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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.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

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Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Vote on NBA restart format expected next Thursday, here are four plans on the table

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The NBA is almost guaranteed to return to action in July, with the games taking place in Orlando.

What format the return takes is undecided, but the owners are expected to vote on that next Thursday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On Friday’s conference call with owners, Adam Silver reportedly laid out four options for them, something Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

There was no consensus behind any one option, teams are all lobbying for what they want to see. Come next Thursday, Adam Silver is going to have to make a recommendation and get everyone to line up behind it, something the owners and players will do. This is Silver’s call.

Let’s break those options down.

• 16 teams going directly into playoffs. This is the cleanest, most straightforward option, and it has support from a number of owners. This keeps the number of people in the bubble relatively small, making it easier to maintain the safety of players, coaches, staff, and everyone involved. The league likely would keep the conference format rather than go to 1-16 seeding (many owners from the Eastern Conference and coastal cities reportedly are not fans of 1-16 and fear if they do it once, even in this unique season, it would become a regular thing).

One downside is players have asked for some regular season games — or games with meaning — before the playoffs to get their legs under them, this does not provide any (increasing the risk of injury). The other downside is this takes almost half the NBA’s markets and tells them “you’re done, no games from March until Christmas (the expected date for the tip-off of next season, or maybe a week or two earlier). That’s a long time without games and can hurt momentum for those franchises.

• 20 teams, group play for the first round. This is the World Cup soccer idea, with four groups of five teams each and the top two teams in each group advancing to the playoffs. Some fans and teams backed this idea because it provided a bit of randomness to the mix — soccer sees a lot of upsets in this format. On the flip side, the top teams were not fans of this plan for the same reason.

The buzz around the league is this format is basically dead to the owners.

• 22 teams with regular season games to determine seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to the 16-team playoffs. This idea, in a couple of different forms (one with just 20 teams, some with 24) has some momentum. The idea is the 22 teams — all teams within six games off the last playoff spot in each conference, which is the Wizards in the East and the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns in the West — would play eight regular season games, then standings at the end of those games would set up the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. After that, the playoffs would start. This gets more markets involved, gets some regular season games (helping some regional sports networks), and still has a full playoffs.

There are downsides. It brings more people into the bubble and is that risk worth the reward? There are going to be some meaningless regular season games here, both by teams eliminated and teams locked into their playoff spots (the Lakers and Bucks will treat these games like exhibitions). It also adds a couple of weeks to the season and pushes the end-date back deeper into September and maybe October.

• 30 teams, a regular season to get to 72 games, then a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs. This is the idea to “finish” the regular season. We’re not going to waste time on it because my sources, and those of other reporters, have called this one dead on arrival.

Silver is going to get lobbied all week by different factions backing different plans, but by next Thursday he has to pick a one he can sell to owners and to players. There are no good options, he has to choose the least bad one.

From there, players will get called back to market for workouts and the clock will start.

So long as the league can keep everyone safe.

Bradley Beal: Contract extension gives Wizards opportunity, me flexibility

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Bradley Beal, through word and action, has shown an incredibly strong commitment to the Wizards.

But is there an opening to pry him from Washington?

Beal on his contract extension, via “All The Smoke“:

It was definitely tough. I came down to damn near the deadline on my decision, because I kind of play devil’s advocate. The whole year, I’m weighing pros and cons of staying or leaving, signing and not signing. Do I wait and try to sign this summer? Or do I wait and try to get traded? Or do I wait and play my contract out? So, I had a bunch of options.

I secured two more years. I have two more years here. Well, three. And, so for me, it was like that puts me – to me, I don’t think I’m going to hit my prime until I’m – what? – 29, 28, 29, 30? And so I feel like – at the end of this extension, it puts me right there. And it so kind of puts me in the prime time of my basketball. And so it still gives me the flexibility with also giving my respects and loyalty to the organization that drafted me. So, I’m still giving you all an opportunity here to make it with work with John, to make it work with everybody. So, here we go. We’ve got a couple more years. And granted, I think my extension is the length of John’s contract, as well. So, this is the time we’ve got. We’re going to see what we can do, and we’re going to make it work.

Beal on the Nets being interested in trading for him, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me.

“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant] want you, s—, that’s amazing. At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team.

“But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

Beal, 26, is locked up two more seasons. Both he and John Wall have player options for 2022-23. Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, declared: “There are no Beal Sweepstakes.”

Everything Beal has said and done about staying in Washington is far more concrete than anything he has indicated about leaving.

But…

It’s interesting how close he came to not signing his extension. It’s interesting he publicly admitted to thinking about trade interest from other teams.

To me, Beal sounds like Anthony Davis – after years of stating loyalty to the Pelicans – subtly hinting he was dissatisfied in New Orleans. The key: Davis requested a trade only after the Pelicans kept struggling to build around him.

Beal is giving the Wizards an opportunity. Maybe they can assemble a winner around him. But even if Wall gets healthy, that’s a tough job.

If Washington becomes successful in the next couple years, great. That’s easy. Beal seems to be looking for reasons to stay.

But if the Wizards keep losing the next couple years, other teams will definitely line up to acquire the star shooting guard. Many players in that situation have greased the wheels of their exit by saying they won’t re-sign or even outright requesting a trade.

We’ll see how Washington does. We’ll see what Beal does at that point.

Considering Beal previously said he’d finish his career with the Wizards if he can control it, these recent interviews leave the door cracked slightly – only slightly – more ajar for Beal to depart.