Banged up Warriors rediscover their passing, defense, win Game 2 to even series

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For six quarters of these NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors halfcourt defense had boxed the Warriors in, slowed the game down, and gave the Raptors one win and a good shot at another.

Six minutes changed all that.

The Warriors looked like the Warriors again.

Golden State took charge of Game 2 with an 18-0 run to start the third, however, this was not an avalanche of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson threes, as we have come to expect. The Warriors got a lot of their buckets in the halfcourt with crisp passing and backcuts, layups, floaters or alley-oops off penetration. Curry and Thompson’s gravity pulled defenders to them and opened up lanes, Golden State finally started using that space as only they can. The Warriors assisted on every made basket they had in the second half, had 34 assists on 38 made buckets for the game, and assisted on 16 of their 17 layups/dunks. There was also an assist on the dagger three from Andre Iguodala that sealed the Warriors’ win.

The Warriors’ passing let them survive injuries to Thompson — a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, after he had 25 points and had been the best player on the floor — and Kevon Looney, who left with a collar bone injury after a fall. Both left the game not to return, their status for Game 3 is not yet known (Thompson said he will play in Game 3, but the Warriors were more cautious).

That and improved defense got the Warriors a 109-104 win on the road in Game 2, tying the NBA Finals up 1-1 as they head to Oakland for Game 3 Wednesday.

Toronto had their chances, particularly getting open looks with the game on the line late, but just could not hit them. After Thompson left the game with 7:59 remaining, the Raptors went to the seen-in-high-school-but-not-the-NBA diamond-and-one defense to keep Fred Van Vleet hassling Stephen Curry — and it worked. The Warriors went scoreless on seven straight possessions.

However, in the face of a more energized Warriors defense than they saw in Game 1, the Raptors just did not take advantage of the opportunities.

“I said yesterday and today that 109 points is plenty to win the game, which is what we had in Game 1, but we gave up 118,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So it was all about our defense and we held them to 37 percent and forced 15 turnovers and guarded the three-point line well. So it was championship defense and that’s what it’s going to take.”

The Warriors got huge games from Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, which went a long way toward the win. Green finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, and completely outplayed Pascal Siakam (unlike Game 1). Cousins — who got the start and played nearly 28 minutes — had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a gritty effort.

It was those assists from big men that the Raptors defense could not stop. The wings were cutting and guys were getting layups. Even Andrew Bogut had three alley-oops.

Toronto got 34 points from Kawhi Leonard on 8-of-20 shooting, and VanVleet had 17 points off the bench. But Toronto shot 11-of-38 from three, with a lot of those good looks, and that cost them.

The game started with a back-and-forth first quarter, with both teams struggling from three but Toronto still playing tremendous halfcourt defense and the Warriors still living at the three throw lines, just like Game 1.

However, the Raptors stretched the lead out to 12 in the second quarter going against a Warriors team that lacked offensive punch. The Raptors did a great job of taking away Curry’s penetration, leaving guys like Green and Andre Iguodala to create more (with no Kevin Durant for the Warriors to fall back on) and it wasn’t working.

But at halftime, it was just a five-point Toronto lead, 59-54, because of Klay Thompson.

Thompson had the first nine Warriors points while the rest of the team started 0-of-6 from the floor, and that trend continued through much of the first half. Toronto put Danny Green on Curry — who was battling an illness — and that left 6’1” Kyle Lowry on 6’7” Thompson and it let the Warriors sharpshooter get comfortable.

Thompson had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half – and that was with every one of his shots contested. Thompson and Green had 20 of the Warriors 26 in the first quarter.

Late in the second, Curry started to find his rhythm. After starting 0-of-6 shooting he went 4-of-4 late, got to the line seven times, and had 16 points.

Golden State took over in the third quarter, starting the third on an 18-0 run, which was really a 24-1 run going back to the end of the first half. The Warriors never fully pulled away because of Leonard (he had 12 points in the third alone), but they had the lead.

One of the keys to that run was an improved Golden State defense. The Raptors started 0-of-8 shooting with five turnovers to start the third, the kind of run of stops the Warriors could not get in Game 1. Kerr adjusted and put Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam and left Thompson on Leonard, and it worked because Green and Iguodala could help more.

