Kevin Durant, Warriors come though in clutch to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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It was the one remaining question about these Golden State Warriors:

How would they handle a tight end-of-game situation? Only three of their previous 14 playoff games had been within five points in the final five minutes, none since Game 1 against the Spurs. How would they respond down six points with 3:10 to go to an excellent Cavaliers team on the road in the NBA Finals?

Kevin Durant has your answer.

The Warriors closed out the game on an 11-0 run.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving played their best games of these Finals, combining for 77 points, relentlessly attacking the rim. J.R. Smith played better and hit some threes, as did Kyle Korver. Cleveland was physical on defense. From the start, this felt like a game they not only could win but knew they needed to win.

It wasn’t enough. Durant, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry combined for 87 points, including 15 threes, and the Warriors got the 118-113 Game 3 win on the road.

The Warriors are now up 3-0 in this series and can close out the Cavaliers Friday night. With that win, the Warriors also would complete the first perfect postseason in NBA history, going 16-0.

“Obviously K.D. made some huge plays down the stretch. I thought Klay’s defense on Kyrie was amazing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Overall, it was just an incredibly tough, resilient performance. It wasn’t our smartest game that we have played all year, but it was maybe our toughest in terms of our ability to just hang in there.”

From the opening tip, this was the Cavaliers we had hoped we would see all series — and it was another game to remind everyone why LeBron is the best player in the game.

The pace was up early, and Cleveland was hitting their shots — LeBron started 4-of-4, but more key J.R. Smith hit his first two threes. Cleveland was finally playing with energy, getting back in transition, and doing so much of what they didn’t in Oakland to start the series.

LeBron was 7-of-8 shooting for 15 points in the first quarter, including this steal and dunk.

And in a bit of foreshadowing, all that wasn’t enough. LeBron went to the bench with 1:49 left in the first quarter and his team up two. By the time the quarter was over the Warriors led 39-31. In part that was because Klay Thompson was white hot early and had 16 in the first quarter including going 4-of-5 from three. As a team Warriors started 7-of-9 from three.

The LeBron vs. the World trend continued in the second quarter. LeBron returned at the start of the second, with Curry and Durant out, and suddenly the game was tied again at 39-39. LeBron finished the first half with 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, the rest of the team had 34 points on 10-of-27 shooting. The Cavaliers bench was 1-of-8 shooting in the first half. The Cavaliers did a much better job attacking the paint, particularly LeBron and Irving, but the Cavs shot 7-of-25 from outside the paint so the Warriors could pack it in a little.

Put it all together and despite the Cavs best half of the Finals was 67-61 Warriors at halftime. Curry, Durant, and Thompson combined for 51 points on 29 shots.

In the third quarter of Games 1 and 2, the Cavaliers settled in the third quarter, but not Wednesday. Irving had his best quarter of the series scoring 16 points in the third and relentlessly attacking the rim, while LeBron played more of a facilitator role. It worked. The Cavs won the third quarter by 11 and led 94-89 after three. There was a real reason for hope in Cleveland because this looked like the Cavs team that came back to get a ring last year.

The Cavaliers were up five inside four minutes to play, but that’s when Golden States’ final push made the difference.

“Like I said, tonight our guys felt, I felt we had a game that we had won that we let slip away,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue sid. “And they made the plays down the stretch, so you got to give credit to those guys.”

“I think we’re a better team partly because, obvious reasons, we have Kevin Durant on our team, but I think we’re better from our experiences,” Kerr said. “You win a championship, then you lose one in heartbreaking fashion, you’ve pretty much seen everything at that point.

“So you get down in the fourth quarter, it’s a five-point game with six minutes left, you don’t say, oh, man, we’re down five, you just say there’s a ton of time left and let’s execute.”

Last year in Game 3, LeBron and Irving combined for 62 points, and the Cavaliers won going away. This year those two did better, LeBron scoring 39 and Irving 38. LeBron was +7 for the game, but the Warriors outscored the Cavaliers by 12 in the 2:23 he rested.

But this year the Warriors have Durant, and that is making all the difference. Including in the clutch.

Suns fall to hot shooting Adelaide 36ers from Australia, 134-124

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The Adelaide 36ers may be from Australia’s National Basketball League, but they are professional players — leave them wide open and they will hit shots.

Phoenix treated Sunday like their first preseason game (it was) and the 36ers hit 24 3-pointers on their way to an upset of the Suns, 134-124. The 36ers were the aggressors all night long, playing team basketball and putting Phoenix on its heels.

It’s just preseason. One preseason game is not a bellwether for the season, there should be little more than raised eyebrows in Phoenix. However, with their last game being a crushing 33-point loss to Dallas which eliminated them from the playoffs a season ago, this was not the palate cleanser that Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Craig Randall — you may remember him from the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin — scored 35 points while Robert Franks added 32. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and the 36ers were on fire.

 

The last NBA team to lose to an International squad before Sunday was the Thunder in 2016 to Real Madrid. The year before, Turkish power Fenerbahce beat Brooklyn in the preseason. It does happen.

Reserve point guard Cameron Payne led the Suns with 23 points, while Deandre Ayton looked solid and dropped 22, as did Mikal Bridges, who also had 22. Devin Booker had 13 points and Chris Paul dished out 12 dimes.

With the size of Ayton and the athletic slashing of Bridges, the Suns scored 64 points in the paint, more than doubling the 36ers. But math was not on the Suns’ side, as they traded twos for threes and kept falling behind.

This is great for the NBL and its efforts to grow the brand — the 36ers will now take on the Thunder later this week.

It’s a shrug and move on game for the Suns. Expect a more focused effort from the team next game.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
Eric Espada/Getty Images
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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.