J.R. Smith beats buzzer just before halftime


Every playoff team needs a guy who just doesn’t give a… well, any manure about the moment. A guy unfazed by pressure.

J.R. Smith is that guy for the Cavaliers.

He had nine first-half points, topped off by this three to give the Cavaliers a 51-48 lead at the half.

By the way, really nice play design/call by David Blatt to set that up. (Well, unless you want to credit LeBron for everything Blatt does right, as some do.)

Remember how bad the Cavaliers were just a few months ago? No NBA champion was worse


The Cavaliers have been historically bad in the years preceding their run to the NBA Finals.

But even this season – once they had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – they got off to to a tumultuous start.

David Blatt ripped the team after an opening loss to the Knicks. As Cleveland continued to struggle, LeBron blamed others. He blamed himself. Blatt criticized LeBron. Outsiders criticized Blatt. The Cavs hit rock bottom. Questions emerged about Blatt’s job security.

It appeared unlikely Cleveland, which sunk to 19-20, could get on track quickly enough to do serious damage this season.

As late as Jan. 23, when they were 23-20, the Cavaliers had a worse record than any NBA champion through so many games.

Here’s how Cleveland’s win total (wine) compares with the worst record by an NBA champion through each game (gold):


Here are the NBA champions with the worst record through each game:

