Warriors dig early hole with misses, Cavaliers don’t let them out, win 115-101 to force Game 7

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CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry tried. With the rest of his team ice cold, he went Davidson for a stretch and just tried to do everything himself, on his way to 30 points. But in the end, he fouled out — and in frustration chucked his mouth guard, which will bring a fine from the league.

Klay Thompson tried, he went off for 15 third quarter points to close the gap.

But LeBron James would not let it happen.

In a game that makes him the Finals MVP favorite — whichever team wins Game 7 — LeBron had 41 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds hitting 16-of-27 shots. And he had an emphatic rejection of Curry that was the exclamation point on the night. In two elimination games, LeBron has 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 6 blocks, and is a +37.

“It’s LeBron being LeBron,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He’s one of the greatest of all times. Our back was against the wall and he took it upon himself in the last couple games, himself and Kyrie, to really put this team on their backs and really get us to where we’re trying to get to and that’s a Game 7 in Golden State.”

Behind LeBron and a big night from Tristan Thompson — 15 points and 16 rebounds — the Cavaliers raced out to a 22-point first-quarter lead behind ice-cold shooting from the Warriors (who got good looks and clanked them), then held off a couple of Golden State rallies to win 115-101.

Game 7 is Sunday night in Oakland.

Cleveland fans — with five decades of built up passion — roared their approval all night and by the end were chanting “see you Sunday” and “Cavs in seven.”

Cleveland earned this win by playing harder, with more force and desperation than the Warriors all night. But they were aided by a Warriors team that couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean, got frustrated with the officiating and let it impact their play, and made some stupid passes and poor defensive gambles for a usually smart team.

The Cavaliers won this game by bringing that force from the opening tip.

Cavaliers got off to an 8-0 start because Warriors started 0-of-7 shooting, and that trend continued through the first quarter. Harrison Barnes remained ice cold and bricked a trio of wide open threes (he was 0-of-8 shooting on the night and by the end the Cavs let him take jumpers). Golden State shot 5-of-22 in the first quarter (22.7 percent) and 1-of-9 from three — a number of those very clean looks — with four turnovers, which allowed the Cavaliers to get out run, score a dozen points in the paint and shoot 57.1 percent in the first.

The result was a 31-11 Cleveland lead after one quarter. It was the hole the Warriors could never climb out of.

“Obviously Cleveland brought a lot of force to the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought we had some good shots early that didn’t go in, and it was like 6-0 after about four minutes. Our defense was pretty good. They had a couple run-outs where they got lay-ups, but our halfcourt defense was good. We just could not get a shot to fall, and then they just blitzed us. As I said, they deserved to win the game. They outplayed us. It was too difficult to come back from 20 down.”

“But once again, they won the game in the first quarter,” Klay Thompson said. “Come Sunday, we’ve got to blitz them. We can’t be on our heels and them be the aggressor. We’ve got so many good players on this team that if they’re trying to take out me, Steph, or whoever, someone’s going to step up.”

Golden State did make a few runs. One came in the second as the Warriors settled down, got stops, hit a few shots (they started 4-of-8 from three in the quarter behind Curry) and chipped away at the lead, getting it all the way down to eight. However, Curry picked up a third foul on a stupid reach, Green picked up a third going over Dahntay Jones back and after Barnes kept missing the Cavaliers went on a run to get the lead back up to 16. At the half, it was 59-43 Cleveland, with the Warriors shooting 5-of-21 from three (Curry was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the team 1-of-13 with Barnes and Thompson a combined 0-of-9).

To start the third Barnes missed three more open looks and the Cavaliers stretched the lead out to 24 again. Stephen Curry was the only Warrior hitting and resorted to Davidson mode trying to do everything himself, and he got the lead cut to 15. But a turnover by the Warriors and an offensive rebound by the Cavs stomped on any momentum the Warriors would build. Cleveland just continued to out work Golden State.

