Posts Tagged ‘Kyrie Irving’

Morning shootaround — July 18





NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kyrie-Kobe BFFs | Grizzlies on the run | Howard says he’s healthy

No. 1: Kyrie has FaceTime with Kobe after Game 7 — After the jumping up and down on the court and then the champagne shower, newly crowned champions usually can’t keep up with all of the congratulatory phone calls and text messages from relatives and acquaintances. But Kyrie Irving made a very special connection following the Cavs’ Game 7 win over the Warriors. According to Jeff Eisenband of The PostGame, Irving had a face-to-face chat with none other than Kobe Bryant:

“I actually FaceTimed Kobe after the game as soon as I got in the locker room,” Irving says. “Other than seeing my dad and my sister right after we won, FaceTiming him was just a great thing, knowing how he has won five and I just won my first. Then realizing how hard it is just to win one, my respect for him is already high, but it went to another level knowing that he’s got five of them. I’m trying to get a second one.”

Irving credits Phil Handy, who was also on the FaceTime, for sparking his relationship with Bryant. Handy serves as Cavs Director of Player Development/Assistant Coach, a position he has held since 2013, previously serving as Lakers Director of Player Development.

“[Bryant] was telling me congrats,” Irving says of the FaceTime. “I had been speaking to him throughout the entire playoffs and during the season. During the Finals, we didn’t really talk as much, because for me, I wanted to experience it full on, and if I needed his help, I would reach out to him. He would send me some texts here and there, but mainly he kind of let me be, and let me grow into my own space.”

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No. 2: Fizdale wants Grizzlies to make connectionDave Fizdale may be a first-time head coach in the NBA, but he knows exactly what he wants from the Grizzlies. First off, it’s building on the success of the team’s core four, then playing at a faster pace and making an overall connection to each other. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal had the inside look at what’s coming:

“He spoke (to me) of culture and spoke of the commitment a team has to have to have a championship mindset,” Mike Conley said. “He explained to me the steps we need to take to achieve that goal. He wants to play faster. He wants to create more space. He’s very convincing.”

JaMychal Green agreed, saying, “The offense is quicker and we’re pressing more (on defense). Everything is quicker. I like everything about him so far.”

Fizdale is an even-keeled guy yet demanding. He expects two things that should be automatic: playing hard and communicating on the court. He demands accountability similar to former Griz coaches Hubie Brown and Lionel Hollins.

Fizdale is a stickler for detail, which is something that was evident during the film session between the second and third summer league games.

“I really got after them,” Fizdale said. “The film room is where I’m at home. You put film and players in front of me and that’s when I do my best work. I learned from the best (in Miami). Pat (Riley) is a huge film guy and Erik (Spoelstra) is an elite guy with film. So I feel very comfortable from that standpoint. I make film deliberate in cleaning up the areas we need to clean up.”

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No. 3: Howard says homecoming feels right — It’s been quite a while since Dwight Howard was leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009. Since then, there was the ugly break-up with the Magic, the one-year disaster with the Lakers and three aimless, mostly fruitless years in Houston. But now the big man is back in his home town of Atlanta and tells Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he’s healthy and it feels like the the perfect place to write the proper ending on his career:

Will his health hold up, specifically a back that was surgically repaired in 2012 (he also missed 52 games in his first two seasons in Houston with a variety of ailments, mostly knee)?

“My back hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever have an issue out of my back for the rest of my career,” he said without pause.

And will he play nice with others, altering this image that has grown around Howard that he is a difficult teammate and a hot-and-cold competitor?

When Howard speaks of himself now, a changed man, the words are simple and clean, like the peal of church bells.

“All the things that happened the past couple of years really just made me stronger, made me have some thicker skin.

“All the things that have happened put me in a place of humility to where I needed God, to understand I needed him to really survive.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anderson Varejao plans to reject the Cavs’ offer of a championship ring…Timberwolves not ready to trade Ricky Rubio yet…Carlos Delfino is still hoping for an NBA comeback…It was Doc Rivers’ recruiting touch that got Brandon Bass to land with the Clippers…Brandon Ingram plans to seek out Kevin Durant for advice.

Morning Shootaround — June 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”

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No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.

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No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An ESPN.com article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.

USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

The Finals Stat: Game 7

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers made history, becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals to win a championship. It’s Cleveland’s first major-sports championship in 52 years, and it came against the best regular season team in the history of the league.

LeBron James led the way with a triple-double and Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot of the Cavs’ 93-89 victory in Game 7. But one stat stood out as the Cavs’ became just the fourth team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road.

The stat

9 – Shots the Warriors missed to close Game 7.

The context

20160619_basicsThe Warriors had the third best offense of the last 30 years (and the best in the last 11), scoring 8.6 points per 100 possessions more than the league average in the regular season. But with their historic season on the line, they came up empty, shooting 0-for-9 from the field and going scoreless on their final eight possessions. The first team to make 1,000 3s in a season missed their last seven.

Klay Thompson tied the game at 89 on a drive with 4:39 to go in the fourth quarter. But after that, the Warriors couldn’t buy a bucket, with Stephen Curry shooting 0-for-4 down the stretch, and James blocking Andre Iguodala‘s fast-break layup on what was the game’s second-biggest play.

And who came up with another big defensive stop? None other than Kevin Love, the noted defensive liability who defended Curry one-on-one for several seconds after Irving’s 3-pointer and forced the MVP into a tough 3 from the top of the key.

The Cavs were not a great defensive team this season. They ranked 10th in defensive efficiency and are the first team since the 2005-06 Miami Heat to win a championship after ranking that low. But they got the stops they needed with the season on the line. Golden State shot just 17-for-42 from inside the 3-point line on Sunday and scored just 97.3 points per 100 possessions over the last three games of the Finals.

That was their worst, three-game offensive stretch of the entire season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

The Finals Live Blog — Game 7

OAKLAND — Respect the game.

Respect the moment.

Respect the opponent.

But have no fear.

There isn’t much more to say before what is the ultimate game in this sport, the Game 7 showdown in The Finals between two championship-caliber teams who have circled and stalked each other over the course of the past 12 months.

The reigning champion Golden State Warriors, led by their two-time and unanimous (this season) MVP Stephen Curry against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James, playing for all the marbles on the final day of this NBA season is the ideal way to finish any NBA season.

This has only happened 18 times in the storied history of this league and the home team has the historical edge, owning a robust 15-3 record in said games, including six straight triumphs. The 19th playing of a Finals Game 7 brings us a player attempting to establish himself as one of the top two or three players to ever play the game in James, and another, in Curry, who is seeking to justify his place in that same conversation among the top current players in the game.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love and plenty of others will play their roles in this epic, winner-take-all saga. All eyes early on, however, will be on the battle inside the battle between Steph and LeBron.

Whose will is greater?

Whose nerves survive the moment?

Whose supporting cast comes to the rescue first?

We find out in the next 48 minutes (and possibly more) of action. The world is watching, from right here in the Bay Area and back to LeBron’s beloved Cleveland and northeast Ohio and beyond.

We can sort out the impact on the winner and loser later, whose legacy gets the boost and whose takes the hit. Right now, it’s about this one game, just one game for the right to be called champion.

It’s all on the line tonight, here at Oracle Arena, a championship for the taking … HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!!

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He’s ready!

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You know he’s ready …

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Stephen Curry, pre-game.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

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Dwayne Wade in the building. He’s handled his business in a Game 7 before …

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This game is a kind of a big deal here in Oakland and the Bay Area.

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They are cranked up back in Cleveland, too. Trying to end that title drought.

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As I mentioned, there have been some memorable Game 7s before this one …

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Akron’s got your back LeBron!

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Hmmmm …

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It is a “young man’s game.”

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Time to get it in. Got your popcorn ready?

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A great Game 7 is all anyone’s asking for. In a strange series marked by blowouts, give us one down to the wire.

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Prime Time’s fearless prediction …

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By Any Means Necessary approach from Steve Kerr tonight.

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It’s early, relax peoples.

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Yes he does!

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LeBron turned the one over, too!

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Sorry, need one more look.

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His handle is wicked, too.

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Kevin Love came to play!

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Things change …

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Rebounding remains the most glaring issue for the Warriors.

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END OF FIRST QUARTER CAVALIERS 23, WARRIORS 22

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Ask and you shall receive #giveusoneclosegame

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He’s #CLEAN

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Steph going to the cup for the hoop and the foul.

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Draymond is 5-for-7 from the floor, a perfect 3-for-3 from deep and has 13 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.

