Stephen Curry urged teammates to just be themselves vs Cavs

Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry spoke up, just in case his Golden State Warriors needed another reminder from their MVP and leader. His message as the NBA Finals began: be yourselves.

Forget the juicy story lines, or avenging something that happened last June, that championship that got away. Set aside the hyped-up Cavs-Dubs rivalry, constant talk of the trilogy, Part III.

Just go play. And it worked splendidly for the two-time reigning MVP and Kevin Durant in their first Finals together.

Durant was utterly dominant 11 months after leaving Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors, while Curry found a groove once he removed the black sleeve from his shooting arm protecting his tender right elbow. It just didn’t feel right.

They combined for 66 points and 18 assists in a 113-91 Game 1 thumping Thursday night against LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers, who must find a way to defend the high-flying Durant when the best-of-seven series resumes Sunday at Oracle Arena.

“We were really, really good in that department at just being ourselves, playing Warriors basketball, knowing that there’s a lot of talent out on the floor,” said Curry, who had 28 points and 10 assists. “And that’s our best effort to win this championship, is just be ourselves.”

Cleveland might be thinking the same thing a day after that startling Game 1 defeat that featured 20 turnovers and Durant driving to the basket at will with nobody even close as he dunked again and again – six times in the first half alone. When the Cavs left him unguarded on the perimeter, Durant hit 3-pointers.

The Cavs watched film and vowed to get back to basics and the solid fundamentals that carried them this far, especially on the defensive end.

“We have to stop the ball first and foremost,” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love, whose 21 rebounds in Game 1 were a franchise postseason record. “That’s very apparent when you look at the film.”

Not only did the Warriors match a Finals low with just four turnovers, they took Tristan Thompson out of the equation by holding him scoreless. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue changed his rotation as he searched for someone who could make a scoring impact in the middle, saying that led to his decision to only play Thompson 22 minutes.

James and Kyrie Irving shot 19 for 42 between them but the sloppy ball handling allowed the Warriors to take nearly as many shots – 106 – as they had points, and 20 more attempts than the Cavs’ 86.

Golden State was so good that Lue called them the best team he has seen. Sure, the Warriors won a record 73 games a year ago but in the end they failed to hold a 3-1 Finals lead as Cleveland rallied back in the series to win Game 7 and steal a title in Oakland.

They sure look unstoppable lately. Durant has scored at least 25 points in each of his six career Finals games, losing in his only other appearance to LeBron and Miami in 2012. KD also became the first player with at least 38 points and no turnovers in a Finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did so with 41 points on June 19, 2000.

“You cannot simulate what they bring to the table. No matter how many days that you have to prepare, you can’t simulate what they have,” James said. “So it’s great to get the first game up underneath us. We made a lot of mistakes. They capitalized. And we get an opportunity to get a couple days to see what they did and see what we did wrong and how we can be better in Game 2.”

Golden State realizes it might not get quite the open lanes and looks that Durant had Thursday as the Cavs try to adjust in the paint, yet the pass-happy Warriors are more than capable of opening up the game in other ways as efficiently as they move the ball.

“I think it’s part of the reason people enjoy watching us play. People see so much unselfishness, they see the beauty in the pass,” Andre Iguodala said. “It can scare teams at times. What do you do? `Are we giving up 3s? Are we giving up runs at the basket?”‘

That’s up to Cleveland to figure out – and fast.

 

Report: Clippers teammates rolled eyes at Paul George’s postseason calls for togetherness

Clippers star Paul George
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul George and Montrezl Harrell reportedly had a heated exchange on the bench during the Clippers’ loss to the Nuggets.

Apparently, that wasn’t an isolated incident.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Paul George had a disappointing series against Denver, and had several moments that left him in compromising positions with his teammates — beyond just his production. Multiple teammates had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him.

In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make.

George wanted more time with his teammates. They already had enough of him.

This had been a simmering problem – George and Kawhi Leonard getting preferential treatment, their teammates resenting it. Harrell sounded particularly bothered by the dynamic.

Losing exacerbates issues like that, and getting upset by Denver was a big loss. Both George and Harrell faced oncourt and offcourt stressors – only further contributing to squabbling.

Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Clippers should try to keep him. He’s a good player, and they wouldn’t gain much cap flexibility without him.

But the 26-year-old might also want to explore the market and secure the most lucrative deal. It’d be reasonable for him to resent a teammate pressing him just to take the Clippers’ offer – especially if Harrell felt George wasn’t as committed to the team in the first place.

George and Leonard have earned preferential treatment. Leonard in particular has shown he benefits from load management.

However, that can annoy teammates. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad plan. It just means that downside should be accounted for.

