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

6 Comments

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.

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

Associated Press
2 Comments

Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

Getty Images
2 Comments

If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

Getty Images
2 Comments

The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.