Morning shootaround — June 6


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Green delivers in Game 2 | Cavaliers heart, toughness questioned | LeBron: ‘I have to be better’ | Warriors breezing into history | Report: Rubio open to trade

No. 1: Green is money for Warriors in Game 2 winDraymond Green‘s role for the Golden State Warriors is clearly defined. The All-Star forward serves as the emotional and vocal leader for the world champions, a defensive-minded hybrid point forward/center capable of playing the role of rim protector and facilitator in the same sequence. But Green showed off his splashy side in the Warriors’ Game 2 blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at Oracle Arena. Our very own Scott Howard-Cooper describes the Day Day takeover:

This didn’t earn him a flagrant foul, maybe even an ejection, and a suspension for the next game? Seriously?

Draymond Green openly pummeled Cleveland, the team and the city, on Sunday. He stepped on their throat, belted away their response plans with a tight fist, kicked them where it hurts and yet not one disciplinary whistle from referees to slow the rampage. It was like no one could stop him.

There were about 20,000 people watching in person and millions more on TV — they are all witnesses — though maybe not the Cavaliers, since they undoubtedly turned away in disgust and shame. And the way everyone around Green cheered the intentional infliction of pain. He hit back-to-back three-pointers in the second quarter, following a make from behind the arc about four minutes earlier, and Oracle Arena erupted.

The Warriors, too. With Green leading the charge, they went from trailing 28-27 to leading 52-37 to turn Game 2 of the Finals into an early blowout and eventually a 110-77 win. When the smoke cleared, the man facing the most unique of scrutiny had 28 points, including five three-pointers, seven rebounds and five assists against one turnover.

Green is one flagrant-foul point from a suspension and/or two technicals away from being forced to sit out a game ever since his emotions became the focus of attention in the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City. Or, rather, the focus of negative attention. His energy and role as a locker-room leader, even in last season’s championship despite while in just a third-year pro, has long been credited as a driving force for Golden State.

These playoffs, though, are when the emotions became a problem and maybe even a pressing problem. Kicking the Thunder’s Steven Adams in the groin — inadvertently, Green insisted repeatedly — could have cost the Warriors their starting power forward and small-ball center for a game at the very moment Golden State was fighting for survival. And then, after the league decided against a suspension, Green got a technical in the third quarter of Game 5 of the West finals.

But he has been the personification of composure since. Zero flagrants, zero techs in his last four-plus playoff games. In that time, the Warriors became only the 10th team to ever rally from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs and now own a 2-0 lead against the Cavaliers in The Finals. Twenty-two assists against nine turnovers over the same time.

“Draymond does everything for us,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He defends. When we play our small lineup, he’s our rim protector. It’s a tough job in this series because he has to guard Kevin Love, who is usually spaced out at the three-point line. So he’s got to pick his spots, how to help and try not to stray too far away from Love and still be able to help out on LeBron. So it’s a difficult job. But I thought Draymond was great. Obviously he knocked down his three-point shots tonight, which is just a bonus. But he’s always one of our most important players and had a heck of a game.”

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No. 2: Cavaliers heart, toughness questioned — Seven straight losses to the same team is bad enough. But back-to-back losses by a combined 48 points has people questioning the Cleveland Cavaliers’ heart, toughness and just about everything else associated with the once mighty Eastern Conference champions, so says Akron Beacon Journal columnist Marla Ridenour:

In Sunday’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers had their toughness tested.

The result should have been an affront to their manhood.

The Cavs couldn’t match the defending champion Golden State Warriors’ physicality.

They were mentally powerless to stop a 20-2 run in the second quarter and another onslaught in the fourth.

They were thrown off their games by the officiating crew, which ignored the pounding the Cavs absorbed, especially under the basket.

They couldn’t handle the pressure of the big stage, with only the oldest man on the roster, Richard Jefferson, playing as if he weren’t intimidated.

Rookie coach Tyronn Lue looked overmatched, struggling to find effective combinations.

It all added up to a 110-77 Warriors’ victory in Oracle Arena. The Cavs return home down 0-2, setting up a must-win situation in Game 3 on Wednesday night in Cleveland.

After watching the film of Game 1, Lue knew what to expect, both from the referees and the Warriors.

“They’re allowed a lot of physicality, and we’ve got to be physical,” Lue said before the game. “All their switches, with Steph [Curry] on LeBron, he’s bumping LeBron, and we have to take the same approach. I think the [officials] are letting the game be played.”

The Cavs may have been aware of the style required, especially in the Oracle, where the Warriors are 50-3 this season, 11-1 in the playoffs. But the Cavs still didn’t play that way.

Even LeBron James failed the Cavs. He saw his career-best string of 25 consecutive postseason games with at least 20 points snapped, finishing with 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in 34 minutes.

James went 0-for-5 in the first quarter and 5-of-12 in the first half. He also committed four turnovers in the first 24 minutes, three in the second quarter. In Game 1, that had been a thorn in the Cavs’ side, with 17 turnovers leading to 25 Warriors’ points.

For the second consecutive game and continuing a troubling trend from the 2015 Finals against the Warriors, J.R. Smith struggled offensively. He hit 2-of-6 from the field and scored just five points. Smith came out trying to dribble past Klay Thompson and looked ragged and erratic.

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No. 3: LeBron: ‘I have to be better’ — He was the one who decided to bring his talents back to Cleveland. He signed off on this roster, endorsed the coaching change and basically every other move made since he returned to his native Northeast Ohio. So it makes sense that with his team down 2-0 for the first time since 2008, LeBron James would shoulder the blame for the plight of the Cavaliers as The Finals shifts from Oakland to Cleveland. Our very own Steve Aschburner details the predicament LeBron is in right now, needing to win four of five games to avoid ending up on the wrong side of history:

Jerry West might want to stay off the Interwebs today.