Through games Team Record
82 1978 Washington Bullets 44-38
81 1978 Washington Bullets 43-38
80 1978 Washington Bullets 43-37
79 1978 Washington Bullets 42-37
78 1978 Washington Bullets 41-37
77 1978 Washington Bullets 41-36
76 1978 Washington Bullets 41-35
75 1978 Washington Bullets 40-35
74 1978 Washington Bullets 40-34
73 1978 Washington Bullets 40-33
72 1978 Washington Bullets 39-33
71 1978 Washington Bullets 38-33
70 1978 Washington Bullets 37-33
69 1978 Washington Bullets 36-33
68 1978 Washington Bullets 36-32
67 1978 Washington Bullets 36-31
66 1978 Washington Bullets 36-30
65 1978 Washington Bullets 35-30
64 1978 Washington Bullets 35-29
63 1978 Washington Bullets 34-29
62 1978 Washington Bullets 33-29
61 1978 Washington Bullets 32-29
60 1978 Washington Bullets 31-29
59 1978 Washington Bullets 31-28
58 1978 Washington Bullets 30-28
57 1978 Washington Bullets 29-28
56 1978 Washington Bullets 29-27
55 1978 Washington Bullets 28-27
54 1978 Washington Bullets 28-26
53 1978 Washington Bullets 27-26
52 1978 Washington Bullets 27-25
51 1978 Washington Bullets 27-24
50 1978 Washington Bullets 26-24
49 1955 Syracuse Nationals 26-23
49 1978 Washington Bullets 26-23
48 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-23
47 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-22
46 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-21
45 1978 Washington Bullets 25-20
45 1955 Syracuse Nationals 25-20
44 1978 Washington Bullets 24-20
43 1955 Syracuse Nationals 24-19
43 1948 Baltimore Bullets 24-19
43 1978 Washington Bullets 24-19
42 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-19
42 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-19
41 1948 Baltimore Bullets 23-18
41 1955 Syracuse Nationals 23-18
40 1948 Baltimore Bullets 22-18
39 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-18
38 1955 Syracuse Nationals 21-17
38 1948 Baltimore Bullets 21-17
37 1955 Syracuse Nationals 20-17
36 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-17
35 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 19-16
35 1955 Syracuse Nationals 19-16
34 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-16
33 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 18-15
33 1955 Syracuse Nationals 18-15
33 1948 Baltimore Bullets 18-15
32 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 17-15
31 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-15
30 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 16-14
30 1948 Baltimore Bullets 16-14
29 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-14
28 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 15-13
28 1948 Baltimore Bullets 15-13
27 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-13
26 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-12
25 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 14-11
25 2006 Miami Heat 14-11
25 1955 Syracuse Nationals 14-11
24 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-11
23 2006 Miami Heat 13-10
23 1951 Rochester Royals 13-10
23 1990 Detroit Pistons 13-10
23 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 13-10
22 2006 Miami Heat 12-10
22 1951 Rochester Royals 12-10
21 2006 Miami Heat 11-10
20 2006 Miami Heat 10-10
19 2006 Miami Heat 10-9
18 1999 San Antonio Spurs 10-8
18 1951 Rochester Royals 10-8
18 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 10-8
18 2006 Miami Heat 10-8
17 1999 San Antonio Spurs 9-8
17 1951 Rochester Royals 9-8
17 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 9-8
16 1999 San Antonio Spurs 8-8
16 1951 Rochester Royals 8-8
15 1999 San Antonio Spurs 7-8
15 1951 Rochester Royals 7-8
14 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-8
13 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-7
13 1951 Rochester Royals 6-7
12 1999 San Antonio Spurs 6-6
12 1991 Chicago Bulls 6-6
12 1978 Washington Bullets 6-6
12 1951 Rochester Royals 6-6
11 1978 Washington Bullets 5-6
11 1951 Rochester Royals 5-6
11 1999 San Antonio Spurs 5-6
11 1991 Chicago Bulls 5-6
10 1951 Rochester Royals 4-6
10 1978 Washington Bullets 4-6
9 1951 Rochester Royals 3-6
8 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-5
8 1978 Washington Bullets 3-5
8 1951 Rochester Royals 3-5
7 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1978 Washington Bullets 3-4
7 1955 Syracuse Nationals 3-4
7 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 3-4
7 1951 Rochester Royals 3-4
7 1949 Minneapolis Lakers 3-4
7 1947 Philadelphia Warriors 3-4
6 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-4
6 1978 Washington Bullets 2-4
6 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-4
5 1991 Chicago Bulls 2-3
5 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 2-3
5 1978 Washington Bullets 2-3
5 1958 St. Louis Hawks 2-3
5 2006 Miami Heat 2-3
5 1999 San Antonio Spurs 2-3
5 1966 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1959 Boston Celtics 2-3
5 1955 Syracuse Nationals 2-3
5 1952 Minneapolis Lakers 2-3
4 1991 Chicago Bulls 1-3
4 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 1-3
4 1978 Washington Bullets 1-3
4 1958 St. Louis Hawks 1-3
3 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-3
2 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-2
2 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-2
2 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-2
2 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-2
2 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-2
1 2004 Detroit Pistons 0-1
1 1998 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1991 Chicago Bulls 0-1
1 1987 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1986 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1985 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1984 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1982 Los Angeles Lakers 0-1
1 1975 Golden State Warriors 0-1
1 1959 Boston Celtics 0-1
1 1958 St. Louis Hawks 0-1
1 1956 Philadelphia Warriors 0-1
1 1955 Syracuse Nationals 0-1
1 1954 Minneapolis Lakers 0-1
1 1948 Baltimore Bullets 0-1

The Cavaliers transformed themselves by trading for Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

Whether or not they win the title, it’s already been a heck of a turnaround.

How the Warriors and Cavaliers built championship contenders so quickly


Kyrie Irving reportedly wanted Harrison Barnes. So did many Cleveland fans. The Cavaliers leaked they did, too.

The Warriors indicated they wanted Dion Waiters.

The Cavaliers drafted Waiters – who shut down workouts (before visiting Cleveland) and then shot up draft boards – No. 4 in the 2012 NBA draft. They either played into Golden State’s gamesmanship or poached the player the Warriors really wanted. Golden State took Barnes No. 7.

Three years later, the Warriors and Cavaliers are no longer sparring in the lottery. They meet in the NBA Finals – hoping to become the first team in seven years to jump from outside the playoffs to a championship so quickly.