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Dave is down with the Warriors!

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LeBron is just waiting on this one every time.

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Great players make great plays non-stop in a wild Game 7 environment. #ShowUpShowOut

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Steph picks up his third foul just before halftime on a questionable one …

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HALFTIME WARRIORS 49, CAVALIERS 42

The Global Game!

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Another look at Steph’s third foul … ?

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Warriors lead vanishes in mere minutes. JR cooking. Kyrie cooking. And Barnes and Ezeli continue to struggle on both ends.

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Steph on both ends, Warriors back up 59-54 … we seem to be getting that great game we’ve been looking for.

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Warriors bigs are struggling something terrible, on both ends.

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Kyrie taking control. Cavs put together a wicked 11-0 run to take a 65-59 lead. Warriors turning it over, missing shots and getting caught up in the moment?

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It could wild in Cleveland tonight …

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And then the Warriors tied the game on a Livingston dunk. We’re back to even at 71 with 1:56 to play in the third.

(Draymond sank three free throws and then hit a three before that.)

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END OF THIRD QUARTER WARRIORS 76, CAVALIERS 75 … Game 7 living up to the hype and then some.

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The Internet wins tonight no matter what, due to things like this …

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Back-to-back buckets from the Splash Brothers. Warriors take the lead 85-83 with 6:16 to play.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

A photo posted by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on

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We’re tied at 89 with 2:50 to play … CRAZY!

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LeBron with the eraser of a potential go-ahead layup from Iguodala. UNREAL!

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Kyrie with the dagger from 3 with 53 seconds to play, Cavs up 92-89 and have the ball after a Steph heave that bounces wide.

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LeBron makes the second of two free throws and Cleveland is 10.6 seconds away from ending the title drought. It’s officially his city if they finish this off.

CAVALIERS 93, WARRIORS 89 … from 3-1 down to dethrone the champs. LeBron finally lives his dream and brings a title to The Land!

The Warriors cannot finish their dream season. The title they thought was theirs was not.

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We did it, Cleveland. #NBAChampions | #OneForTheLand

A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

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Morning shootaround — June 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron on the verge of a dream realized | Curry understands stakes are high | Role players could play huge role in Game 7 | Kerr wants Warriors to embrace the moment

No. 1: LeBron on the verge of a dream realized After two weeks of games, tonight it’s finally time for the deciding Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And for the Cleveland Cavaliers there’s plenty on the line, as they try to become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a title. It would also be the first championship for the city of Cleveland in over 50 years. As our own Shaun Powell writes, those hopes and dreams are at the mercy tonight (8:00 p.m. ET, ABC) of LeBron James, who hopes to author history with the Cavs

LeBron returned to Cleveland two summers ago to create a new image for a sobbing city with a sports inferiority complex, and that can only be secured with a championship. That’s heavy. That’s a burden. How many more times will he get this close?

And he’s one win away.

“I don’t think people imagined it this way, the route we’ve taken,” he said.

He was the teenaged basketball messiah from Akron drafted No. 1 by the sad-sack Cavs and therefore planted a seed of hope. That initial tour of duty in Cleveland resulted in one championship appearance, where the Cavs were rudely swept by the Spurs, to be followed shortly afterward by a nasty defection to Miami. After living out his mid-life crisis with the Heat, winning two rings, LeBron returned two summers ago to a hero’s welcome only because Cleveland was just as miserable as when he left, maybe more.

The Cavs last season were simply unlucky, harpooned by injuries and therefore ran out of gas last summer against the Warriors. LeBron was the most important player on the floor, then and now, especially the last two games, both 41-point masterpieces, forcing a winner-take-all Game 7.

His averages in this series: 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.5 blocks in 41.2 minutes of heavy labor. He’s away from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his All-Star teammates in Miami who relieved him of all the leadership responsibilities and pressure, and blessed only with Kyrie Irving, which magnifies what he has already accomplished. Win or lose in Game 7, LeBron should be a strong favorite if not a lock for MVP — Jerry West is the only MVP winner on a losing Finals team — and he managed a wisecrack about that.

“The last time I answered a question about MVP, it didn’t go so well for me,” he said, “so I’m not going to do it.”

