Three Things We Learned in Game 1: Cleveland’s defense can’t be its regular season self

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OAKLAND — Game 1 this year was a blowout Golden State win Yes, that is what we saw a year ago (and Cleveland came back to win that series), but the Game 1 Cleveland loss picked at some of the big questions about them coming into the playoffs, and it should be cause for concern in Ohio.

Here are the three big takeaways from Game 1.

1) Cleveland’s defense has to be a lot sharper, they can’t just outscore the Warriors. Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue has said it before this postseason — Cleveland’s offense would be a key part of their defense. Meaning opponents can’t get easy buckets if they are taking the ball out of the basket, and the Cleveland offense will put pressure on other offenses to keep up and force them into mistakes or poor shots.

None of that applied to the Warriors — Cleveland’s defense will have to be its best defense now. And it certainly wasn’t in Game 1.

Led by Kevin Durant, the Warriors attacked the rim — they had 34 shots at the rim in the first half alone (which is more than most teams average in a game). Golden State is talented, but their attacks exposed the Cleveland defense that finished 22nd in the NBA during the regular season — the Warriors forced matchups with poor individual defenders, and the Cavaliers help defense was nonexistent. Golden State ran simple pin-down actions all game that forced Kevin Love into a switch on Durant or Curry, and then Love was torched. (Curry seemed out to erase the memory of the end of Game 7 a year ago and went right at Love). The same is all true of Tristan Thompson, a better defender but not someone who can guard Curry in space.

The Warriors were getting buckets by simply attacking in transition when they could, blowing by their man on closeouts, and making backdoor cuts. Or, Curry just had the space to pull up.

Cleveland’s defense needs to be much better if they are going to start winning games in this series. For example, Cavaliers had zero steals in this game — zero — and they pressured the Warriors into just four turnovers.

“We made a lot of mistakes. There’s nothing really needs to be said,” LeBron James said. “We know we’re capable of playing a lot better. We didn’t play as well as we know we’re capable of.”

The Cavaliers did a much better job of taking away the rim in the second half, but that’s when the Warriors had more space and started hitting their threes. Cleveland has to find a better balance.

Lue is right that part of it is offensive: The Cavaliers have to do a better job slowing the game down and keeping the Warriors out of transition, which brings us to…

2) The Cavaliers have to take much better care of the ball. Cleveland had 20 turnovers in the game (and the Warriors had 21 points off them). As a team, they turned the ball over 19.6 percent of their possessions — one in five trips down the court.

LeBron was the biggest culprit, he had eight turnovers and coughed it up on 19.4 percent of the possessions he used.

This isn’t rocket science — turn the ball over and the Warriors are off to the races in transition. Golden State had 27 fast break points. Also part of the problem was Cleveland did a poor job getting back on defense all game.

But it starts with turnovers.

3) Kevin Durant may indeed be the difference in this series. It was obvious the to say this coming into this series: These teams went seven games and down to the final minute a year ago, adding Durant changes the balance of power.

Well, chalk up one for the obvious.

Durant had 38 points on 53.8 percent shooting and hitting 3-of-6 from three, added eight rebounds and eight assists, plus zero turnovers. And that was just the offensive end — for large swaths of the game he guarded LeBron James and did a solid job.

What mattered is how Durant got those buckets — he attacked the rim. Half of his 26 shots came in the restricted area, he was throwing it down — six dunks in the first half alone. This is what the Warriors missed a year ago, when the Cavaliers pressured them at the arc late in the Finals the Warriors kept jacking up tough shots — pressure Durant and he blows past his man for the dunk.

When asked what the difference was in Game 1 LeBron said Durant.

“I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the post-season, and then in the off-season you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” LeBron said.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers must make things much more difficult for KD in the rest of this series. Which is true, but they already had LeBron on him for much of the game. If they dedicate more resources to stopping Durant other things will open up for Golden State.

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[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 Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.

Klay Thompson back on practice court with Warriors Friday

Klay Thompson cleared
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The last time Klay Thompson was on an NBA court, it was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when an ACL tear both ended those playoffs for him and caused him to miss all of this season.

