NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Draymond, in absence, stirs Warriors’ emotions— Draymond Green, the Golden State’s versatile and valuable, almost positionless forward, is considered to be the defending champions’ emotional leader. Losing him to suspension from Game 5 of the 2016 Finals (9 ET, ABC) would seem, at first glance, to be like stealing the batteries from a very expensive toy. But based on the Warriors’ reactions to Green’s suspension, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hand in it (subtle or not) and the obstacle thrown suddenly in their path to back-to-back championships, the home team at Oracle Arena might be playing Monday with all the emotion they need. And first and foremost, that will be anger, writes J.A. Adande of ESPN.com:
They feel disrespected once more. Put upon. Agitated.
In the Warriors’ worldview, LeBron James baited Draymond Green by stepping over him in Game 4. That prompted the retaliatory strike from Green which struck James in the groin area and drew a flagrant foul 1 penalty from the NBA in a review that was announced Sunday. James all but dared the NBA to do it after Game 4, and now Golden State feels the league capitulated to one of its biggest stars. The flagrant foul ruling put Green above the playoff limit of three flagrant foul points and brought an automatic suspension for Game 5 on Monday. It also brought up some fiery talk from the Warriors, who got an early start on making up for the absence of their emotional leader.
“We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him,” Klay Thompson said.
Other Warriors players and coaches said they noticed a ramped-up intensity after coach Steve Kerr informed the team of Green’s suspension during Sunday’s practice and they feel it will give them the necessary edge in what could have otherwise been seen as a mere coronation process after taking a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals following their victory in Game 4.
They do best when doubted, as they were when they fell behind 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They also respond well to perceived slights. Example A would be their 24-0 start after having their championship credentials called into question for everything from lack of injuries to playoff strength of schedule.
Now that they have fresh motivation, the question is whether they have the means to prove their point without the versatile Green, the defensive anchor of their small-ball “Death Lineup” and an offensive facilitator prone to the occasional scoring outburst (such as his 28 points in Game 2).
Much depends on how the Cavaliers choose to prey on his absence: by going big with the likes of Kevin Love or even Timofey Mozgov, or by trying to lure the Warriors into a diminished smaller lineup by extending the minutes of Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. It also could be an opportunity for LeBron to break through now that he doesn’t have to worry about one of the Warriors’ most effective defenders.
No. 2: LeBron went home ‘for the kids’ — LeBron James gets routinely criticized for many of his feats and decisions, but a new one surfaced Sunday after his Finals off-day comments in Oakland. On a day when it might have been legitimate to wonder about James’ motives in the skirmish he had with Golden State’s Draymond Green late in Game 4 – whether consciously baiting the Warriors forward or not into a retaliatory swipe, their run-in wound up with a positive result for Cleveland in the form of Green’s suspension – the New York Post instead focused on James’ stated motives for returning from Miami to the Cavaliers:
Revisionist history? LeBron James said his “main reason” for returning to Cleveland in summer 2014 wasn’t only to break the city’s sports-title jinx that dates 52 years to the Browns winning the NFL championship game in 1964.
In a fresh spin if he fails for the second straight time in The Finals with the Cavaliers (third overall in two stints), James said getting a chance to work closer with his foundation for kids and “lift the youth in my community” served as a key motivator in leaving the Miami Dream Team where he won two championships. James likely will opt out in July to sign a new contract with the Cavaliers to maximize his earning power.
“For me, I think from a basketball standpoint, that’s one of the reasons why I came back, but it’s not the main reason I came back,” James said before the Cavaliers practiced at the Warriors’ facility. “It wasn’t the only reason I came back, and there wasn’t just one reason why I came back.
“Personally, what I’m able to do off the floor, as well with my foundation and me being back home — last summer I was able to guarantee all my kids in my program college scholarships,” James added in a new discourse on his 2014 decision. “I’m able to do so many things because I’m actually there, hands on, with my foundation and things that go on. I’m able to uplift the youth in my community and also in other communities. Even though you’re able to do it from afar, if you’re actually there, I think it’s even more meaningful to kids that look up to you for inspiration.”
James is playing in his seventh Finals — sixth straight. “From a basketball standpoint, yeah, that’s always been my goal since I was drafted in 2003,” James said. “My goal was to bring a championship to Cleveland, and it hasn’t changed. When I left, my goal was to bring a championship to Miami. That didn’t change. And when I came back, it hasn’t changed.”
