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

43 Comments

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.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

Leave a comment

There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

4 Comments

Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
8 Comments

Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.