Cleveland had the worst-ever four years preceding a conference-finals appearance, let alone the worst lead-up to a conference – or even NBA – title. Before its turnaround that begun in 2012, Golden State made the playoffs just once in 18 years.

How did these downtrodden franchises change their fortunes?

The Warriors have made the most of their opportunities. The Cavaliers have made the most most opportunities.

For Cleveland, everything starts with LeBron James.

When the Cavaliers drafted him in 2003, he immediately set them on a track toward title contention. They never reached the pinnacle, and those hopes exploded in flames of burning jerseys when he left for the Heat in 2010.

But Cleveland immediately began preparing to maximize its next championship window – whenever that might be.

They signed-and-traded LeBron for two first-round picks, the right to swap another first-rounder with Miami and two second-rounders. They accepted Baron Davis’ burdensome contract in exchange for the Clippers’ unprotected first-round pick. They dealt J.J. Hickson to the Kings for Omri Casspi and another first-round pick. They traded Ramon Sessions to the Lakers for a first-rounder and the right to swap future fist-rounders. They helped the Grizzles escape the luxury tax by taking Marreese Speights – and yet another first-round pick as bounty.

Some of those picks have been squandered. The Sacramento pick (which still has not been conveyed) went to Chicago for Luol Deng, who didn’t help Cleveland get anywhere before bolting in free agency.

But others have proven instrumental. The Clippers’ pick won the lottery, sending Kyrie Irving to the Cavaliers. They also had their own pick after a poor season, which resulted in Tristan Thompson.

Infamously, that wasn’t the end of the Cavs’ lottery luck. They won again in 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins). In their lone non-lucky lottery since LeBron left, they picked up Waiters.

Essentially, the idea was accumulating assets while the team was bad and then cashing in on them when it became good. The lottery helped immensely, but the underlying plan was sound.

Paying Davis and Speights didn’t bother Cleveland at the time. Spending that money on better players wouldn’t have been enough to make the Cavaliers good, anyway.

Now, every roster upgrade matters, and the Cavaliers have shifted gears.

They sent away Tyler Zeller (acquired with accumulated draft picks in the first place) and another first-rounder to dump Jarrett Jack, clearing the cap space to sign LeBron. They dealt Wiggins, Bennett and a first-rounder acquired in the LeBron sign-and-trade to get Kevin Love. They used Waiters to acquire J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. That deal came with a Thunder first-round pick, which Cleveland packaged with that Memphis first-rounder to get Timofey Mozgov.

The Cavaliers have built a complete team very quickly because they and luck positioned them so strongly entering last summer. I’m sure LeBron wanted to return home, but I doubt he would have signed with Cleveland if its collection of assets weren’t so impressive.

The Cavaliers made plenty of missteps along the way, but they and lottery luck afforded themselves that imperfection.

The Warriors, on the other hand, didn’t have such room for error. They needed to – and did – operate much more shrewdly.

Golden State also relied on fortune – not of lottery luck, but health.

The Warriors traded Monta Ellis for an injured Andrew Bogut in 2012 – a highly controversial deal at the time – and Bogut didn’t play the rest of that season. Curry was also done for the year due to an ankle injury.

Golden State was essentially building around two injured players.

And it couldn’t have worked any better.

Bogut and Curry got healthy, but not before the Warriors tanked their way into keeping their top-seven protected 2012 first-rounder and Curry agreed to a four-year, $44 million contract extension.

Barnes became that pick, and Curry’s bargain extension gave Golden State a ton of flexibility to upgrade the rest of the roster. So did the team’s best 2012 draft pick – second-rounder Draymond Green, who like most second-rounders, signed for near the minimum.

The Warriors used some of that flexibility (necessarily furthered by a salary dump on the Jazz) to sign Andre Iguodala in 2013 and add Shaun Livingston last year.

