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

7 Comments

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.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert: ‘I think Kyrie will leave Boston’

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
1 Comment

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said his team “killed it” in the Kyrie Irving trade.

One of Gilbert’s justifications stood out.

Gilbert, via Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” said Gilbert.

The league’s enforcement of tampering is so arbitrary. I have a general rule against predicting when the NBA will punish someone for tampering.

I’m breaking it here. This has to be tampering.

Irving is under contract with the Celtics until July 1. A rival owner is publicly predicting Irving will leave. This is the essence of tampering – a member of another team interfering in a team’s contractual relationship with a player. And owners get even less leeway.

Maybe Irving will leave Boston. But it’s wild Gilbert said this publicly.

Pacers’ Myles Turner says it’s “blatant disrespect” he didn’t make All-Defensive Team

Getty Images
2 Comments

The NBA’s All-Defensive Teams were announced on Wednesday. When it came to the center position, Utah’s Rudy Gobert was named to the first team, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid the second team.

That left Indiana’s Myles Turner, the league’s leader in total blocked shots last season, off the list. He took to Twitter to vent about that.

His teammates and GM had his back.

The NBA puts players, and by extension voters (selected members of the media), in a box by the use of rigid positions for this award. In an increasingly positionless league, voters for the All-Defensive Teams have to choose two guards, two forwards, and one center for each of the First and Second teams. It’s unlike All-Star voting, for example, where two backcourt and three frontcourt players are chosen, which allows some flexibility. In the attempt to make the All-Defensive Teams (and, also, All-NBA Teams) look like the kind of lineups teams would put on the floor 25 years ago, voters are limited.

Because of that format, Turner got squeezed out. (Note: In an effort at transparency, that includes on my ballot for these awards.)

Two centers only. Gobert is the defending — and soon likely two-time — Defensive Player of the Year, and is the anchor of a great Utah defense. Embiid’s impact on the defensive end is critical for Philadelphia, something evident in the Sixers second-round playoff series against Toronto when he was +90 in a series the Sixers lost (voting took place before the playoffs, but Philadelphia’s defense was 5.8 points per 100 possessions better with Embiid during the season, Indiana was 1.2 better with Turner).

There were three deserving centers — Turner was fantastic this season, he made a huge leap and anchored the NBA’s third-best defense — but two spots and no flexibility. So when the music stopped, Turner was the guy standing without a chair. It sucks, but that’s the way it went.

Turner will use this as motivation for next year. Keep playing like he did last year and his time will come.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert on Kyrie Irving trade: “We killed it in that trade”

Associated Press
1 Comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers had no choice but to trade Kyrie Irving back in 2017. Irving asked to be moved, and if he hadn’t been there were threats of knee surgery that would have sidelined him much or all of the next season (he didn’t get that surgery, but then missed the 2018 NBA playoffs due to those knee issues).

The trade they took was with Boston: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 1st round draft pick (which became Collin Sexton) and eventually a 2020 2nd round pick. At the time that didn’t seem bad because we didn’t yet grasp the severity of Thomas’s hip surgery — but the Celtics did. Once Cleveland’s doctors got a look at Thomas the trade was put on hold until more compensation was added, which proved to be the second-round pick.

Looking back now, the Cavaliers didn’t fare well, with all due respect to Sexton (who made the All-Rookie second team). Although that’s to be expected, nobody gets equal value back when trading a superstar.

That’s not how Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sees it, speaking to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” said Gilbert. “We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves Koby made, we killed it in that trade.”

“Killed it?” I didn’t think the kind of stuff Gilbert must be on was legalized in Ohio yet.

This is a matter of semantics. Was it about as good a deal as GM Koby Altman was going to find at the time? Yes. Again, at the time we thought Thomas would return midway through the next season and be closer to the guy who was fifth in MVP voting the season before than the guy we ended up seeing (which is still a sad story, hopefully Thomas can get back to being a contributor next season somewhere). Crowder was in the rotation on a team that went back to the NBA Finals. Sexton showed some promise as a rookie, maybe not as much as some Cavaliers fans think but he can play.

But “killed it?” To quote the great Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Mike Budenholzer no fan of Drake’s free run on Toronto sideline

Getty Images
11 Comments

Drake is the Mayor of Toronto.

Actually, he does fewer drugs than some former mayors of Toronto, and Drake was not elected, but he’s The Mayor in any meaningful way. The man can do whatever he wants.

Such as walk up and down the sidelines of a Raptors game with impunity, and give Nick Nurse a massage during the game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has much bigger things to worry about — such as were Eric Bledsoe misplaced his shot — but somehow during his conference call with the media on Wednesday, before a critical Game 5, Drake was the topic of discussion. Budenholzer is not a fan of Drake getting to patrol the sidelines. Via ESPN:

“I will say, again, I see [Drake talking to Raptors] in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach,  I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

Drake responded on Instagram, first with a post that had a series of emojies, and then during an Instagram Live post where he liked a comment to his post where part of it was: “If you don’t want the opposing team to celebrate and dance, prevent them from scoring, winning, or achieving their objective.”

My guess is the league (and maybe the referees before Game 6 in Toronto) will reach out to Drake and tell him he can’t go Joe Biden on a coach during the game, and to stay near his seat. This is precisely the kind of distraction from the game that fans love to talk about and annoys the league office, which wants the focus on the court.

Personally, the more personality around the game, the better. It’s entertainment people, enjoy the show.