LeBron James answers critics with masterful game, now spotlight on Stephen Curry

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LeBron James’ always vocal critics were feasting for two games.

Even Phil Jackson stepped in with the off-target critique LeBron has had to hear too much throughout his career — why can’t he be more like Jordan?

LeBron shut them up with his dominant Game 3. At least for a day. Not that he has ever cared what anyone outside his inner circle thinks, he just wanted to win a basketball game. However, put at the four with Kevin Love out, LeBron found more space to operate and that plus a more attacking mindset had the Cavaliers off to the races from the opening tip.

Now that same spotlight, that same critique has shifted to the reigning MVP.

What has happened to Stephen Curry?

He played terribly in Game 3 — to the point Steve Kerr pulled him to get Shaun Livingston in for a stretch. Why isn’t he taking over games?

“He just didn’t play well,” was how Steve Kerr undersold it.

Curry was 1-of-5 shooting in the first half, with two points and three turnovers in the portion of the game where the Cavs took control. He put up better numbers in the third — 13 points, hitting three shots from beyond the arc — but he was also a -12 for the quarter as Cleveland pulled away and sealed the game. Curry’s defense was poor and the Cavaliers went right at him all game.

“Unfortunately, it was all me,” Curry said, taking the blame (as LeBron had done when the spotlight was on him). “They were playing aggressive defense and they came out with a big punch. I didn’t do anything about it or play my game, and for me to do what I need to do to help my team, I have to play a hundred times better than that, especially in the first quarter, to kind of control the game, and I didn’t do it.”

From the opening tip of the series Cleveland’s defensive game plan could be summed up as “don’t let Curry and Klay Thompson beat us.” They have picked them up especially high, trapped and doubled, switched off-ball picks, basically doing whatever they can to get they ball out of Curry and Thompson’s hands.

“Those guys can get it going in bunches, and you saw Steph in the third quarter, as well as Klay in the second quarter when those guys just have the ability to get downhill, as well as spray out to the three-point line,” Kyrie Irving said. “So just having our antennas on the defensive end, but as well as making them work on the offensive end while we’re just being aggressive….

“It’s a total team effort on our end, and (J.R. Smith) does a great job on Klay. I just try to pick up Steph as high as possible, and our bigs do a great job getting up to touch.”

Curry and Thompson have not gone off and single-handedly won a game this series. It didn’t matter with the Warriors bench scoring 45 in the first game and Draymond Green dropping 28 in the second. Of course, Curry still got the off-target questioning along the lines of “but you’re not putting yourself in position to win Finals MVP” to which he responded that as long as a Warrior won it and he got a ring, he was good with it.

Now the questions about Curry’s play will intensify after a loss. For some fans (and old-school media members), the only way right way win is to do it in a Jordan or Kobe manner, where one player dominates the ball and the game. It’s a line of thinking that shows a lack of understanding of the game.

That said, the Warriors do need more out of Curry. Starting in Game 4. They need more of the MVP-style Curry from the regular season.

It doesn’t need to be a complete onslaught, if what comes of a few points that bends the Cavaliers defense even further, it opens things up for others to break it (as happened in the first two games).

Curry’s play has brought this spotlight and these questions, he’s been pedestrian this series by the bar he has set for himself — 16 points per game, 43.6 percent shooting overall, more turnovers (five per game) than assists, and uninspired defense. Curry understands he needs to do more, as he showed in explaining his poor Game 3 performance.

“I’m disappointed that I didn’t do anything to help my team win tonight,” Curry said. “It’s not about living up to a certain expectation other than the one that I have for myself, and I haven’t done that, or I didn’t do that tonight, and I’ve got to be better.”

Just as the Cavaliers turned things around, for Curry things need to start one the defensive end, where you can be sure Cleveland will go right at him again.

“Just in the first half I had a couple lapses where I didn’t follow the game plan, and Kyrie (Irving) gets an easy lay-up, gets his confidence going, a couple of switches where I didn’t hear the guy behind me talking and being quicker with my reads in that situation,” Curry said. “So I obviously take the blame for that.“

Curry and Thompson did step up against Oklahoma City when needed, hitting ridiculous shots that sparked runs even that long and athletic defense could do nothing about.

Golden State needs one of those performances in Game 4 from their MVP.

If not, the former MVP and still all-time great player wearing wine and gold could take over again and change the course of the series.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”