One other missed opportunity by the Raptors came late. They were down two with 26.9 seconds left in the game after a Danny Green made three, but rather than foul they let the game play out. That led to the Iguodala three.

“We’re trying to foul,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We had a couple chances there on Draymond, I think Livingston and then back to Draymond and then Curry got it. And we didn’t want to foul [Curry] but we put a good blitz on him. We almost made him throw it away. And I think if they’re going to take a shot and give you a chance there, I’m going to probably live with the one that ended up being taken. I’m going to probably roll with that.

“Probably we should have fouled before that.”

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Warriors, but not every victory is a work of art. The Warriors got the split they needed and now the series heads to the Bay Area. The question is, who will be healthy enough to suit up Wednesday for the Warriors?

Andrew Bogut appears to take shot at LeBron on Twitter

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The NBA wants it to, and it will eventually fade some (only to flare up again later), but the NBA/China relationship issue is not going away.

The latest spark comes from across the ocean, down in Australia, where former Warrior (and Buck and a couple other teams in the middle) Andrew Bogut takes what is a pretty clear a dig at LeBron James over the China issue.

Let me explain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted support for the Hong Kong protesters just before the NBA was about to send the Lakers and Nets were about to head to China for a couple of exhibition games. China flexed its muscle to punish the NBA for touching a third-rail issue by having corporate sponsors pause their involvement with the league and preseason games were not shown in China. Adam Silver issued a milquetoast statement that seemed aimed to appease China, and when a backlash from the United States — still by far the largest NBA market — came swiftly Silver adjusted his position and came out more backing Morey’s right to free speech.

After all that, once back in the states, LeBron vented about the situation, saying Morey wasn’t “educated” on the topic, and seeming frustrated because the Tweet put the players in China on the front lines of an international trade dispute — remember, there is a trade war and tariffs. However, LeBron’s meandering comments came off as being more concerned about money than free speech. LeBron said he was saying Morey didn’t think through the consequences of his Tweet (true) and that he doesn’t have to take a public stand on every issue (also true) but it all came off as LeBron prioritizing protecting his brand,

Which leads to a lot of criticism. Some a lot more direct than what Andrew Bogut said.

Report: Grizzlies, Bulls have conversations with Iman Shumpert

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Iman Shumpert is just 29 years old, which seems crazy because it wasn’t that long ago he was making the All-Rookie team in New York or winning a title with LeBron James.

The point is he’s still young, was on the court for the Rockets during the postseason last year, and is the best free agent available. He turned down a contract offer from the Rockets before the preseason (which may have been incentive heavy, like Nene’s) and remains on the market.

Some team is going to snap him up. That team could end up being the Memphis. Or, maybe Chicago. That according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Free-agent guard Iman Shumpert has had conversations with teams, including Memphis and Chicago, league sources said. Shumpert, an eight-year NBA veteran, is one of the best players remaining on the market.

Chicago has Zach LaVine and Otto Porter starting on the wing, but they may want more veteran depth behind them. Memphis has the combination of Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen at the two, they may want to add some veteran depth to that mix.

At this point, teams are just starting to accurately assess where they are and where they need help — players they thought would step up didn’t, or there are injuries creating gaps — and that will continue into the first weeks of the season. As that happens, a few of the veterans on the sideline will get picked up (no, probably not Carmelo Anthony, that’s another topic).

Shumpert should be at the front of that line. He’s already got interest.

 

Pacers reportedly testing trade market for Domantas Sabonis

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Two factors are in play here.

First, the Pacers and Domantas Sabonis‘ representatives are reportedly nowhere near an agreement on a contract extension.

Second, there are real questions about how Sabonis and Pacers’ center Myles Turner can play together. If they can’t, then the question becomes how much do the Pacers want to pay Sabonis to be a backup five (because Turner is the better player and a guy they can build their defense around).

That has led to the Pacers exploring possible Sabonis trades, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

…sources say the Pacers have engaged in active trade talks with several teams this week about the fourth-year forward. Sabonis, the 23-year-old who arrived with Victor Oladipo in late June 2017 in the Paul George trade with Oklahoma City, is clearly on the market.