Then suddenly the Thompson-inspired run came — he had 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the third. Warriors went on a 10-0 run as Thompson hit threes and the Cavaliers slowed down and isolated on offense, allowing the Warriors to defend and get stops. The score was 80-71 Cavaliers after three, just nine points.

Once again in the fourth the Warriors got the lead down to eight. But they struggled to get stops consistently – especially when LeBron started taking over with strong drives and smart passes to set up Thompson and others. Plus, the Warriors would break out a little playground passing — something that works for them against lesser teams during the season — and it would lead to momentum-killing turnovers and transition chances for the Cavaliers.

The end came ultimately when Curry fouled out with a few minutes to go — in frustration he threw his mouth guard into the stands and it hit a fan, which got him ejected and will bring a $25,000 fine from the league. Curry was hot. But he and the Warriors let the inconsistent officiating get into their heads.

“Yeah, I’m happy he threw his mouthpiece,” Kerr said postgame as part of a rant about the officiating that will bring him a fine from the league Monday. “He should be upset. Look, it’s The Finals and everybody’s competing out there. There’s fouls on every play. It’s a physical game. I just think that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the way we run our offense, we’re running, we’re cutting through the lane, we’re a rhythm offense. If they’re going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you’re going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don’t agree with that.”

The officiating was inconsistent all game. LeBron played through it.

Because of it, on Sunday his team has a chance at history.

Anthony Davis on sprained ankle: “Rolled it pretty bad… I’ll be fine”

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Anthony Davis has been the best Laker throughout the playoffs, particularly in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets. Davis averaged 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and the Los Angeles Lakers are outscoring the Nuggets by seven points per 100 possessions when Davis is on the floor.

Behind the play of Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and now just have to do what the Jazz and Clippers couldn’t: Get one more win.

Which might be harder to do after Davis rolled his ankle midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night.

Davis stayed in the game after that, but could it impact him in Game 5?

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Laker coach Fran Vogel noted that with ankles it is often the next day when there is a sense of the severity.

“We’ll see how it responds overnight, responds to treatment,” Vogel said. “Yeah, there’s always concern with an injury like that. It was good for him to play through it, but we’ll see how he responds overnight.”

With the Lakers just one win from the NBA Finals, if Anthony Davis can walk he will play on Saturday in Game 5. The Lakers want to close this series out, they have seen what happens to teas that let the Nuggets hang around.

 

LeBron James speaks more on Breonna Taylor, power of Black women

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The decision not to prosecute the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her home has frustrated and angered NBA players. A number of them have spoken out, including Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who played his college ball in Louisville, Taylor’s home town.

LeBron James also has spoken out, saying the walls of Taylor’s neighbors got more justice than she did.

Asked about it after the Lakers Game 4 win on Thursday, LeBron spoke about justice.

LeBron also had taken to social media to talk about the challenges Black women face.

When asked about that Tweet after Thursday’s game, James was more than willing to open up on the topic.

“You just look at the history of America and the disrespect that Black women have gotten for the last 400 years. You can’t turn a blind eye to that,” James said. “When I look at my household and see my daughter, who is five on her way to six, my wife and my mom, rest in peace my grandmother, so many Black women have done so many things for me. Seeing the sacrifices they made, especially my mom when I was growing up. They were disrespected along the way and it’s still like that today.

“In the case of Breonna Taylor’s case, it’s just shown once again that the walls of the neighbor is more important than her life.

“So not only did I want to acknowledge all the queens in this world, all the Black queens in this world, but the ones in my life, the personal ones, too. I just kind of had a moment yesterday. I mean, I have a lot of moments, but felt like it was important to let Black women know that you’re not alone. No matter the disrespect or what they may feel, don’t stop. Because that’s exactly what they want you guys to do. They want you guys to stop. They want you guys not to be as powerful as you guys are, not as strong as you guys are, as determined as you guys are. They want you all to be at bay. They want you to accept what’s going on. For sure, I won’t allow that.”

Powerful words from LeBron, who once again is using his platform to speak for a lot of others with these sentiments.

