Warriors, Cavaliers features best starters AND benches in 2017 NBA playoffs

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John Wall called the Wizards’ bench their “downfall” in the playoffs – a fair assessment. Washington’s starters outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions and its bench got outscored by 15.5 points per 100 possessions – the biggest disparity this side of Oklahoma City.

I made this chart to illustrate the point:

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Even more glaring than the Thunder, look at the Cavaliers and Warriors in the top right corner. The NBA Finalists had – by far – the best and second-best starters AND benches (as defined by NBA.com) in the 2017 playoffs.

Golden State’s starters are +21.9 per 100 possessions and its bench is +7.8. Cleveland (+19.4, +8.6) has also excelled with both starters and reserves.

The Warriors boast a Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala) and two-time All-Star (David West) off their bench. The Cavs often have LeBron James run sweet-shooting reserve-heavy units (that include Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson and Channning Frye).

After a lousy postseason so far, maybe these teams will provide 48 minutes of thrilling action each game of the Finals.

This is just the third matchup in the last 21 years (as far back as NBA.com records go) where the top two starters and benches through the first three rounds of the playoffs met in the Finals, joining Heat-Spurs in 2013 and 2014.

Here’s every Finals matchup in that span with starters rank, bench rank by net rating among the 16 playoff teams:

  • 2017: Golden State Warriors (1, 2) | Cleveland Cavaliers (2, 1)
  • 2016: Cleveland Cavaliers (1, 1) | Golden State Warriors (2, 3)
  • 2015: Golden State Warriors (2, 4) | Cleveland Cavaliers (1, 2)
  • 2014: San Antonio Spurs (1, 2) | Miami Heat (2, 1)
  • 2013: Miami Heat (1, 2) | San Antonio Spurs (2, 1)
  • 2012: Miami Heat (2, 1) | Oklahoma City Thunder (3, 2)
  • 2011: Dallas Mavericks (2, 2) | Miami Heat (4, 1)
  • 2010: Los Angeles Lakers (3, 5) | Boston Celtics (2, 6)
  • 2009: Los Angeles Lakers (3, 3) | Orlando Magic (4, 2)
  • 2008: Boston Celtics (1, 10) | Los Angeles Lakers (2, 5)
  • 2007: San Antonio Spurs (2, 4) | Cleveland Cavaliers (7, 1)
  • 2006: Miami Heat (2, 1) | Dallas Mavericks (1, 3)
  • 2005: San Antonio Spurs (4, 1) | Detroit Pistons (2, 5)
  • 2004: Detroit Pistons (1, 6) | Los Angeles Lakers (2, 4)
  • 2003: San Antonio Spurs (2, 1) | New Jersey Nets (1, 5)
  • 2002: Los Angeles Lakers (4, 7) | New Jersey Nets (5, 8)
  • 2001: Los Angeles Lakers (1, 1) | Philadelphia 76ers (8, 3)
  • 2000: Los Angeles Lakers (2, 3) | Indiana Pacers (7, 2)
  • 1999: San Antonio Spurs (1, 3) | New York Knicks (2, 1)
  • 1998: Chicago Bulls (1, 2) | Utah Jazz (5, 1)
  • 1997: Chicago Bulls (1, 5) | Utah Jazz (2, 11)

Report: Knicks undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier will have higher salary than 20 of 30 2018 first-round picks

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Allonzo Trier took a winding road to the Knicks – grade-school acclaim, failed drug tests at Arizona, going undrafted – but he’s thriving now. Trier is scoring 11.3 points per game, one of the highest marks ever for an undrafted rookie in his first professional season.

About to run out of NBA service days on his two-way contract, Trier is cashing in.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

The most the Knicks had to offer Trier over two years is $6,933,100 through the bi-annual exception – $3,382,000 this season and $3,551,100 next season. It sounds as if Trier got that and Begley is rounding.

That’d put Trier’s 2018-19 salary above 20 of this year’s 30 first-round picks. Not bad for an undrafted player.

Trier gets buckets. I still have questions about the 22-year-old’s all-around game, but he has proven himself an NBA contributor. New York did well to reward him and keep him on the roster the rest of the season.