Why should he? His play speaks loudly and boastfully. If you combine this series with last summer’s, nobody has more points, rebounds, assists or blocks than LeBron. He shot only 40 percent last summer, mostly because he wore down from the load without Irving and Kevin Love, but is far more efficient now. Besides, his defense and especially shot-blocking has been brilliant if barely noticed from the outside; when the subject came up Sunday, he took the opportunity to mention his pet peeve: “I’ve been highly upset that I haven’t won Defensive Player of the Year.”

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Cavs-Warriors: The numbers so far

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will play the 19th Game 7 in the history of The Finals on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Either the Warriors will repeat as champions and cap off their 73-win season the right way, or the Cavs will win their first ever title and Cleveland’s first major-sports championship in 52 years.

The Cavs seemingly have momentum, but the Warriors will be playing on their home floor, where they’re 50-4 this season. The home team has won 15 of the previous 18 Game 7s in The Finals. But those 18 series have little to do with this one, in which LeBron James has proven why he’s still the best player in the world.

Before Game 7, here are some numbers to know regarding what has already gone down in this series…

Death of the Death Lineup

The Warriors’ lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green has been generally destructive for opponents over the last two seasons. It looked unbeatable until Games 3 and 4 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City, when it was outscored, 65-24, in just 19 minutes.

It recovered after that and was a plus-14 in 30 minutes through Game 5 of The Finals. But in Game 6, with Andrew Bogut lost to a knee injury, the Death Lineup started the game and was outscored, 27-9, in 11 minutes.

20160618_death_lineup

Now, with the season on the line, the Death Lineup looks vulnerable. Iguodala is dealing with back pain and Barnes has missed his last 14 shots. The Cavs will continue to pay extra attention to Curry and Thompson and force the other guys to beat them.

Replacing Barnes with Shaun Livingston allows the Warriors to play similarly small and versatile, but hurts their spacing. And Livingston hasn’t shot well of late, either.

Make or miss

All six games have been decided by at least 11 points, so both teams have much better numbers on both ends of the floor in the games they’ve won than in the games they’ve lost. But if you look closer at the four factors of efficiency, the biggest difference has been in the Cavs’ shooting.

The difference has been both in the paint (61.0 percent in wins, 47.8 percent in losses) and from 3-point range (42.1 percent, 26.1 percent). And the difference has been with each of the three guys – James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith – that have shot the most for the Cavs.

20160618_cavs_shooting

According to SportVU, the Cavs have shot 17-for-41 (41 percent) on contested jumpers in their three wins and 6-for-39 (15 percent) on contested jumpers in their three losses.

Love or no Love

The Cavs’ two most-used lineups in the series both include James, Irving, Smith and Tristan Thompson. That group is a plus-8 in 68 minutes with Kevin Love and a plus-38 in 58 minutes with Richard Jefferson.

Love has shot 2-for-8 in the last two games and is the only Cleveland starter with a negative plus-minus in the series. He’s a minus-12 in 58 minutes with the Warriors playing without a center and is a plus-4 in 70 minutes in which Golden State has played one of its centers.

Foul trouble was a factor in Love playing less than 12 minutes in Game 6, but his minutes may be limited in Game 7 no matter how many fouls he picks up.

Early offense

The Cavs have flipped the script on the Warriors, outscoring them 97-59 on fast break points, including a mark of 47-19 over the last two games. Both teams have always been lethal in transition, but the Warriors have typically been the team that gets more opportunities early in the shot clock.

Even in the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Cavs got less than 11 percent of their (initial-clock) shots in the first six seconds, according to SportVU. But in The Finals, they’ve taken more than 15 percent of their shots in the first six seconds.

20160618_cle_shot_clock

The Warriors, meanwhile, haven’t been able to get early looks nearly as much as they did in the regular season. And when they have, they haven’t shot nearly as well.

20160618_gsw_shot_clock

First-quarter Cavs

The Cavs haven’t only been better early in the shot clock. They’ve been better early in games. They’ve been outscored by 19 points in the second quarter, two points in the third quarter, and 10 points in the fourth quarter in this series. But they’re a plus-31 in the first quarter.

It’s been both their best offensive and best defensive quarter of the series. And the defense has been particularly strong, allowing the Warriors to score just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes.

