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Curry, Durant overwhelm Cavaliers again, take 2-0 series lead with blowout 132-113 win

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OAKLAND — The Cavaliers did what they promised the past couple of days: They were more engaged, more physical, they forced turnovers and put in a lot more energy on the defensive end. The effort was there.

Not that it matters when Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are playing like MVPs.

The pre-series questions about Cleveland’s defense are being answered in a way that does not bode well for the Cavaliers, as they gave up 132 points despite their effort, and for a second-straight game were blown out, 132-113.

Golden State is up 2-0 in the NBA Finals as the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 Wednesday.

Steve Kerr was back on the bench for the Warriors in this one, which was great to see and gave the Warriors and emotional boost. But in reality, he was far from the difference in this one.

Curry had a triple-double with 32 points (on 17 shots), 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Durant had 33 points, 13 rebounds, and played fantastic defense on LeBron James for much of the night.

“They give (Durant) a lot of space and a lot of room to operate…” Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue said. “A lot of things you can’t do defensively by having K.D. on the floor. So they make it tough and they put you in some tough situations.”

LeBron himself had a triple-double with 29 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds. This was the first time in NBA Finals history two players on opposing teams had triple-doubles. An interesting historical anecdote.

Cleveland showed a lot more fight and heart — and Lue threw a lot of different lineups out there — but when tested Golden State responded with knockout punches. They have more versatility on their roster, and can match up just about anything the Cavs can throw at them.

The real issue through two games is Cleveland’s defense may be what we saw in the regular season, and asked to defend the Warriors’ offense they are in way over their head.

“Defensively,” Lue said when asked what Cleveland has to do differently to win Game 3. “I think that having awareness, can’t relax, can’t fall asleep. This team, their offense is constant movement, so you got to be locked in, you can’t take a peek somewhere and lose your man, so they make you pay. And they have a lot of guys who can shoot the basketball, have a lot of guys who are great passers, so you got to be alert at all times.”

This isn’t completely effort thing, it’s just personnel — Kyle Korver can’t guard anyone, and Lue tried to go with Channing Frye but has given up on that experiment. Kevin Love tries but can only do so much in space. Kyrie Irving is not a great defender. Lue did something smart putting LeBron on Shaun Livingston for a while — allowing him to roam and help on defense around the floor — but he simply can’t be everywhere. Throw in another “meh” game from Tristan Thompson — just four rebounds again — and the Cavaliers do not have enough defenders to stop an average team.

The Warriors are far from average — especially with Klay Thompson back, scoring 22 and hitting 4-of-7 from three.

“I just felt like he was poised to come out and make some shots tonight, and he did,” Kerr said of Thompson. “And his defense again was tremendous. I thought Klay, he guards so many people out there and he has such a responsibility with Kyrie and switching onto LeBron, and I thought he was fantastic.”

The themes of Game 2 were established early. The Cavaliers defense far more active, and at points that forced a hurried Warriors team into turnovers. At the other end, Cleveland’s first eight points were in the paint. On offense, LeBron had the ball but there was a lot of 3/4 pick-and-roll with Kevin Love and he had a quick 9 points as the Warriors struggled to stop it. Bottom line, the Cavaliers were engaged in a way they were not in Game 1, and while the Warriors pushed the lead out to 10 at the 2:41 mark, their eight first-quarter turnovers — double how many they had in all of Game 1 — helped the Cavaliers stay close. It was 40-34 after one quarter very fast-paced quarter.

“So they were going downhill, getting into the paint, but I just think we just stayed poised and tried to play better one-on-one defense and make them shoot over or contest,” Durant said. “And they’re going to make some, but if we just try to make it tough on them, it will be in our favor.”

To start second Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue once again went to a lineup with Kyrie Irving on the floor but no LeBron or Love, and without LeBron they were a quick -9. The lead was back up to 12 by the Warriors within a couple of minutes (and Channing Frye got rejected at the rim twice in that stretch).

But LeBron put the Cavs on his back — reminiscent of last year’s Finals — and it was his 18 points and 10 rebounds that had Cleveland down just three, 67-64, at the half. Well, the Warriors helped out with 13 turnovers, or 22.4 percent of their first-half possessions. Curry had six of those turnovers.

The second half started much the same way, the Warriors pushed the lead out to 10 again, Cleveland clawed back to keep it close (aided by a number of Warriors missing very good look threes). But every time the Cavaliers would make it close, there seemed to be a Warriors run of threes that would push the lead back out to double digits. The difference was just three third-quarter turnovers for the Warriors, which is why they led 102-88 after three quarters.

In the fourth, the Warriors poured it on against a Cavaliers team that started to look spent.

If you’re trying to find a positive spin out of Cleveland, they lost these two games by a combined 41 points and that’s less than the combined 48 from last year (when the Cavs famously came back and won). But with Durant on the court, this feels different. Cleveland has had no answers for two games, and if they don’t find some by Wednesday, this series could be very, very short.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.