They also took a huge risk – firing Mark Jackson, who’d helped the team escape its decades-long rut, and hiring first-time coach Steve Kerr. Of course, it has worked beautifully. Green, Barnes and Klay Thompson have blossomed this season, and the team is clicking on both ends of the court.

This is the culmination of Golden State’s plan, but the road gets more difficult from here.

Green becomes a restricted free agent this summer, and he’ll surely command a max contract. That would take the Warriors into the luxury tax, so they’ll have to pay big to keep this group together.

Likewise, the Cavaliers are running out of future assets to trade in for immediate help. They also have the urgent task of keeping Love, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Both franchises face difficult decisions in the years ahead.

But title windows are difficult to crack ajar, let alone prop open for extend periods of time.

Golden State and Cleveland have done both. Whatever happens in the Finals, these teams should remain in contention for the next few years.

And to think, not long ago, they were trying to misdirect each other about selecting Dion Waiters high in the draft.

Steve Kerr and David Blatt meet again, this time as rookie coaches in the NBA Finals

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When they first met last June (something set up by their shared agent), David Blatt and Steve Kerr found they had a common vision for how the game of basketball should be played — ball movement, spacing, player movement off the ball, playing uptempo. All of it designed to create just a little space, which is all the best players need to make the defense pay. The two became fast friends and got along so well that after a couple of meetings Kerr offered Blatt a seat next to him as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

But before Blatt accepted, his phone rang. That call ultimately became owner Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers offering Blatt their head coaching job.

Now Blatt and Kerr meet again, but this time as opposing head coaches in the NBA Finals — the first time rookie head coaches have met in the NBA Finals since 1947, the first season the league existed.

However, the pairs’ paths from when they first met to this point couldn’t be much different.

Kerr, patient in taking over for Mark Jackson, got his budding superstar Stephen Curry to buy into all those offensive philosophies he had discussed with Blatt. With the help of lead assistant Alvin Gentry (who will take over as the head coach in New Orleans after these Finals), Kerr built a thoroughly modern NBA offense around Curry and a variety of versatile weapons. The Warriors had the second best offense in the NBA, won 67 games and have been the best team in the Association since the season tipped off. Kerr was a serious candidate for Coach of the Year.

Blatt’s path changed dramatically just a couple weeks after he took the job when LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland — this went from a rebuilding project to a team that could win the title instantly (especially with the addition of Kevin Love). Blatt’s offensive system had to bend to the weight of the NBA’s star system — and that process was not fast and not always pretty. Blatt took criticism at every turn (deserved or not), it seemed everything that went wrong was on him, everything good was on LeBron. The offense struggled some early until the Cavaliers went with something more conventional and comfortable for LeBron and Kyrie Irving. After LeBron James’ mid-season sabbatical, the Cavaliers’ became an offensive force with those conventional looks. From the All-Star Game through the end of the season, the Cavs had the third best offense in the NBA scoring 108.9 points per 100 possessions (trailing only the Spurs and Warriors).

Both teams are in the Finals because of their defense. Again the Warriors have been phenomenal on that end all season. Meanwhile the Cavaliers have started to finally peak on that end in the playoffs (and especially since Tristan Thompson replaced the injured Kevin Love).

What will be most interesting these playoffs is how the two coaches — the two friends — will probe and test those defenses.

Kerr will use the depth and versatility of his offense to find weaknesses in that Cavalier defense. One matchup to watch early is whomever Kyrie Irving is guarding — Irving is not 100 percent, and there is nowhere to hide a player defensively against the Warriors. If he starts out on Stephen Curry, well, Curry will test him both off the dribble and keeping up with him off the ball. Same with Klay Thompson. Maybe the best bet is to hide Irving on Harrison Barnes, but he is another guy who moves incredibly well off the ball, and one who has the size and strength to score on Irving inside.

Golden State also is a team that makes opponents pay for ball watching — and key Cavaliers will do that. Specifically J.R. Smith and LeBron, both of whom could end up trying to track Klay Thompson at times — lose him and the result will be three Warriors points.

