will the Cavaliers do about Draymond Green? Through two games the Cavaliers’ defensive strategy has been clear: They are not letting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson beat them by raining threes. The Cavs have extended their defense out and focused on shutting those two guys down, taking away opportunites. It’s worked, those two have a combined 47 points through two games and not shot well. The problem is, the Warriors have a whole lot of other guys who can beat you. In Game 2 the Cavaliers chose to leave Draymond Green open, and the All-NBA player made them pay hitting five threes on his way to 28 points. It was Warriors assistant coach (and soon to be Lakers’ head coach) Luke Walton who pushed Green to fire away in Game 2.

“He was on me a lot last game about shooting the basketball,” Green said of Walton. “He’s like, ‘Man, you’ve got to shoot. We know you can make the shots. You know you can make the shots, but I need you to take those shots with confidence when you’re open. Stop hesitating.'”

He stopped, and the game became a blowout. The Cavaliers can assign a guy to stick with Green, but that will leave another Warriors role player open — and if you think those guys can’t hurt the Cavs may I remind you of Shaun Livingston‘s 20 in Game 1.

“We just want to win. It doesn’t matter who scores the points or who gets the credit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We do feel like the strength of our team is our depth, and we’re not overly reliant on one player, even the MVP. So our depth has shown so far, and I’m sure we’ll have different players continue to step up as the series goes on.”

I heard someone say all the Cavaliers are doing with their defensive coverages is dictating which Warrior wins Finals MVP. So far that is true. If the Cavs are to have any shot in Game 3 they need much more energy and much more mental focus on defense. Because the Warriors aren’t changing who they are.

2) Cleveland needs to play with urgency. My preferred style is to talk about matchups — which completely favor the Warriors so far — or to look at the analytics of a game, which also completely favor the Warriors through two. Often coaches will try to mask strategy and matchup concerns saying their team just needs to play with more energy/desperation/urgency/force.

In the case of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers really do need to start playing with more energy/desperation/urgency/force. The Warriors have won the offensive rebounding battles, they are getting to all the 50/50 balls, and they are just competing harder than the Cavs. One team looks like they want it more, and it isn’t the one from blue-collar Cleveland. If that doesn’t change in Game 3, nothing else matters.

“We haven’t lost here all Playoffs,” Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue said. “We play very well, and our guys understand that. They’re a good team. That’s why they won 73 games this year, and they play well at home. They had two big games and now we’ve got to come home and protect our home court.”

3) If Kevin Love is out, who steps up? Officially, Kevin Love is questionable for Game 3 as he goes through the NBA’s concussion protocol. There reportedly is optimism in his camp he will be ready to go, but if he does have a concussion that may not happen. It’s a game-time decision.

If he can’t go, what do the Cavaliers do? Tyronn Lue would not tip his hand, but most likely he starts Richard Jefferson and slides LeBron to the four. Iman Shumpert could get more run, and we may see more Timofey Mozgov. Jefferson was the Cavaliers’ second-best player in Game 2, and the only guy outside LeBron playing with real energy, but how many minutes can he go?

If LeBron does go to the four and more offense falls on him, he has to hit some jumpers — he was 1-of-9 outside the restricted area in Game 2. The Warriors are isolating one defender on him, bringing help when he puts it on the floor, and daring him to take midrange jumpers or threes. If he doesn’t hit some of those, the Warriors’ defensive strategy will make it hard on every other Cav.

It feels like no matter what the Cavaliers do, the Warriors have a counter move and better matchup they can fall back on (for example, remember they ran Mozgov off the court a year ago). Cleveland needs one of their role players to step up and change that dynamic.

4) Kyrie Irving has to be special. Do we really need to rehash the folly of the “if the Cavaliers just had a healthy Love and Irving everything would be different” argument? Things are different but not better because with those guys the Cavs want to play smaller and faster — which is right in the Warriors’ wheelhouse. Plus Irving and Love are not great defenders, they Warriors just keep exposing them.

Irving needs to have a big game. He’s been the ball stopper, the guy pounding the ball up and down too much, the guy playing too much isolation. The result has been him shooting 12-for-36 through two games, 1-for-7 from three, and he has six turnovers to just five assists He needs to be more decisive and get back to playing downhill.

“Just talking to Kyrie about attacking, attacking early on in the shot clock,” Lue said. “Don’t let the switching make him stagnant. But he’s one of the players that we have on our team that can go one-on-one, because they’re switching one through five. But he has to make sharp, quick moves. He understands that, but we need Kyrie to be aggressive.”

5) The Cavaliers need to hit their threes. Cleveland got to the Finals on a wave of threes — they shot 51 percent from three against the Hawks in the second round and better than 40 percent as a team heading into the Finals. Through the first two games they have shot 27 percent from three. In Game 3 the Cavaliers need to hit their threes, but if the Warriors keep closing out hard on those shooters as they have been the Cavs need to make them pay.

“In the half court, they’re doing a good job of shrinking the floor,” Lue said. “They’re long and athletic, so they’re closing out hard, so we have to drive the basketball. Richard Jefferson did a great job in the last game of catching it, straight line drive four times and got us four lay-ups. So we’ve got to do a better job of reading the situation. Because they’re running us off the three-point line and they don’t want us to take those shots. Now we have to be able to drive the basketball and get to the basket.”

Part of this gets back to ball movement. The Warriors defensive switching has the Cavs being hesitant, slowing down to look for mismatches rather than keeping the ball moving — if the Cavs keep the ball moving (and do some dishes off those drives) they will get some more looks from three. Then they need to hit them for a change. That means LeBron, Smith, Frye, maybe Love, and the rest have to just make some shots.

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

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
0 Comments

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.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

0 Comments

Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

0 Comments

While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

0 Comments

The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.