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Isaiah Thomas making progress, could join Cavs earlier than expected

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Day by day, dribble by dribble , Isaiah Thomas looks a little more like an All-Star point guard – like himself.

And just maybe like one who can rescue the reeling Cavaliers.

Thomas has been increasing the intensity of his workouts and is making strong progress in his recovery from a serious hip injury that ended his 2016 season in Boston and delayed his debut with Cleveland.

As Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and a member of Cleveland’s medical staff kept an eye on him from an adjacent floor at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Thomas broke a healthy sweat during a workout Monday under the guidance of assistant coach Phil Handy, who fired him passes and praise. Thomas worked on his 3-pointer , man-to-man defense, conditioning, ball handling and free throws as he nears a return that may be coming sooner than imagined.

Although the team has not disclosed any change from its original timetable estimate of the end of December or early January, it’s apparent that Thomas is getting closer.

At 4-6, and lacking a second scorer to complement LeBron James, the Cavs might be tempted to rush Thomas along. But Lue said it’s imperative for the team to stick with its plan so as not to harm the 28-year-old.

“We have to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Lue said Monday as the Cavs regrouped following an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Hawks. “We have to worry about him as a player and a person. If he’s not right, not healthy, we don’t want to rush him back to set him back even more.”

Thomas isn’t keeping his status any kind of secret. In the first few weeks of his rehab, he kept a lower profile as he worked out in the team’s facility away from reporters and cameras. Lately, he’s been front and center, giving everyone a glimpse of the strides he’s made in coming back from a torn labrum.

Lue credited Cleveland’s training staff with a slow, steady approach in bringing along Thomas, who came to the Cavs in the blockbuster trade last summer that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics.

Irving and the Celtics have won nine straight and lead the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Cleveland has remained patient, although it’s clear that Thomas can’t wait to get back onto the floor in meaningful games.

“I just wanna HOOP!!!!!” he tweeted Sunday night.

The Cavs need him. Without Irving, the Eastern Conference champions lack a proven scorer to take some pressure off James. Thomas won’t help Cleveland’s suspect defense. In fact, it might be a little worse with him on the court, but its offense would go to another level with Thomas.

He can drive. He can shoot. He can get to the line.

“We still have a 30-point scorer, All-Star point guard that’s coming soon,” James said recently. “So that’s exciting.”

Once he returns, Thomas is expected to move into the starting lineup, with Derrick Rose coming off the bench and running the Cavs’ second unit. It’s been dreadful starts by the Cavs’ first five that have been at the heart of their early struggles. Thomas could fix that, but until he’s ready, the Cavs have to come out with more energy and a greater sense of urgency.

Thomas should also help Cleveland’s woeful 3-point shooting. The Cavs enter Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee 25th in the league in 3-point accuracy (33 percent) and tied for 16th in 3-pointers made per game. Thomas made a Celtics record 245 3-pointers last season and knocked down at least one in 57 straight games.

Against the Hawks, the Cavs started 3 of 25 from behind the arc and finished 10 of 36 – thanks mostly to Kyle Korver heating up during a fourth-quarter comeback.

“We have guys that can shoot the ball,” said Kevin Love, who was taken to the hospital Sunday after falling ill. “I don’t know what it says on pace, but last year we really pushed the ball with `Bron and Ky and really opened up the floor. But we’re just not shooting the ball well from 3, and that has to change.”

There need to be other changes, and Lue said it’s time for his team to begin making them.

“Just have to keep attacking it,” he said. “Have to keep showing film and continue to keep talking about it. I think guys are embarrassed and we should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat. Teams that we’re playing, having guys out, key guys out and still not being able to win. We all have to continue to keep searching and continue to keep fighting and continue to play hard.”

And at some point, they might get some help.

 

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.