Warriors survive dominant LeBron James performance to take Game 1 (with a little help from J.R. Smith)

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OAKLAND — So tell me again how year four of the Cavaliers vs. Warriors is bad for basketball…

Overtime. LeBron James scoring 51 and looking every bit the best player of the world. Still. At age 33. Stephen Curry draining 38-foot threes on the way to 29 points. Controversy in the final minute of regulation with a reversed blocking call on LeBron (one that seemed to get in the Cavaliers’ heads). Then George Hill missing the potential game-winning free throw — and J.R. Smith gets the offensive rebound in a tie game with 4.7 seconds left and doesn’t shoot or pass to the wide-open LeBron and instead tries to dribble out the clock. It was a play that left everyone baffled.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said of Smith after the game.

Smith was selling something different.

This game had everything a fan can want — drama, big shots, controversy, back-and-forth play — and it wasn’t even over yet after the moment Smith will never get to live down. There were five more minutes of free basketball in overtime.

The Warriors dominated overtime — going 3-of-3 from three and scoring 17 points on just eight possessions. Golden State went on to win 124-114, taking a 1-0 series lead in dramatic fashion.

The action wasn’t even over in the final seconds of a decided game — Tristan Thompson picked up a Flagrant II foul and was ejected with 2.6 seconds left. He could get a fine or suspension for his actions and not leaving the floor “in a timely manner.”

It was a wild first night of the NBA Finals.

“I know everybody has been saying and writing that it’s going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re playing a great team. They’ve been to The Finals four years in a row, just like we have, for a reason. They have a guy who is playing basketball at a level that I’m not sure anybody’s ever seen before, when you consider everything he’s doing.”

The strange ending and loss should not overshadow LeBron’s effort. He said after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals he thinks of Game 1s as “feel out games.”

If this was just a feel out game…..

Of course, you don’t have to feel out an opponent you have seen in NBA Finals four consecutive years, LeBron knew exactly where he wanted to attack — get the switch and go at Kevon Looney or Stephen Curry in isolation. And if that doesn’t work, hit a step-back three. He did all of that and more.

LeBron was feeling confident from the moment he walked into the arena wearing a suit and shorts.

The Warriors were not dialed in defensively to start the game, giving up good looks — open threes, good looks on cuts to the rim, and the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds (35 percent of their missed shots) and they hung tight.

Mostly they hung because of LeBron — he was brilliant, scoring 24 points on 11 shots in the first half (and pitching in four assists, which should have been more if Jordan Clarkson could have hit anything). LeBron was a surgeon in the first half, carving the Warriors up, and at one point pushing Cleveland’s lead to 11 in the second quarter.

But after this very Curry three to end the half, it was 56-56 at the break.

The Warriors got a serious scare in the first quarter. J.R. Smith was closing out on Klay Thompson near the arc and slipped on a wet spot on the floor, and fell into Thompson’s knee. It was ugly.

Thompson limped back to the locker room, but was diagnosed as a left lateral leg contusion and he returned in the second quarter. He finished with 24 points and had five threes.

Golden State started the second half on 10-3 run, and it wasn’t only because JaVale McGee started in place of Kevon Looney. (Although McGee’s missed dunk was the levity the night needed). The Warriors played better defense and turned that into transition chances.

But the Cavaliers and LeBron would not go away. They did not fade. After a couple of LeBron James threes it was back to a tie (68-68). Warriors lead by six after the third, the Cavaliers had withstood the Warriors third-quarter punch, at least better than most.

It set up a fourth for the ages — and it set up a potentially exciting series. Game 1 lived up to the hype.

NBA players bothered by Raptors trading DeMar DeRozan

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DeMar DeRozan is clearly upset with the Raptors for trading him (for Kawhi Leonard).

Is DeRozan’s frustration justified?

To a certain extent, he’s entitled to feel however he wants. I would never tell him his reaction is “wrong.”

But that’s not the same as endorsing his outlook. Should we rally behind him and hold Toronto accountable for mistreating him? Answering that question relies on so much hearsay, I’m not sure it’s possible to answer fairly.

In what I find a telling illustration of the situation, ESPN has updated its story on the trade multiple times today. In an early version:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto brass in Las Vegas during summer league and was told he would not be traded.

That got changed to:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto officials in Las Vegas during summer league and believed that he would not be traded.

That’s a subtle, but meaningful, distinction.

Did the Raptors tell DeRozan he wouldn’t be traded? Different people involved in the conversation would probably give different answers.

Did DeRozan take away that Toronto wouldn’t trade him? It seems so, and maybe it’s because team officials told him that directly. But it’s also possible he misinterpreted team officials. Not that he’s willing to grant that possibility.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Without being privy to the exact wording, I don’t know where to side.

Unsurprisingly, other players are backing DeRozan – some publicly and quite strongly, others anonymously.

Lou Williams:

Isaiah Thomas:

Damian Lillard:

Anthony Morrow:

Enes Kanter:

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

DeRozan meant a lot to the Raptors, and he deserves a proper sendoff. But some of this strikes me as an overreaction.