There is no lack of interest in Sabonis, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season as the Pacers — who lost Oladipo to a season-ending ruptured quad injury in a game against Toronto on Jan. 23 — pulled off such a surprising campaign (48-34; lost in the first round to Boston). Thus far, sources say the Pacers’ asking price in talks with several teams has been too high.

Sabonis is a skilled offensive big man who is versatile. That makes him a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who can help create space for the ball handler to find a lane, then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game. He can help a lot of teams. However, two things limit Sabonis: He is not good defensively and he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Sabonis is in the final year of his rookie contract and has a healthy pay raise coming next season, up from the $3.5 million he will make this time around. The Pacers, however, just forked out big cash for Myles Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). They may be a little gun shy about doing that now for Sabonis, and there are other teams interested. That doesn’t even count Victor Oladipo’s payday. All this for a team not likely to venture into the luxury tax.

How much the Pacers can get for Sabonis remains to be seen, but the Pacers may want picks because not much salary needs to be exchanged. Of course right now the Pacers are asking for everything but the GM’s firstborn son from other teams, and of course the other teams are lowballing the Pacers with their first offers. That’s how negotiations work. When things start to evolve to a middle ground, the Pacers may well find a deal because, as much as they like him, it’s hard to make everything fit with Sabonis on the team.

Draymond Green says teams deserve blame for draft picks not developing, Marquese Chriss agrees

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Marquese Chriss was a No. 8 pick in the NBA draft who has yet to pan out. He showed a little promise as a rookie in Phoenix, but by Summer League the next July issues already seemed to pop up. His shooting percentages dropped, mostly because of questionable shot selection — every season he has taken more threes and made a lower percentage (22.2 percent last season). He wasn’t strong on defense. He looked like a player who might not be long for the NBA.

Now he’s going to make the Warriors roster. Maybe injuries to other frontcourt players — Willie Cauley-Stein, rookie Alen Smailagic, and Kevon Looney are — made keeping the 6’10” forward a smart move, but Chriss’ play in the preseason helped earn him that spot.

After a preseason game against the Lakers Wednesday, Draymond Green stuck up for Chriss, saying it may be less about the player and more about the organization. Via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole.

“He’s been in some pretty tough situations,” Green told reporters… “No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s***y franchises. They always want to blame the kid. It’s not always the kid’s fault.

“He’s getting older now, so he’s not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid. But it’s never the organization’s fault. It’s always that guy. So I’m happy he’s got another opportunity to show what he can really do. Because he’s a prime example.”

Chriss was grateful for what Green said, as reported by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I appreciate him for having my back and I wholeheartedly believe what he said,” Chriss said. “Being a person to go through things like that. Having a lot of blame on you for stuff you can’t really control is tough and its growing pains with being in the NBA. I feel like it takes time to develop and learn.

“It bothers me when people try to come for my character,” he added. “I know what type of person I am and I know how my mom raised me and I know how I want to represent myself and my family so that’s the biggest thing for me is just showing that things that have been said are not true.”

Jared Dudley, who was with Chriss in Phoenix, said that it was a combination of an immature Chriss but also a Suns organization that did not create a good environment to develop players.

“He was immature,” former teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday afternoon. “But it’s not a bad immaturity, he just had to grow up and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren’t ready for that…

“At the time Phoenix didn’t have the infrastructure to manage and control people and to develop people at that time,” Dudley added. “Three coaches in his year and a half. He was partially to blame, he was getting technical fouls, he was shooting bad shots but sometimes it’s on the organization and they failed him.”

The Warriors have a strong development program for young players, and a strong culture, on that Chriss seems to be thriving in.

Injuries helped open the door for Chriss in Golden State, but to his credit he has pushed it open wide with his play and it would not have been easy for the Warriors to let him go. He’s attacking the rim and scoring 9.5 points per game on 60.9 percent shooting (he’s still struggling from three, 20 percent, but he’s only taking 22 percent of his shots from there, down from nearly half last season). Chriss also has been a beast on the boards, grabbing 8.3 rebounds a game.

That’s impressive, but it’s also the preseason. If he can do it when things get serious starting next week, Chriss will have the redemption he wanted.