James said as long as he’s “true to the game,” he won’t agonize over losing to the Warriors — which would put him at 2-5 in Finals series.
“Win, lose or draw, I’m not happy, but I’m OK with it because I know I’ve given all I’ve got,” James said. “One thing I can say that I’ve been blessed enough to be a part of seven Finals, and hopefully I’ll be blessed enough to play in many more even after this year, win, lose or draw.”
No. 3: Report: DeRozan to opt out, test free agency — The Toronto Raptors are coming off their most successful season in franchise history, having reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time ever. Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has been as key a part of the Raptors steady rise in the Eastern Conference over the last few seasons as anyone on the roster, and his looming free agency has been a source of concern for some in Toronto. As expected, DeRozan is opting out of his contract to test the free-agent waters this summer. TSN.ca has more on DeRozan’s move — which was first reported by Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com — and what it means for the team:
DeMar DeRozan will reportedly be an unrestricted free agent after opting out of the final year of his contract Monday night, according to Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes.
DeRozan, who has been on the Toronto Raptors for all seven of his NBA seasons, had a player option for 2016-17 for $9.5 million, but will likely make more money on the open market after leading the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Final this past season.
The 26-year-old shooting guard averaged 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and four assists over 78 games with the Raps. He shot career highs from three-point range (.338) and the free-throw line (.850). In 20 postseason games, DeRozan put up 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists.
General manager Masai Ujiri says getting DeRozan back in Raptors colours next year and beyond is No. 1 on his priority list this summer.
“Our number one goal is to bring DeMar back here,” said Ujiri at the year-end news conference after the Raptors were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We feel great that he wants to come back to our organization.”
No. 4: Can Thompson back up bold talk? — To be fair, Klay Thompson’s quote about Monday’s Game 5 in the aftermath of Draymond Green’s suspension – “We’re going to go out there and do it as a team and win for him” – doesn’t rise to the level of, say, Joe Namath‘s guarantee of New York Jets’ victory in Super Bowl III. Nor does it have the allure and the certainty of so many of the late Muhammad Ali‘s poetic boasts about the round and the KO he saw coming to most of his opponents. But Thompson sounded as aggravated, cloaked in bemusement, as any of the Warriors Sunday. And as The Sporting News pointed out, he seemed due and in position to do something about it:
It was groins that got the Warriors into the situation they’re looking at for Game 5. It will have to be guts that get them out of it.
The Xs and Os of the Warriors’ next game against the Cavs here in these Finals just got a lot more difficult. …
The ramifications are obvious, even with Golden State up, 3-1, in the series. Green was outstanding in Game 2 back here at Oracle Arena, when he scored 28 points. In the Finals, he has averaged 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists and has — as always — been Golden State’s most important defender. He has been a plus-36 in his time on the floor. In fact, with a decent game on Monday, Green probably had the inside track on series MVP.
“He brings a lot to the table — defensive versatility, rebounding, ball handling and passing,” coach Steve Kerr said on Sunday. “So we’ve got to figure out a way to still be effective at both ends without him. So we do have, as I mentioned, a lot of players who have helped us all year long, big and small and in between. So probably a lot of different people will get a chance tomorrow.”
But more important will be some internal gumption shown by the Warriors’ established stars. Steph Curry had his best game of the series (38 points) in Game 4, and it will be up to him to keep that momentum going. What would be even more useful for the Warriors would be a breakout game for Klay Thompson, who is averaging 15.3 points in this series and has shot only 40.4 percent from the field.
Thompson can make Green’s absence a non-factor if he can heat up from the 3-point line. It was Thompson’s 41 points and 11 3-pointers that won the Warriors Game 6 of the West finals in Oklahoma City. The Cavs would have a hard time responding to that type of output.
When meeting with the media on Sunday, the usually reticent Thompson threw a gauntlet down for James, portraying him as overly sensitive.
“I’m just kind of shocked some guys take it so personal,” Thompson said with a laugh. “It’s a man’s league and I’ve heard a lot of bad things on that court, but at the end of the day, it stays on the court. We’re all competitive people. I mean, trash talk is a part of the game in basketball. … I don’t know how the man feels. But obviously people have feelings and people’s feelings get hurt even if they’re called a bad word. I guess his feelings just got hurt. I mean, we’ve all been called plenty of bad words on the basketball court before. Some guys just react to it differently.”
Thompson was essentially calling James a whiner. Safe to say James will take notice and be revved up for Game 5, knowing he has a chance to pull his team from elimination and send the series back to Cleveland for a Game 6. Thompson will have to do the same — if you’re going to poke that bear, you better be able to tame him, too.