The Spurs didn’t thank Leonard in their press release, either. Both teams posted cursory messages of gratitude on social media to their outgoing players. Gregg Popovich held a press conference today and said many kind things about Leonard, though. The main difference appears to be Masai Ujiri just hasn’t happened to hold his press conference yet. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t effusively praise DeRozan in it.

And to Kanter’s claim the Raptors gave away DeRozan for nothing? They got Kawhi freaking Leonard.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t rule the possibility of the spotlight-seeking Kanter just saying something outlandish to draw attention.

Even if that were Kanter’s intent, that just feeds into this spiraling into a bigger deal than it probably should be.

If the Raptors told DeRozan they wouldn’t trade him, they shouldn’t have done that. If they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him while they were secretly putting the final touches on this deal, they shouldn’t have done that.

But if they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him and truly didn’t at that moment, I wouldn’t blame them. Plans can change, and it would have done them no good to warn DeRozan of that possibility. If he expected more loyalty, that’s on him.

Ujiri will get a chance to explain himself. So will DeRozan – though his narrative is already gaining significant traction, especially among his peers. Maybe we’ll actually become positioned to make an outside judgment.

Most likely, this will remain a he-said, he-said situation that wanes in significance. DeRozan will probably play hard in San Antonio and grow to enjoy it there. Players – even, I bet, including DeRozan – will forgive the Raptors in time. As much furor as these things evoke in the moment, players rarely hold a grudge to the point of avoiding franchises.

But for now, Toronto is dealing with a perception hit right as it begins its courtship of one of the NBA’s top players, Leonard.

PBT Extra: Breaking down Kawhi Leonard to Raptors trade

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While the rumors of Raptors interest in trading for Kawhi Leonard had been around the league for weeks, the thought they would land him always seemed far fetched — Leonard clearly didn’t want to go there, so would GM Masai Ujiri really put one of his big name players in the mix to get a trade done.

Yes. Yes he would.

Leonard is headed to Toronto in a trade package centered around DeMar DeRozan.

I break down what that means for everyone involved in this latest PBT Extra. For the Spurs, they stay relevant and postpone the rebuild for the final few years of Gregg Popovich’s tenure as coach. For the Raptors, they are contenders for a year — and they can take a longshot attempt to win Leonard over.

Report: After backing out of agreement with Sixers, Nemanja Bjelica talking to Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica had found a comfort level in Minnesota, but when Tom Thibodeau pulled his qualifying offer — to sign Anthony Tolliver — it left the Serbian forward without a deal. Philadelphia raced in with a one-year, $4.4 million offer, and he took it.

Then on Tuesday, he backed out, saying he wanted to return to Europe with his family. What he said he wanted was stability, he told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

“It’s not about coach or the Philly organization,” Bjelica told The Athletic in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “Brett Brown, he’s a great guy and a great coach. The most important thing for me is family and some kind of stability…

“I’m thankful for Philly for the opportunity, but I will always do what is the best for my family,” Bjelica said. “At that point, I was considering European life.”

Or, Sacramento. Which I am fairly confident is not in Europe. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Bjelica wanted stability, something that doesn’t always come easily in the NBA life. Clearly, Vlade Divac is pitching a longer-term deal of some kind to provide that stability for Bjelica and his family.

I get why he’s doing it — this is still a bad look for Bjelica and his agent. He gave his word, then backed out of the deal saying he wanted to play in another league. Now he’s talking to another NBA team, a competitor. I get it, teams are not loyal to players either, they lie to them too — just ask DeMar DeRozan — but it doesn’t make this move right. It’s not a great look for the Kings, either.

On the court, Bjelica is a fit with the Kings in that he can be part of the rotation with Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles and the rest of a crowded Kings’ frontcourt. Bjelica provides needed floor spacing and shooting — I really like him as a player. I liked him in Minnesota and wish Thibodeau trusted him more, I liked the idea of how he fit in Philly, and I would like him in Sacramento.

But this is just awkward.

DeMarcus Cousins on Warriors: “This was my nuclear bomb. My last resort.”

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A year before, DeMarcus Cousins was a lock max player, a guy the New Orleans Pelicans could not let get away. A guy with options. A guy about to make not just life-changing money but family generational changing money. DeMarcus Cousins was at his peak.

But on Jan. 30, everything changed. Cousins tore his Achilles tendon.

Come July 1, 2018, the phone was not ringing, team executives were not lined up at 12:01 to meet with Cousins and his agent. Crickets. There was nothing. The teams Cousins called were not making offers and were not interested — including the Pelicans.

So Cousins got in touch with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. The rest is history.

All through free agency and his recovery, SHOWTIME Sports has been making a documentary — titled “THE RESURGENCE: DeMarcus Cousins” — that will air on the cable network at a date and time yet to be announced. They just released the video above (WARNING: NSFW language) and if the access and honesty they got in this clip is any indication, it is going to be must watch.

Check out the fantastic video above, courtesy Showtime. And be ready for when this hits the airwaves (or streaming, for most of us).