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.”

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.