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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: Pacers interview former Thunder coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder vs. Pacers
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The Pacers were reportedly expected to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

But if set on the former Rockets coach, Indiana isn’t acting like it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan interviewed for the Pacers last week, sources said. The Pacers are expected to interview a pool of around 12 candidates, trim the candidates approximately in half, and conduct in-person interviews.

Donovan joins a list of known candidates that’s already way longer than 12:

  • Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
  • Former Kings and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
  • Former Pistons and Nuggets star Chauncey Billups
  • Warriors assistant and former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown
  • Nets assistant and former Magic coach Jacque Vaughn
  • Spurs assistant Becky Hammon
  • Spurs assistant Will Hardy
  • Heat assistant Dan Craig
  • Heat assistant Chris Quinn
  • Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley
  • Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas
  • Bucks assistant Darvin Ham
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee
  • Magic assistant Pat Delany
  • Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool
  • 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
  • Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts

Leaving the potentially rebuilding Thunder, Donovan clearly expected to land on his feet. The Pacers are equipped to win now, but maybe only moderately.

Donovan has shown impressive adaptability to his roster. That’d come in handy if Indiana is set on continuing the talented but challenging Domantas SabonisMyles Turner pairing.

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

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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
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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
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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.