Finally, in the regular season the Cavaliers defense — even after the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert — struggled to move laterally well if the ball switched sides quickly. Good passing would lead to good shots against Cleveland. However, no team has exploited that in the postseason — the Celtics and Bulls were not really built to do so, and the Hawks team that shared the ball to 60 wins didn’t show up for the postseason. Golden State will be a real test of how far Cavaliers defense has come.

On the other sideline, Blatt’s European roots have shown at times in these playoffs, both in good and bad ways.

The most talked about instance led to criticism. In Europe it is common on key late-game possessions to have your best passer — even if it’s your best player — take the ball out of bounds, finding the open man. With the score tied 84-84 in Game 4 against Chicago, and just 1.1 seconds on the clock, Blatt called for LeBron to take the ball out of bounds. LeBron overruled him. LeBron called his own number, which ended up being a step-back corner three to win it for the Cavaliers. After the game, it was LeBron who told the media how that play came to be, reinforcing the idea in the minds of some that he was the real guy in charge. He may well be.

But Blatt has also made decisions — ones influenced by his European roots — that have worked brilliantly for Atlanta. Because there is no real star system in Europe coaches will simply go with the player they think is best, regardless of contract, which is how James Jones has been on the court and playing well instead of guys like Mike Miller in the postseason.

Blatt also has had strong defensive game plans. He looked at a star-less Atlanta team — one that had shot the three ball well most of the season but was not the same by the time of the Eastern Conference Finals — and decided to dare Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and basically any Hawk not named Kyle Korver to beat them from three. The Cavaliers went under picks and stayed back. The January Hawks would have carved up that defensive strategy, but these were not the same Hawks. They couldn’t take advantage.

Blatt will need a different defensive strategy this round (I don’t recommend going under picks against Curry), but he has his team peaking at the right time. And he has LeBron’s endorsement (at least publicly). Kerr’s advantage is he has more pieces on the chess board, more and more versatile players he can use to find matchups that work — and he has done that with adjustments each round that the opposing coach simply could not counter.

However the series ends, Blatt and Kerr will hug it out as friends. That hasn’t changed since they first met last June. It’s just everything else since then that has been different.

Warriors betting favorites to win NBA Finals, but money pouring in on Cavaliers


This is not a simple NBA Finals to predict.

On one hand, the Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA all season — 67 wins, No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense in the land. They only lost three games in getting out of the deep Western Conference in the playoffs. They have the MVP in Stephen Curry and the versatility and depth to beat teams in a variety of ways.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers have LeBron James. They also are a team playing their best defense of the season, their role players are stepping up, and they dropped only two games in getting out of the East.

Not surprisingly, the Warriors are the betting favorites heading into the Finals, reports online gambling site bovda.lv. The Warriors are -200 to win the series, meaning you have to bet $200 to win $100. The Cavaliers are +170, meaning bet $100 and you win $170.

The fact there is a better payout — and, again, LeBron James —has the money flowing in on Cleveland.

“I am a bit surprised how one-sided the betting on the finals is with the Cavs taking close to 60 percent of the money,” said Kevin Bradley, the sports book manager for Bovada.lv.

He added the popularity of the teams in this series means his book will likely do double the business they would have gotten from a Rockets/Hawks Finals.

As for Finals MVP… who do you think are the two favorites?

Stephen Curry (GSW) 5/8
LeBron James (CLE) 17/10
Klay Thompson (GSW) 12/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 12/1
Draymond Green (GSW) 14/1
JR Smith (CLE) 30/1
Harrison Barnes (GSW) 40/1
Tristan Thompson (CLE) 40/1
Andrew Bogut (GSW) 100/1
Andre Iguodala (GSW) 125/1

If you are betting on J.R. Smith or Iguodala to win the Finals MVP, just donate that money to charity. That way at least it would do some good.