LeBron James wins one for Cleveland — Cavaliers beat Warriors 93-89 to win NBA title

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OAKLAND — There will be no more questioning of LeBron James‘ legacy.

He played three of the best games in NBA Finals history back-to-back-to-back — including a Game 7 triple-double of 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It earned him the NBA Finals MVP Award. It earned the Cavaliers the first-ever comeback from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers looked like a beaten team after those first four games, but the suspension of Draymond Green opened the door a crack and LeBron blasted that door open and pulled his teammates through.

He got help, most notably Sunday from a Kyrie Irving step-back three with :53 seconds left that ended up being the game-winner. The Cavaliers held the Warriors scoreless for the final 4:39 of the game, with the Warriors scoring 13 points in the fourth total. Cleveland executed better on both ends when it mattered most in a Game 7.

“Really it was a couple of key plays,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the fourth quarter advantage. “Kyrie hit an incredible shot, really well contested, and then LeBron had the two plays back-to-back where he got fouled on the three and then made a three. That kind of swung things in their favor.”

Cleveland won the NBA Finals with a 93-89 victory Sunday in as entertaining and close a Game 7 as any of us may ever see.

It is the first title ever for the Cavaliers.

It is the first for the city of Cleveland in any major sport since 1964.

“I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not….” LeBron said. “I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”

One year ago, it was the Warriors celebrating on Cleveland’s home court, this year the Cavs flipped the script. Kerr said his team was stunned.

The Cavaleirs did it by attacking inside all night — Cleveland had 48 points in the paint, 20 more than the Warriors.

Golden State tried to balance that out with threes, but in the fourth the Cavaliers overplayed the perimeter and the Warriors did not make them pay with back cuts and dives to the rim (as they had done to so many teams throughout the season). When the Warriors needed a three late, Stephen Curry could not shake free of Kevin Love for a good look, and at the other end LeBron ended the game with a free throw following a painful fall after Draymond Green foul on a dunk attempt.

“A lot of it was kind of myself kind of leading the charge and settling too much,” Curry said postgame. “At home in the fourth quarter, I felt like we could go for that dagger punch and didn’t really put any pressure on the defense getting to the paint and trying to force the issue that way, and really just kind of settled too much. That’s something that is tough to kind of swallow with the opportunity we had in front of us.”

This game was not always pretty — Game 7s rarely are — but the Cavaliers attacked, and played with more force and grit.

Golden State’s Festus Ezeli got the start (to preserve Andre Iguodala’s sore back for later in the game), and the Warriors went to him a few times early because the help came from his man — and he was 0-of-3, two of them missed dunks (one blocked by Tristan Thompson). Plus Kevin Love literally ripped a rebound out of his hands. Love was not much better, starting 1-of-4. So both were out midway through the first and it was a small ball game. In the first quarter the Warriors hit five threes, but they shot 33 percent inside the arc and the Cavaliers owned the glass, 16 to nine. Love had seven boards on his own. The result was a 23-22 Cavs lead after one.

The second quarter was dramatic, but close most of the way — the Warriors kept hitting threes (10-of-21 in the first half), the Cavaliers kept getting buckets inside and some old-fashioned three-point plays. The drama included LeBron rejecting a Curry shot, again, and a little trash talk.

But the story of the first half was Draymond Green, who had 22 points hitting 5-of-5 from three, plus six rebounds and five assists. He pushed the Warriors out to a 49-42 halftime lead.

Green finished the game with 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting, plus he had 15 points and nine assists. But the Warriors were not going to win this game unless he got help, and he never did. For the game Curry had 17 points on 19 shots, Klay Thompson had 14 points on 17 shots.

Cleveland started the second half on a 12-5 run behind two threes from J.R. Smith and more poor play from Ezeli, and the score was quickly tied 54-54. But Curry answered that with a 5-0 personal run that included a blocked shot on defense.

Cleveland had its own 11-0 run in the middle of the third pushed their lead out to six points, and it was really all about them exposing Anderson Varejao on both ends of the court (the Warriors missed the injured Andrew Bogut badly this game). Barnes finally came in and scored the next four points for Warriors. It didn’t take long before the game was tied 71-71, and at the end of three it was 76-75 Warriors after three.

Midway through fourth, the Cavaliers were up three, and Oracle was nervous. The Warriors were swinging the ball to open players, as they have all season, but the open shots from role players were not knocking down the shots they had all season to propel the Warriors to 73 wins.

So Stephen Curry hit a contested three. Next trip down the court, Klay Thompson hit one. The Splash Brothers had the Warriors up three. But when it mattered most, the Warriors went cold in the face of the Cavaliers’ pressure defense (in a way they did not against Oklahoma City last round).

“I thought both teams played exceptional defense in the fourth quarter,” Kerr said. “Shots were hard to come by. The few that we did have that were open we weren’t able to knock down. But this is kind of how it goes in Game 7.”

“We missed shots down the stretch, they missed shots down the stretch, but they hit the big one, Kyrie’s three,” Green said.

Cleveland made enough plays to earn the win.

And bring the first title to Northeast Ohio in 52 years.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.