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

82 Comments

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.

Short offseason, uncertain financial outlook may mean fewer coaches fired

76ers coach Brett Brown
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Already this season, Kenny Atkinson was out in Brooklyn, the New York Knicks fired coach David Fizdale, and John Beilein was shown the door in Cleveland (with J.B. Bickerstaff hired to replace him). That was just the tip of the iceberg in expected NBA coaching changes this offseason, the buzz around the league was between four and up to 10 more coaches would be fired.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Now those same teams are looking at a shortened offseason, while at the same time the owners have taken a financial hit and aren’t thrilled about the idea of paying two coaches at once, and suddenly it looks like a lot more coaches are safe. Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps touched on that in their story about next season at ESPN.

After much chatter before the stoppage of changes in the coaching ranks, several league executives told ESPN that teams might be more likely to hang on to coaching staffs longer than planned to avoid paying out millions to coaches fired in current market conditions.

A lot front office sources around the NBA are speculating about the same thing.

Expect a few changes. Mike D’Antoni’s contract is up in Houston and few around the league expect him to return next season. Jim Boylen is considered the walking dead in Chicago where there is a new front-office regime. New York and Brooklyn still have to hire their guys.

However, other guys considered almost certainly gone — Brett Brown in Philadelphia or Scott Brooks in Washington, for example — may keep their gig another year because of the uncertain waters of the NBA right now. Maybe not, there could be firings, but don’t expect the tidal wave of coaching changes to wash over the NBA that everyone expected back in February.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

View this post on Instagram

Built for this 💪

A post shared by New Orleans Pelicans (@pelicansnba) on

What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.