The Knicks are essentially buying flexibility next summer by paying Trier so much now. They’re gearing up for 2019 free agency – most notably, Kevin Durant – and value cap space.

If Trier plays well enough, New York can always exercise his team option and keep him for next season. If not, the Knicks can decline the team option. At that point, they could make Trier a restricted free agent or renounce him entirely to maximize cap room.

Even if he completes this contract, New York can still make Trier a restricted free agent in 2020. It’s a lot of team control.

This comes at a cost, in addition to Trier’s salary, of waiving potential trade chip Ron Baker. Baker’s $4,544,400 expiring contract could have been useful in a trade, though the Knicks’ reluctance to add future salary limited options for utilizing Baker’s contract.

Baker will be best remembered for New York rushing to give him that absurd deal on the first day of 2017 free agency, breaking his face when Anthony Davis dunked on him and sucking on a contact lens then trying to put it in his eye.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slaps Malik Monk for premature-celebration technical foul (video)

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Malik Monk ran onto the court to celebrate Jeremy Lamb‘s game-winner last night.

One problem: The game wasn’t over.

Lamb’s jumper put the Hornets up two with 0.3 seconds left, and the Pistons were trying to inbound. Officials called a technical foul, and Detroit made the free throw. But Charlotte still held on for the 108-107 win.

The situation created a few tense moments, though. While officials reviewed the play, Hornets owner Michael Jordan playfully slapped the back of Monk’s head a couple times.

Zach Aldridge of WCCB:

I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure those slaps were playful until Jordan and Monk smiled afterward. Jordan is an intense competitor. He once punched then-Bulls teammate Steve Kerr in the face during practice. I bet there was an element of actual warning behind Jordan’s slaps, even if they were mostly joking.

Why did only Monk receive the treatment? He drew the most attention for running onto the court – but just because he stayed at least somewhat near the bench. Bismack Biyombo was practically at halfcourt! Ashley Holder:

It’s amazing Biyombo escaped the owner’s wrath. Does Jordan know how much he’s paying Biyombo?

Watch Warriors be given SI’s Sportsperson of the Year tonight on NBCSN

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Traditionally, Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award is given to a… person. Last year it was the NFL’s J.J. Watt and the MLB’s José Altuve splitting the award. Before that it was LeBron James, or Serena Williams, or Madison Bumgarner, or Peyton Manning. All individuals.

This year, Sports Illustrated stepped out of the box and gave the award to a team — the Golden State Warriors.

Tonight you can watch the Warriors receive their award, at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN or on the NBC Sports app.

In addition to the Sportsperson (or, team) of the Year there will be other awards presented, such as the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, SportsKid of the Year, and three separate awards given to athletes who inspired, amazed and surprised the entire sports universe in 2018.

Teams have won the award before — the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team, the 2004 Boston Red Sox — but it’s rare.

Why the Warriors? I’ll let the eloquent Chris Ballard of SI explain.

There are myriad reasons Sports Illustrated is honoring the Warriors with its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year Award. For sustained excellence, business innovation and cultural impact. For injecting joy into the game and setting fire to conventional wisdom. For winning with a center built like a forward, a point guard built like a featherweight and an offense predicated on the idea that stars want nothing more than to pass the ball to someone who will pass the ball to someone else who might shoot from 27 feet. For thinking the game and speaking out. For being fun to love and fun to hate. For rewarding the stubborn faith of the Oakland fans, not only with titles but also a basketball purist’s approach. And, of course, for always keeping things interesting.

The Warriors are all that. And it’s fitting to honor them as a team, not individuals, because that’s what makes them unique. Stephen Curry sets the tone and culture (plus hits ridiculous threes) but Kevin Durant is their best player, Klay Thompson is magical, and Draymond Green is both the emotional leader and the defensive glue that makes it all work. They are all great players, but they are the perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

They deserve the award. As a franchise.

Tune in tonight and watch them receive the honor.

Three Things to Know: Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is clutch. Kyrie Irving has hit big shots before — he’s hit bigger ones on much bigger stages than he did Wednesday. This was just a reminder that Irving has that thing all the great clutch players have: He’s got the same stroke with the same confidence, the same mentality, in the final minute of a close game he does in the second quarter of a blowout. Irving doesn’t flinch. Nothing gets bigger or smaller, he just makes his play.