It’d be nice if Leonard were more vocal or George rubbed fewer people the wrong way. But their basketball talent means dealing with their shortcomings. It’d be nice if George’s eye-rolling teammates realized that, too.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers bears responsibility for managing this tension. A this best, he connects well with players and gets everyone pulling for the same goal. That’s his job as the Clippers try to make the next step.

Miami’s Meyers Leonard adjusting to going from starter to out of rotation

Meyers Leonard
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Meyers Leonard was bent forward at the waist, standing a few feet away from Miami coach Erik Spoelstra on the Heat sideline, screaming with every bit of the volume that his deep and booming voice can generate.

This is his role right now for the Heat.

His only role.

Leonard is in a tough spot these days; a full-time starter during the regular season, he is now out of the rotation as the Miami Heat have made their run to the Eastern Conference finals. It is a bitter pill for him to swallow — yet to his credit, he hasn’t acted the least bit bitter about his current reality.

“My team knows this, and our coaching staff knows this,” Leonard told The Associated Press. “I would do anything to be out there. And I’d be lying if I said that I’m not competitive as hell. I wish I was impacting the game on the floor. I’m not, but as a person and as a player, I want what’s best for everybody.”

So for now, the 7-foot, 260-pound, chiseled center is the tallest, strongest and best-paid assistant coach in these playoffs. He calls out what he’s seeing on every possession, pulls aside teammates for quick one-on-one chats when necessary, and on off days he’s getting his on-court work in just in case he’s needed to play.

Leonard has started 49 of his 51 appearances with the Heat this season, more starts than he made in his seven seasons with Portland combined. But in the playoffs, he’s logged a total of nine minutes, all in one appearance.

“Meyers is one of the most special people I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach and to be around,” Spoelstra said. “He is just an incredible human being and teammate. He has all our hearts. We will do anything for him because he is so pure.”

Leonard, more than anything else, got unlucky at the worst possible time.

He badly sprained his left ankle in early February and wasn’t anywhere near being ready to return to the lineup when the NBA season was suspended March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. And then when team facilities shut down as a precaution, Leonard’s rehab process had to be amended as well.

That was the first issue. The second was Miami became a different team a few days after he got hurt, pulling off a trade to bring Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Heat. Crowder has become a starter, and Spoelstra told Leonard before Miami resumed play in the NBA’s restart bubble that he was taking the rotation in a different direction.

It was tough on Leonard mentally. He was struggling when he got to the bubble because of his ankle, then spent days wrestling about whether he should stand for the national anthem or kneel with his teammates, and on top of all that he essentially lost his job as well.

“There’s just two things that I won’t ever let be questioned and that’s character and work ethic,” Leonard said. “Every day when I walk through the door, I’m going to be a great guy, a great teammate. It’s not fake. So I’m trying to make my impact now from the sideline.”

There are a few starters who aren’t in the same roles that they were for the four teams remaining in this NBA season. Avery Bradley opted out of joining the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Will Barton — who led Denver in minutes per game this season — has a knee injury and has missed the Nuggets’ entire postseason run. Gordon Hayward has missed much of Boston’s playoff stint while recovering from a sprained ankle. Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn, a starter all season, is in Miami’s second unit now.

Leonard saw the Heat change, and his role change with it. He didn’t sulk, lash out or complain.

“It’s not easy, being in this kind of situation, going through the injury he went through and having the hiatus where he didn’t get the full opportunity to rehab it,” Spoelstra said. “But he’s making the most of it, and if he gets his opportunity, he will be ready.”

Leonard also sees the reason why he should be helping the Heat however he can right now. He’s never been this close to an NBA championship; the Heat lead the Celtics 2-1 in the East finals, with Game 4 on Wednesday night.

He’ll be ready to scream some more then, too.

“I am, in the best way possible, the most jealous of watching our team’s success,” Leonard said. “I literally said this to my wife the other night. I said, ‘Elle, we are six wins away from a ring.’ That is so damn special.”

Anthony Davis yelled “Kobe” after he sank game winner

Anthony Davis Kobe
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Lakers played in the Kobe-designed Black Mamba jerseys on Sunday night, when Anthony Davis did about the most Kobe thing possible — he drained a buzzer-beater game-winner.

When Davis did it, he yelled “Kobe.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have talked a lot this season about honoring the legacy of Kobe with their play and effort this season, and coach Frank Vogel did after this game.

“That’s a shot Kobe Bryant would hit,” Vogel said. “AD flying to the wing like that, catch and shoot with the game on the line, the biggest moment of the season, nothing but net? That’s a Mamba shot.”

The Lakers are now 3-0 in those black Mamba jerseys these playoffs. Expect to see them again.

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

NBA reacts anthony davis
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.