One day after the legendary Lakers Hall of Famer called criticism of James’ 2-4 Finals record “ridiculous,” staunchly defending the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar on an off-day at Oracle Arena, James was facing a fresh round of scrutiny after his team’s overmatched 110-77 Game 2 loss to the Golden State Warriors.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing,” said West, the man known as “The Logo” for his silhouette in the NBA emblem. “If I were him, I would want to strangle you guys. He’s carried teams on his shoulders.”

James’ hands, actually, were occupied as he did a little figurative strangling of himself after the 33-point disaster. For the second time in as many games, he came close to a triple-double — 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, with four steals — and maybe even gets odd brownie points because he did that in just three quarters. His team, after all, was down by 20 at that point and since James already was on the bench, he never had to take off his warm-up shirt as the Warriors’ ballooned their advantage to 34 in the fourth.

But 19 points isn’t nearly enough given the load James carries for the Cavaliers and seven turnovers — again, in just three quarters — was way, way too many. Those giveaways — contributing to the 18 that Cleveland had, turned into 26 points by Golden State — told more of Game 2’s story than James’ positive numbers, along with his 7-of-17 shooting and an ugly minus-20 in the plus/minus column.

By comparison to some of his teammates — Kyrie Irving dropped from 26 points in Game 1 to just 10 Sunday, Kevin Love scored five in the 20:46 he played before exiting with dizziness from an inadvertent Harrison Barnes elbow — James’ numbers seemed, well, not horrible. And a lot of chatter in the building afterward focused on the absence of big-game responses from the other Cavaliers, something that was part of his first tour in “The Land.”

But when asked if he needs to be more selfish to get the direction of this best-of-seven series turned around before it’s too late, James took a step back.

” ‘Selfish’ is probably the wrong term,” he said. “I got myself in a lot of trouble tonight personally. Turned the ball over way too much. And I said after Game 1 we just can’t turn the ball over against a great team and expect to win, and I had basically half of the turnovers … when I came out, and it resulted in them getting some easy baskets.

“So I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better with the ball. You know, trying to play-make for myself and play-make for my teammates at the same time, I’ve just got to be more solid.”

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No. 4: Warriors breezing into history — They don’t want get ahead of themselves, not with two more wins needed to secure a second straight Larry O’Brien trophy. But it’s hard to avoid the obvious, the fact that this Warriors team is breezing into history on the heels of the best regular season in NBA history. They are mindful of the task ahead, but also, as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News points out, clear about the challenge ahead:

This Warriors team won a record 73 games this regular season because it is so finely focused, because it wants to achieve every great thing possible, because it has so much talent, and because it reminds itself of everything it needs to hear every step of the way.

Late in this game, during a timeout with the Warriors far ahead, Green pulled Curry into the middle of the court, away from the huddle, to talk about the mindset they needed as team leaders.

“Definitely big picture,” Green said of the talk.

Curry said Green wanted to make sure all focus was on winning Game 3, and nothing more.

Game 3 is the next step, then if they win that, the Warriors could clinch the championship in Game 4 — once again in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, which is where they clinched last season’s title in Game 6.

The Warriors don’t want to say it, but they know that the Oklahoma City series was the true NBA mortality test for the Warriors.

The Thunder had the length and quickness to strangle the Warriors’ offense and the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to threaten their defense and the noise at Chesapeake Energy Arena to shock their nervous system.

They survived that, barely. Somehow.

And this is something different and easier. The Warriors don’t pretend to believe they can shut down LeBron, but they know they have a lot of ways to slow him down, and that Cleveland doesn’t have many options to counter any of that.

On to the final chapters, then.

“The hardest part of the series is coming up when we go to Cleveland,” Thompson said. “They’ll be playing with a sense of desperation, and their fans are going to be really hungry.

“They’re not very nice in Cleveland, the fans, and that’s all right. That’s what makes the game so much fun.”

They’re not getting ahead of themselves; they know it will be tough in Cleveland, but they also like that it will be tough, because they have survived worse.

Remember, the Warriors have won seven consecutive games over the Cavaliers, starting with Game 4 of last season’s Finals (after Cleveland took a 2-1 lead).

It isn’t over-confidence if you keep doing the same thing repeatedly. It’s mostly, at this point, just NBA destiny, right there in front of them.

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No. 5: Report: Rubio open to trade if Timberwolves miss playoffs — You have to wonder if something got lost in translation. Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio said in a radio interview in his native Spain that if he doesn’t lead his team to the playoffs, it could be his last in the Twin Cities:

In an interview with Catalunya Radio from Spain, Rubio said that next season could be his last one with the Timberwolves if the team doesn’t make it to the postseason.

“When I arrived to Minnesota, my hope was to break the seven years’ streak without [a] presence in [the] playoffs. I still have that hope, but it’s very tough mentally when year after year that goal is not met,” Rubio said.

“Next season will be crucial for me. I’ve been in the NBA for five years, and six years without playoffs would be a long time. At 26, I’d have to start thinking about teams that can get to the playoffs and win in The Finals.”

Rubio, who averaged 10.1 points and 8.6 assists in the NBA last season, signed a four-year extension worth $56 million with the Timberwolves that started in 2015.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could there be a reunion for Joakim Noah and Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota? …  Draymond Green is ready to settle any debates about the Warriors’ real MVP Al Horford, Chandler Parsons and Ryan Anderson should be on Magic’s short-list in free agency … As expected, Portland coach Terry Stotts got high marks from fans who graded his fourth season at the helm of the Trail Blazers

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