No. 5: NBA stars battle bulge too — With all that running, not to mention schedules devoted to putting and keeping themselves in top physical condition and the deep pockets to enlist whatever help with body maintenance they deem necessary (cooks, massage therapists, personal trainers), you might think that NBA players would be near the bottom of the list of people who fret over a few extra pounds. Not so fast, Taco Bell-breath. Turns out those finely tuned athletes are human, too, and deal with some of the same dietary detours and nutritional no-no’s as the average schmoes in the stands or on the couch. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.com got some great anecdotes in her weighty weekend story:
Kevin Love fervently believes you are what you eat. In fact, he literally counts on it.
“Not 10 almonds, not 18 almonds — 14 almonds,” trainer Rob McClanaghan says when discussing Love, his most dedicated client. “Kevin is exactly on point. If he’s supposed to eat every two hours, then on the days when he wants to sleep in, he’ll wake up, eat and go back to sleep.”
Love has so drastically altered his eating habits that his teammates heckle him on social media. He switched to a plant-based diet in 2012, with salmon and grilled chicken as his preferred entrees. He eats five to six small meals a day, and when he was traded to Cleveland in 2014, Love hired a full-time chef who prepares menus that feature organic egg whites, beet juice, shredded wheat with almond butter and protein shakes.
During a team breakfast before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Cavs players were devouring pancakes, waffles and bacon.
“Kev had two bran muffins and a banana with skim milk,” Cavs forward Richard Jefferson says. “He eats like an 80-year-old lady who’s trying make sure she’s regular.”
But Love recognizes he needs to eat this way — especially as his Cavs prepare to play their 101st game of the season. There’s a misconception that NBA players can ingest whatever they like during a long, rigorous NBA regular season that spans six months and 82 games and optimally another two months of playoffs — yet all that toil and sweat and training does not translate into a free culinary pass.
NBA players, in truth, are just like us. They count calories. They crave late-night snacks. They drink wine, margaritas or a frosty beer, sometimes excessively.
When they’re stressed, they turn to comfort foods, whether it’s the homemade meatballs their mother made when they were young, or the chicken fettuccine Alfredo that Love’s mom has perfected.
“People definitely think athletes can eat whatever they want because they run it off,” says Dr. Mike Roussell, a nutritionist who works with numerous pro athletes, including Lakers center Roy Hibbert. “Even in the front office, some have that belief. I was blown away by the number of [NBA] athletes who were buying chicken fingers at the arena before a game or going to Subway late at night after the game. They are literally just like everyone else.”
Former Phoenix Suns center Oliver Miller loved pizza.
Danny Ainge, who played with Miller in Phoenix, says the 10-year veteran, who at his peak weighed over 375 pounds, ate so much of it that the Suns took drastic measures, including hospitalizing him and hooking him up to IV fluids.
“But then they found out he was ordering Domino’s from the hospital,” Ainge says. “They had to put a security guard outside the room.”
[Charles] Barkley also played with Miller. “When we were on the road, we’d see the [pizza] boxes piled up outside his room,” Barkley says. “I never understood when guys were making all that money why they couldn’t stop eating. It seems crazy to me.”
In his current role as president of basketball operations of the Boston Celtics, Ainge has dealt with players who similarly struggled with weight: Glen “Big Baby” Davis (whose contract with Boston included a weight clause); Jared Sullinger; even former Georgetown big man Mike Sweetney, whom Ainge believed had the skills of a 10-year NBA pro.
“First of all, I don’t think anyone that is overweight wants to be overweight,” Ainge says. “They want to be in great shape, and most of them work at it, to some degree. A lot of big guys, like Oliver and Big Baby, were good players who could all play heavy. That was part of the problem. They could be somewhat effective, but they were never as good as they could be.
“And, eventually, it catches up with you.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: To properly prep for Game 5, you might want to check out a bushel of NBA.com advance coverage: Shaun Powell looks at the challenge faced by LeBron James as he tries to claw away from a 2-5 Finals record, John Schuhmann examines Golden State’s best lineup options without Draymond Green and Steve Aschburner questions the NBA’s cumulative flagrant-foul points system, which doesn’t provide a level playing, er, court for all Finals players. … Has it really been five years since the Dallas Mavericks upset the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals and made James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat wait a year before their ganging-up tactics truly dominated the NBA? Why, sure it has. Time flies. …