NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: In wake of Game 3 win, Cavs have Love issues to discuss— Due to his failure to pass the NBA’s concussion protocol, Kevin Love was not cleared to play in last night’s Game 3 of The NBA Finals. Despite his absence, though (and thanks to monstrous games from Kyrie Irving and LeBron James), the Cavaliers romped past Golden State , 120-90, to trim the Warriors’ series lead to 2-1. After Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was coy about whether or not Love will play in Game 4 on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has a story on how Love’s status is part of a bigger question for the Cavs at large:
Asked about how he plans – if at all – to reincorporate Love back into these Finals on Friday night, Lue told The Vertical: “I haven’t thought about it.”
In other words: no endorsement for the embattled power forward. In the hour after the Cleveland Cavaliers had come back to life in these NBA Finals – a 120-90 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 on Wednesday night – Lue did nothing to diffuse the drama.
This has been the story of Love’s jagged Cavaliers career, two years of stops and starts, major and mild injuries, disconnection and dissatisfaction. Sometimes, Love’s been rolling. Sometimes, Love’s been less than embraced.
Here had been a complete, crushing victory at the Q, the kind of commanding performance needed to end a seven-game losing streak to the defending champions. Richard Jefferson had substituted for Love in the lineup and delivered an inspired, inventive performance: nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. He defended deftly, delivered the perfect complement to LeBron James (32 points), Kyrie Irving (30) and J.R. Smith (20).
“I gave the game ball to R.J.,” James said.
Just what Love needed. There was no longing for Love – which there seldom is with James. To a man, the Cavaliers gushed over Jefferson, and something you didn’t hear out of them: The assumption that Love takes back the job on Friday night. If Love’s deemed cleared of his concussion, Lue didn’t rush to proclaim that Jefferson’s terrific Game 3 performance would land him back on the bench.
Perhaps the Cavaliers are pushing to something the Golden State Warriors ultimately decided three summers ago: They were better trying to win a championship without Kevin Love than with him. The Warriors passed on a Klay Thompson-Love deal with Minnesota, understanding now that it would’ve been the death knell for the Warriors’ championship aspirations.
Now, Love is 27 years old and in the first year of a five-year, $110 million contract extension. When Love agreed to the deal over the summer, some close to him insisted: He had little, if any, expectation that he would complete that contract in Cleveland. When it was time to find the next scapegoat, post-David Blatt, Love had been conditioned to believe it would be him.
Perhaps that’ll come this summer, but for now there’s the concussion protocol, Game 4 and a chance for redemption. Kevin Love was livid with the doctors telling him he couldn’t play on Wednesday, but no one messes with the brain. Nevertheless, a looming question hangs over Game 4: With or without Kevin Love? On his way out of The Q on Wednesday, I had to ask Ty Lue one more time: “No thought at all about Love, huh?”
“No, sir,” Lue said with a sly smile, and he started walking away, walking toward Game 4 and Friday night, toward one of the biggest choices of his young coaching life.
No. 2: Thompson calls Mozgov’s foul ‘kind of dirty’ — In Game 3 last night, neither Stephen Curry nor Klay Thompson could find their All-Star form for the Golden State Warriors. As the Cleveland Cavaliers roared out to a 17-point first-quarter edge, Cavs reserve big man Timofey Mozgov set a pick on a play late in the quarter that riled up Thompson (and left him with a thigh contusion after the game). After the Warriors’ Game 3 loss Wednesday, Thompson had some terse words for Mozgov, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson accused Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov of dirty play following a collision that left Thompson with a thigh bruise during Game 3 of the Finals on Wednesday night.
Mozgov’s knee hit Thompson as the center set an illegal screen late in the first quarter of the Cavs’ 120-90 win.
Thompson was stunned by the play because it happened as he was trailing Kyrie Irving in the lane, an unusual place for a pick to be set.
“I didn’t get it. I don’t know. I’m guarding Kyrie, running full speed downhill. I just don’t know who is trying to set a pick on me in the middle of the key,” Thompson said. “If it’s on the perimeter, I understand. But didn’t make sense to me.”
Thompson returned after getting treatment and finished with 10 points in 31 minutes. After the game, he watched the play on video and was more convinced.
“It seemed kind of dirty to me,” Thompson said. “He stuck his knee out too, but, you know what, that’s basketball.”
No. 3: Calipari pushing for Kentucky’s Murray to go No. 1 — LSU’s Ben Simmons? Duke’s Brandon Ingram? That seems to be the consensus among most experts as to whom the Philadelphia 76ers should be weighing as their choice with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft. Over the last eight drafts, though, Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen four players he coached (Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, John Wall and Derrick Rose at Memphis) go No. 1 overall. It’s not surprising, then, that Calipari is backing another former Wildcat (like Towns, Davis and Wall were) for that spot — guard Jamal Murray. ESPN.com’s Andy Katz has more:
Calipari, appearing on ESPNU’s College Basketball podcast, said Murray is “the safe No. 1.” Calipari added that he’s had No. 1 picks who have been an MVP (Derrick Rose) and a rookie of the year (Karl-Anthony Towns).
Calipari coached No. 1 picks Rose at Memphis and Towns, Anthony Davis and John Wall at Kentucky.
“If you’re going to take the No. 1 pick, you probably should do it from our program,” Calipari said.
Calipari said Murray could be the best player to come out of this NBA draft five years from now. Murray is projected to go as high as No. 3, where the Boston Celtics select. Coincidentally, Murray worked out for Boston on Wednesday, knocking down a Celtics workout record 79 of 100 3-pointers during the session.
“I believe I’m the best player in the draft, but every team needs what they need,” Murray said after the workout.
Murray said he would do four team workouts: Boston, Phoenix, Minnesota and New Orleans. He also credited Calipari on preparing him for the NBA, saying, “Coach Cal really makes you look good.”
“He can stretch the defense, play off the ball and the NBA is going position less,” Calipari said on the podcast. “He can flat-out shoot the ball and is physically ready.”
When asked why the Sixers should take Murray over Simmons or Ingram, Calipari said, “What does Philadelphia need more than anything else? Someone to make shots and guard play. I am biased. I want my guy. But he can play multiple positions, he can physically step in and play right away. He can play the point. He can score in bunches. You watch Golden State. Who really is their point guard? Whoever has it.”
The 6-foot-4 Murray was a key member of the Canadian National Team at the Pan Am Games last summer in Toronto. He was a third-team All-American this past season as a freshman, averaging 20 points per game, 2.2 assists, 2.3 turnovers and shooting 40.8 percent on 3s and 45.4 from the field in 35.2 minutes a game for the Wildcats.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: All of our coverage from Game 3 of The Finals, in one handy-dandy spot … NBA commissioner Adam Silver on The Finals, Hack-a-Shaq and much more … New Memphis Grizzlies coach David Fizdale has added two veteran assistants to his staff … ICYMI, the New Orleans Pelicans hired former disgraced Atlanta Hawks executive Danny Ferry as a special adviser … Hall of Famers and former coaches Jerry Sloan and K.C. Jones were given the Chuck Daly Award last night … Folks had nothing but positive things to say about Sean Rooks … New York Knicks president Phil Jackson had warned his old team, the Los Angeles Lakers, about passing on Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 Draft … Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks had a little bit of clean-up surgery on his knee and ankle … An autopsy reveals the death of Oklahoma City Thunder part-owner Aubrey McClendon was part-accidental …