Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson find groove, Warriors win 108-97, within one win of title

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CLEVELAND — This is how the Warriors won 73 games (not to mention a title last year).

You can only hold Stephen Curry‘s and Klay Thompson’s shooting down for so long — they hit 11 threes on their way to 63 combined points. As a team the Warriors hit 17 threes (an NBA Finals record). The Warriors aren’t fazed by loud and hostile crowds. Their depth keeps their core fresh while opponents wear down. They defend very well. And when the game gets physical, this “jump shooting team” is at its best.

All that happened in the fourth quarter of Game 4. Cleveland stumbled, Golden State thrived and is now within one win of back-to-back titles.

The Warriors won Game 4 108-97 and now lead the NBA Finals 3-1, heading back to the Bay Area for Game 5 Monday.

Stephen Curry finished with 38 points including hitting seven threes, Klay Thompson added 25 and had four threes. Harrison Barnes had a strong game with 14 points, and the Warriors’ bench added 22.

“I mean, sooner or later it’s going to happen. With guys like that, you can’t keep them down forever,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry and Thompson finally having one of their vintage games. “Sometimes our best offense is our defense, and we were making stops and we were able to get out and run and kind of flow into our offense.”

Kyrie Irving had 34 points for Cleveland, LeBron James added 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. But by the end, they both reverted to bad habits — specifically too much isolation — and the Warriors capitalized.

“You’ve got a guy like that, physically gifted, high IQ, one of the best passers I’ve ever seen, he gets it going, there’s nothing you can do,” Andre Iguodala said of containing LeBron in the fourth. “It doesn’t take one guy to come in and cut off the water or shut him down. It takes five guys.”

This was the first close and entertaining game of the series. Cleveland opened the night with the fire we had seen from them in Game 3, and they got Kevin Love back (who played well off the bench), but this time Golden State matched that energy — and in the second half did it with better execution.

The referees swallowed their whistles more in the second half, and the Warriors won the game when it got physical. Remember that next time someone sells you on the “they’re just a jump shooting team” narrative.

Cleveland’s very short bench for the past two games has them looking tired by the end — and the Cavs’ game degenerated into  Irving isolations or LeBron jump shots or isolations, which the Warriors could defend.

“But our offense did stall a little bit in the fourth quarter,” LeBron said, although he denied any fatigue. “We played a little bit too much random, trying to dribble drive, get guys looks, and then we started settling a little bit for the three-point shot when we kind of got down.”

“We knew with LeBron and Kyrie playing the entire second half, if you continue to put bodies on them and battle eventually they’ll wear down,” Draymond Green said. “I think they wore down a bit tonight. Those shots you hit early are a lot harder to hit in the fourth when you have no rest.”

“(Fatigue) could have played a part in it,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But going into the fourth quarter, being down 2-1, we’re down two points. They brought their bench in, so I thought if we could keep our starters in for a few minutes, we could kind of make a run and then get guys out slowly. But they were able to go on the run. So it hurt us. But I went with my best players in the fourth quarter, down 2-1, and it didn’t work.”

Meanwhile, the more rested Warriors getting to loose balls, getting offensive boards, hustling more on defense, and with all that taking control of the game. When you give a team that shoots the three the way the Warriors a second chance it costs you — in the second half the Warriors had 16 second chance points.

Early on, the Cavaliers tried to pull away again behind a boisterous crowd, but this time the Warriors matched that energy.

Golden State stayed big to start with Andrew Bogut at center, and with far crisper ball movement than Game 3 that lineup played the Cavs even (10-10) for more than four minutes, until the Warriors went small with the death lineup. That lineup didn’t change the dynamic, nor did Kevin Love getting action at the five starting at the 5:03 mark. Nor did the fact Kerr subbed in James Michael McAdoo late in the first instead of Festus Ezili, probably to avoid bad switches on defense. The result was a 29-28 Warriors lead after one, with the Kyrie Irving having nine and Stephen Curry with eight.

The second quarter remained tight, with Love getting run the final five minutes of the half after Jefferson picked up a third foul, and the Cavaliers were +8 in that time. The key for the Cavaliers in the first half was the 10 offensive boards — they pulled down the offensive rebound on 43.5 percent of their missed shots, and that led to 17 second chance points. It was enough to have Cleveland up 55-50 at the half (although it was really 56-50 because Luke Walton picked up a technical at the end of the half, which Irving made to add to the lead).