Second chance points, clutch LeBron defense earns Lakers win to go up 3-1 on Denver

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It’s a simple and obvious truth about any basketball game: The team that shoots better usually wins.

The Denver Nuggets shot 50.6% in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, including 10-of-28 from three (leading to a true shooting percentage of 62%). The Los Angeles Lakers shot 47.5% overall and 10-of-30 from three (a true shooting percentage of 59.7%). The Nuggets shot better Thursday night.

However, the better shooting team does not win when it gets crushed in another key area.

The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40.4% of their missed shots — including at three critical possessions in crunch time — and scored 25 second-chance points to Denver having six. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking LeBron James and Anthony Davis getting to the free-throw line 28 times — Denver as a team had 23 free throw attempts — and LeBron playing fantastic defense down the stretch on Jamal Murray, and a team can overcome a shooting deficit.

The result was the Lakers holding off a resilient Denver team to win 114-108, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 is Saturday night.

While the Nuggets came back from 3-1 down on the Jazz and Clippers, this series feels different — Denver may have run out of miracles. The way the Lakers closed out this game showed why the Lakers will not go the ways of Jazz and Clippers.

Once again, Davis was the best Laker on the floor, scoring 34 points on 10-of-15 shooting plus playing strong defense (his light rebounding numbers, five in this game, are overblown because the Lakers as a team are rebounding well).

But there are two key reasons the won the Lakers the game — two critical reasons they were able to hold off a Denver comeback when the Jazz and Clippers faltered in similar situations:

• The Lakers were dominant on the offensive glass, as mentioned above. They got a second chance on four out of 10 missed shots (the league average is about 26-27% of missed shots become offensive rebounds). Dwight Howard was doing it early, Davis was doing it late (plus Rajon Rondo had a critical one), but the Lakers getting a second chance to score and run off some clock down the stretch changed the game.

• LeBron James asked to guard Jamal Murray down the stretch — in the final five minutes of the game Murray was 0-of-3 shooting.

“LeBron asked for the assignment and obviously I granted it…” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said postgame. “Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until ‘Bron took that assignment.”

Vogel isn’t kidding. Murray was torching the Lakers, getting into the lane, and finding a way to finish — including maybe the best layup of the playoffs so far.

Murray finished with 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, but LeBron held him mostly in check down the stretch (Murray did hit four free throws).

LeBron also had a strong game despite his jumper not falling because he hunted mismatches, throwing the Denver defense into a scramble, plus LeBron commands a double team when he gets the ball at the elbow or on the block and that opens things up.

Another key for Los Angeles was a great first half from Dwight Howard, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the first half while keeping the ball out of Jokic’s hands. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 13 points.

Davis rolled his ankle in the fourth quarter, limped around on it, stayed in the game and made some plays down the stretch. A slowed Davis would be a reason for concern for the Lakers.

“My ankle feels fine,” Davis said postgame. “I’ve got tonight, tomorrow, before the game to get it back to where it is, but it’s good enough to play. I rolled it pretty bad, but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

If Denver is going to shock the world, it needs to keep Paul Millsap and his defense on the floor more, then the Nuggets need Gary Harris and other bench players to step up with big moments.

The Nuggets also need to find a way to slow LeBron and Davis. There may not be an answer to that question.

Watch Jamal Murray hit insane hand-switching layup around LeBron

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Are. You. Kidding. Me.

You are not going to see a better layup these playoffs than this one by Denver’s Jamal Murray, going around LeBron James near the end of the first half of Game 4.

Murray went up thinking dunk, had to change his mind because of LeBron, brought it down, went around him, and spun it in off the glass. Insane. It had some people on Twitter referencing the legendary Michael Jordan hand-switching shot. Not sure I’m willing to compare this Murray shot to a layup that helped launch a dynasty, but it’s close.

Murray had 16 in the first half but the Nuggets trailed at the break 60-55 in a high scoring first half. Anthony Davis had 19 to lead the Lakers.