Against the Wizards Wednesday Irving made his play in overtime, scoring a dozen points in the frame and draining two clutch threes to get Boston its seventh straight win, 130-125 over a pesky Wizards team.

There’s nothing John Wall could have done better on either of those (and Wall had his best night of the season with 34 points and 13 assists). On the first three he was right up on Irving, into his jersey and taking away space right at the arc, and it didn’t matter. Good offense beats good defense. On the second three, Irving has range but only Stephen Curry gets guarded that far from the hoop.

The final minute of overtime — with neither team calling time out — was rare and a thing of beauty.

It should be noted, Irving doesn’t get to play the hero without big nights from Marcus Morris (27 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart (18 points, nine rebounds, some quality defense).

Boston has won seven in a row, and while they’ve done it against a softer section of the schedule: 1) you’ve got to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat; 2) it’s building confidence for when the schedule gets tougher again.

The Celtics look like a team that is back. It’s just a lot more crowded at the top of the East than we expected.

2) Anthony Davis makes his MVP case willing Pelicans to victory over Thunder. It’s not fair to say that Anthony Davis single-handedly beat the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night. Jrue Holiday did have 20 points and 10 assists — but he also had two crucial turnovers late that almost sank the Pelicans.

New Orleans is not deep, has holes in its roster, but when Anthony Davis plays like this — 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting,18 rebounds, and he got to the free throw line 11 times and hit every shot — they can hang with anyone. Because Davis is that good. He is in the early MVP conversation for a reason.

This was Davis’ second straight game of 40+, he did that to Boston a couple of nights earlier. He is just a joy to watch this season because he is playing at such a high level on both ends.

3) Toronto makes its case, sweeps season series by crushing Golden State at Oracle. Warriors fans went full on peak Shaq/Kobe spoiled Lakers fans Wednesday night — they just left the game early. Better to beat the traffic and go get some drinks/go home and go to bed rather than watch Toronto just pick apart the Warriors any longer.

And make no mistake, the Raptors picked apart the Warriors. Their game plan was well crafted, executed even better, and the Raptors defended beautifully all night.

Toronto came into Golden State in what was touted as a potential Finals preview, but right now only one of these teams is playing like a team hungry and building toward a championship. And it’s not the reigning champions. The Warriors had one of their disinterested nights, a game where they turned the ball over 17 times and shot 23.1 percent from 3-point range.

Do that against the Raptors right now and they will thrash you — which is exactly what happened. Even without Kawhi Leonard (out for a second straight game with a hip injury). The Raptors are defending and executing at a high level right now, so much so they are 7-1 without Leonard in the lineup. Serge Ibaka’s redemption tour continued with 20 points and 12 rebounds as he destroyed anyone the Warriors threw at him. Kyle Lowry had 23 and is all the way out of his slump (that showed against the Clippers the night before).

Danny Green may have been the most underrated pickup of the summer (coming from San Antonio in the Kawhi trade) and added 15.

But mostly, it was the Raptors defense, which held the Warriors to a 93 points per 100 possessions pace, that got them the win.

If these two teams meet in the Finals — and that is a real possibility, with Leonard this should be a different Toronto team in the postseason — the game will not look like this. It will be a fully engaged Golden State squad, one that can also roll out DeMarcus Cousins. But right now, the Raptors are building good habits and building confidence toward that moment.

The Warriors are just waiting to flip the switch.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jeremy Lamb drained a game winner… that his teammates almost screw up with celebration. Usually we’d just be celebrating Jeremy Lamb’s game-winner — and marveling that someone other than Kemba Walker could hit a clutch shot for Charlotte.

But in this case, it’s the celebrations of Bismack Biyombo and Malik Monk — running out onto the court with 0.3 seconds left and getting a technical that put the result in doubt again — that became the story.

First, that’s an amazing shot by Lamb because he has to adjust, Walker’s pass is not on target.

But if you watch the video, you can see Biyombo almost out at midcourt to grab Lamb before the ball is inbounded. He was so far out on the court that the refs probably didn’t see him and called the technical on Monk. Michael Jordan was none too pleased.

But because the Pistons were out of time outs, the Hornets survive and get the win.