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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.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Tyler Herro after Heat-Celtics Game 4
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If the Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”

Report: Celtics were ‘very much enamored’ with Tyler Herro, whom Heat took one pick before Boston

Heat guard Tyler Herro vs. Celtics
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The Celtics – holding the Kings’ first-round pick – lost a tiebreaker with the Hornets and Heat in last year’s draft. Charlotte picked No. 12, Miami No. 13 and Boston No. 14.

The Heat took Tyler Herro No. 13.

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

On NBA draft night last year there was a collective moan among the Boston Celtics brass right about the time the Miami Heat used the No. 13 pick to select Tyler Herro.

The Celtics were very much enamored with the 20-year-old leading up to last June’s draft

The draft is full of smokescreens and disinformation, especially from Boston. So, this can’t be taken as gospel.

But it’s still another fun chapter in the Pat Riley-Danny Ainge rivalry, which includes a previous example of the Heat drafting a player the Celtics coveted.

Herro made the All-Rookie second team and is now helping Miami against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals – no small feat for a rookie.

The Celtics settled for Romeo Langford, who had a far less productive first season and is now out for the year.

Of course, it’s far too early to declare either player will absolutely have a better career than the other. Besides, Boston never chose between Herro and Langford. The Heat got the choice and took the player both teams seemingly agreed was better.