Friday, Thompson was back on the court.

The three-time champion and five-time All-Star cleared quarantine and was in the “Dubble” where the Warriors are conducting a two-week minicamp at their facility to help prepare for next season (whenever that starts).

It’s a good sign. When next season starts, the Warriors hope he, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green are all healthy and running at 100%.

Another good sign for the Warriors, Kevon Looney has been working out and reportedly looking good at the Warriors minicamp (take all the “he looks great” reports with a grain of salt, but the fact he is on the court is a good sign).

Looney played through injuries in those 2019 Finals, and has missed parts of four of his five NBA seasons due to injuries — he played just 20 games last season and had surgery on his core in May. It led to whispers around the league he may never again find his form as a quality role player. If Looney can stay healthy — coach Steve Kerr said he went “full bore” at the team’s first practice — he becomes a solid, athletic interior presence the Warriors need to balance their elite perimeter players.

 

Jamal Murray lived in “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years

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A once-rich-now-suddenly-poor family adjusting to living cramped together in a roadside motel is the premise behind “Schitt’s Creek” — the Canadian comedy that just annoyingly dominated the Emmy comedy categories. (It’s not that “Schitt’s Creek” isn’t deserving, I enjoy the show, it’s just annoying when any single show/movie dominates an awards broadcast.)

Jamal Murray watches that show and sees his former home.

Murray, Denver’s breakout superstar and a Canadian, lived in the “Schitt’s Creek” Rosebud Motel for two years, reports Chris Halliday of the Orangeville Banner, via the Toronto Star (hat tip to Hoopshype).

The real-life motel is owned by Jesse Tipping, who also is the president of the Athlete Institute Basketball Academy and Orangeville Prep.

Tipping purchased the motel in 2011 to house recruits for what’s become the most successful prep school basketball program in Canada. Former Orangeville Prep alum and budding NBA superstar Jamal Murray, of the Denver Nuggets, lived there for two years — so did Miami Heat training camp invitee Kyle Alexander.

It’s also been a filming location for a number of things, including “The Umbrella Academy” and “A History of Violence.” “Schitt’s Creek” has used the place for about a month every year for the past six years.

The popular comedy, which just ended its run, features veteran comedic actors Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, plus Eugene’s son Dan Levy, plus many more. “Schitt’s Creek” was first produced by the CBC for Canadian television, came to America on POP TV, but exploded when it got to Netflix and people discovered it.

Jamal Murray went from the “Schitt’s Creek” to Kentucky for a year, before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets as their point guard to pair with Nikola Jokic. Murray has had a breakout playoffs, leading the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. He’s made ridiculous plays on the court and powerful statements off it about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rumor: 76ers could hire Mike D’Antoni to lure James Harden

Mike D'Antoni and James Harden at Rockets-76ers game
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Former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni seemingly has a good relationship with James Harden.

The 76ers are reportedly interested in hiring D’Antoni.

Coincidence?

John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

If this is the 76ers’ plan, it’s foolish. Stars don’t pick teams to play for a specific coach.

Stars want, among the things in Philadelphia’s control, winning environments. Pick the coach who can help build and maintain that.

Maybe that’s D’Antoni. He had plenty of success with the Rockets and Suns. But choose him for the right reasons – not some Harden pipe dream.

Harden can become a free agent in 2022, but he’d have to decline a $47,366,760 player option for his age-33 season. Otherwise, he’s headed toward 2023 unrestricted free agency. The 76ers would have a tough time clearing max cap space in either offseason.

A trade is possible. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are intriguing chips if Philadelphia becomes willing to trade one. Harden has the cachet to have some say in a trade destination. But Houston has been committed to winning around Harden. With an older team built around Harden, the Rockets couldn’t simply pivot into a new direction with Simmons or Embiid.

In fairness to the 76ers, this is the type of rumor that spreads baselessly. People see D’Antoni’s awkward fit with Philadelphia’s roster and make wild guesses about the team’s motivation. That doesn’t necessarily match the 76ers’ internal reasoning.