Warriors came out in the second half hitting threes and getting the stops and transition plays they needed, and took the lead at 72-69 on Stephen Curry three in transition where nobody found him — and on those 22 points to start the third the Splash Brothers scored or assisted. The Warriors stretched that lead out to six at one point, but it was 79-77 after three.

“I think (the Warriors’ momentum) started in the third quarter,” Kevin Love said. “They got some second-chance points that hurt us. Steph [Curry] got to the ball, Dray [Draymond Green] got to the ball, [Andre] Iguodala got to a couple and they converted. That’s what got them over the hump. We shot poorly from the three-point line, shot poorly from the free throw line as well. We missed 10 [free throws] and that was tough for us.”

Then in the fourth, the Warriors did what they do. Golden State went to its bench, while the Cavaliers stuck with mostly starters trying to make a push — and the Warriors went on 12-1 run. That is part of what led to the Cavaliers’ fatigue.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.

Three things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

Before the ball was even tossed up at center circle Sunday, this looked to be a long night for the Pelicans: No Zion Williamson (strained right hamstring), no Brandon Ingram (toe injury) and no CJ McCollum (sprained right thumb).

Then Giannis Antetokounmpo went to work early, scored 18 points in the first quarter, 29 in the first half, and went on to have an efficient 50 on 20-of-26 shooting on the night, including hitting 3-of-4 from 3.

The All-Star Game captain is having a “down” season by his insane standards, but he is still averaging 31.3 points and 12 rebounds a game, shooting 64.5% in a season where he has had to take on more offense load because of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time. He’s still one of the best in the game, and if healthy the Bucks are still a postseason threat (even if they could use some depth at the four).

This was eight straight losses for the Pelicans, who are 3-11 in January and have fallen all the way to the No. 8 seed in the West. New Orleans has looked like a dangerous team on the rise when healthy this season, but the injuries have caught up with them and now they are scrapping to stay in the play-in in a crowded middle of the West.

2) Hornets get 31 from Rozier, upset sleepy Heat team

It will be hard for Miami to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the East (and avoid the play-in) if they don’t win the games they are supposed to win.

Miami looked sleepy for the 1 p.m. start in Charlotte, didn’t play good defense down the stretch, and fell to the Hornets. Charlotte got 31 from Terry Rozier, 27 from P.J. Washington, LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Gordon Hayward was 7-of-7 shooting for 20 points. Charlotte snapped Miami’s three-game win streak with the 122-117 victory.

To be fair to the Heat, sometimes it’s about when you catch teams and the Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season having won 4-of-6. Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Heat, Tyler Herro added 24.

This was the start of a four-game road trip for the Heat and things are about to get tougher with games at the Cavaliers, at the Knicks (a key game in the chase for the No. 6 seed) and at the Bucks.

3) LeBron James, Anthony Davis out in Brooklyn Monday night

The epidemic — and league-wide PR problem — of stars sitting out will continue Monday night as LeBron James and Anthony Davis will rest as the Lakers face the Nets (officially, LeBron has a sore left ankle and they are watching the foot injury that sidelined Davis for 20 games). This is the team’s one trip to Brooklyn this season. It comes a day after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat out in Cleveland (the Cavs blew the Clippers out as a result), and the list goes on and on all season long with Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and other stars seemingly resting more than ever before.

There is no easy answer here. Coaches and team medical staffs tasked with ensuring their players peak for the playoffs are resting guys during the season (and on back-to-backs) to avoid injuries and fatigue. Top players have their personal trainers monitoring them and weighing in on these decisions. The NBA schedule is still too long — but reducing that number is a financial mess — and there is nothing in the upcoming CBA that will change this trend.

But fans are noticing. Keep showing them the regular season doesn’t matter and they will respond in kind.

In LeBron’s case — and he hasn’t missed much time this season — this pushes back the timeline for him to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record to Feb. 7 against the Thunder or Feb. 9 against the Bucks, both games in Los Angeles at the Arena. If you want to think that’s a coincidence, go ahead, but I’m a little more cynical than that.