LeBron James sets tone, Kyrie Irving gets hot, Cleveland extends Finals with 112-97 win

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OAKLAND — All series long, the Cavaliers have struggled to stop the Warriors’ offense.

Without Draymond Green, the Warriors couldn’t stop the Cavaliers’ offense.

The result was an old-fashioned, fast-paced shootout (102 possessions, the most in this series) — and in that setting, LeBron James thrived on his way to 41 points. He set the tone with aggressive, attacking play on both ends. Kyrie Irving, not seeing Green every time he tried to drive, felt comfortable and hit inside and out, and racked up 41 of his own and put on the best display of his career on the biggest stage he’s ever been on.

The Warriors couldn’t keep up that pace (3-of-21 from three in the second half), and the result was a 112-97 Cavaliers win that sends the series back to Cleveland for Game 6 Thursday. Golden State still leads the series 3-2.

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James combined to score 72 percent of the Cavaliers’ points. Add in assists and they combined to generate 98 of the team’s 112 points. They are the first teammates ever to both score more than 40 points in the same NBA Finals game.

“They had two great games, two breakout games,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We need those two guys to give us confidence early, and they both did that.”

“At this point, it’s whatever it takes,” LeBron said of playing a larger role in the offense. “Obviously making shots and things of that nature are something that you sometimes really can’t control. Sometimes the ball go in; sometimes it don’t. How hard you play, how locked in you are on the keys to get a victory.”

LeBron has been aggressive driving the lane all series, what was different in Game 5 (besides Green not being there to protect the rim) was that his jump shot fell with regularity. All series long the Warriors have been going under picks, backing off, daring LeBron to shoot jump shots, and for the first time this series he made them pay. Here is his shot chart on the night:

LeBron Game 5 shot chart

Irving was efficient all night long — 17-of-24 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three. He made tough shots, he created space, he played well in transition, and was the best player on the court in the fourth quarter when the Warriors tried to make a comeback.

“Kyrie was great tonight, he had my number,” Klay Thompson said after the game.

Led by those two, the Cavaliers were attacking from the start but gained confidence as the game wore on and they felt more comfortable. No Green played a role in that, but it was not the entire story.

“We weren’t very good defensively,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We obviously knew we were without Draymond, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn’t. Both those guys played terrific games, shot the ball well. I thought our defensive communication was lacking. We had some plays where we didn’t pick up in transition, and we had some cross matches that we didn’t identify and they got free, especially Kyrie, and made a lot of shots in transition where we just weren’t there.”

The Warriors came out with defensive intensity early with a couple of strips inside, pressuring LeBron who started 0-of-2, but he found his jump shot stroke early and went 2-of-2 from three, plus hit some mid-rangers in the first quarter. The Warriors got the lead up to seven, but mostly it was a close first quarter where Cleveland shot 52.6 percent but were undone by eight turnovers. It was 32-29 Warriors after one.

Cavaliers opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run but the Warriors closed the gap because Klay Thompson flat out could not miss — he had 18 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the second alone. But the Warriors had seven second quarter turnovers and that undercut Thompson’s shooting. So did the fact LeBron (25 first half points) and Kyrie Irving (18 points on 8-of-10 shooting) were red not, feeling the freedom of no Green switching on to them. It was 61-61 at the half.

In the third quarter, Andrew Bogut went down with what looked like an injury that will have him out for the rest of the series. Bogut rotated over and rejected the layup of a driving J.R. Smith, but the collision left him in pain below the basket, grabbing his left knee in obvious pain. Play continued for a minute before Kerr called a timeout.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers came out attacking the rim in the third, while the Warriors just missed shots — Golden State was 2-of-11 from three in the third, with several airballs. With the Cavaliers attacking — and LeBron knocking down the jumpers they dared him to take all series — the Cavaliers pushed out to a 93-84 lead after three.

Golden State could not hit their threes and close the gap, with Cleveland pulling away and extending the series. The Cavaliers won the first of three they need to win. The Warriors remained confident.

“Well, we’re in the same place we were last year, up 3-2 heading back to Cleveland,” Kerr said. “If you told me this before the series, I would have taken it. So we’re in a good spot. We’re disappointed we didn’t win tonight, but, like I said, they outplayed us.”

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.”