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.

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.

Rumor: Clippers offered Marcus Morris three-years, $41 million at start of free agency

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Marcus Morris thought it was his time. Coming off a 13.9 point, 6.1 rebounds a game season where he shot 37.5 percent from three and was one of only a couple of guys who seemed to bring it nightly in Boston, he thought he was going to get PAID this summer. As in the $20 million a year range.

The market for Morris was not quite that hot, and there is a lot of buzz around the league about how that frustrated him. His agent, Rich Paul, ultimately set up a two-year, $20 million contract with the Spurs, which Morris agreed to then backed out of to take a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks. That move pissed off the Spurs and led to Morris changing agents.

Rumor is Morris could have gone to the Clippers for three years at an average of $13.7 million at the beginning of free agency but turned it down, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Morris, however, lost out on a much more lucrative contract with the LA Clippers, who were prepared to pay him $41 million over three seasons. A Clippers source said the three-year deal included a provision for Morris to receive 50 percent of his salary on Oct. 1.

Morris was hoping to earn $40 million over two years but the Clippers couldn’t offer that deal if they wanted to sign Kawhi Leonard to a max contract. Once Morris took that stance, the Clippers moved on and acquired Portland’s Maurice Harkless in a four-team trade that included Jimmy Butler signing with the Miami Heat.

One of the biggest challenges for agents is to get the player to understand market realities. For players, their salary is a measuring stick of their worth (even though we know that is flawed reasoning), kind of a capitalistic “you are what the market says you are” approach. Players have egos and often people around them who continuously pump them up. Players often expect the market to be more robust for them than it will end up being, and the agent has to be the voice of reality.

Morris is a good player, but one caught somewhat by circumstance. The market moved very fast this summer — more than 50 deals reached in the first 12 hours — and players who hesitated got lost. The Lakers and Clippers were hung up holding space open for Leonard. This July saw more “you have an hour to take this offer or we have to move on” conversations than in years past. Morris understandably thought he would get a higher payday, but by the time he pivoted the market got thin.

For the Clippers, everything worked out just fine, thank you very much.

For Morris, what kind of season he has and what kind of market there will be for him next July will be something to watch.