Of the Warriors’ starters, Thompson has struggled the most in the first quarter, having shot 6-for-25 (3-for-15 from 3-point range). He’s also struggled (2-for-12, 1-for-8) in the fourth, but is 15-for-27 from 3-point range in the second and third quarters.

The trivia

  • This is the 126th Game 7 in NBA history. The home team is 101-24 (0.808) and has won the last seven (including four already in these playoffs).
  • Only 42 of 107 Game 7s in previous rounds have been decided by six points or less, but 10 of the 18 Finals Game 7s have been. The last seven Finals Game 7s have been decided by single digits.
  • James is 3-2 in Game 7s, having gone 0-2 in his first stint with the Cavs and 3-0 with the Miami Heat. The home team has won all five Game 7s he’s been involved in, including his only Finals Game 7 in 2013.
  • Neither the Cavs (in their 46th season) nor the Warriors (in their 70th) have ever played in a Finals Game 7. The Cavs are 2-2 in playoff Game 7s and the home team has won all four Game 7s they’ve been involved in. The Warriors are 4-4 (3-1 at home) in Game 7s.

Film Study: Too much LeBron for Warriors

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers have defied logic in a couple of ways in The Finals.

For one, the Cavs have won the three fastest-paced games of the series and have outscored the Golden State Warriors 97-59 in fast break points. The Warriors led the league in fast break points per game in the regular season and were assumed to be the team that wanted to play faster, but it’s been a role reversal from both the regular season and from last year’s Finals, with the Cavs using early offense to their advantage.

The second thing that might make you question your basketball values is that the three games the Cavs have won have been the three games in which they’ve passed the least often (per possession). They’ve averaged 2.89 passes per possession in their three losses and just 2.51 (a rate that would have ranked last in the league by a wide margin in the regular season) in their three wins.

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Now, there’s likely a correlation there. Transition possessions are going to have fewer passes than longer possessions. But even in the half-court, the Cavs are not winning games like the San Antonio Spurs did two years ago. Though the Cavs have 13 more field goals in the series, the Warriors have 27 more assists, 24 more secondary assists, and 86 more potential assists, according to SportVU. Cleveland’s mark of 3.7 secondary assists per game would have ranked 29th in the regular season.

Really, it’s been a two-man show for the Cavs as they’ve come back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7. LeBron James (57) and Kyrie Irving (42) have taken 99 (62 percent) of their 160 shots and recorded 27 (69 percent) of their 39 assists over the last two games. Forty of James’ and Irving’s 56 buckets in Games 5 and 6 were unassisted.

Kevin Love has been less than non-factor. J.R. Smith has hit some threes and Tristan Thompson has racked up 10 screen assists in the two games, but the offense has run through Irving and James exclusively.

So here’s a question going into Game 7 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Should the Warriors be more aggressive in trying to get the ball out of James’ and Irving’s hands?

The Irving trap

Irving did see a few double-teams on pick-and-rolls in Game 6 on Thursday. And those generally worked out for the Warriors.

Here’s Anderson Varejao jumping out high after a screen from Thompson on the side of the floor…

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Shaun Livingston didn’t switch, but rather joined Varejao to push Irving further from the basket and get the ball out of his hands…

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The result was an Iman Shumpert, 3-point miss from the right wing.

Another double-team from Varejao early in the fourth quarter forced Irving into calling a timeout. But those doubles were few and far between on Thursday,

One-on-one with the Chosen One

The Warriors double-teamed James even less. According to SportVU, James touched the ball 100 times in Game 6, and the Warriors double-teamed him exactly once.

That happened midway through the second quarter, when James posted up Andre Iguodala. Draymond Green came quickly from the weak side and doubled James on the catch, with Leandro Barbosa and Stephen Curry zoning up on the weak side…

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… and they reacted quickly enough to keep the Cavs from gaining an advantage. Green recovered from the double-team to guard Thompson on the baseline, and then helped on a Shumpert drive and took a charge. It was one of the Warriors’ best defensive possessions of the night.

But mostly, the Warriors let James play one-on-one.

Here he is posting up Curry after a switch…

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(Give Thompson an assist there for engaging Iguodala in the paint and not allowing him to help.)

More single coverage in the post from Klay Thompson

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… and Harrison Barnes

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Now, James didn’t do a ton of work in the post in Game 6, and transition defense (which starts with taking care of the ball) has to be the Warriors’ first concern on Sunday. But they can also double-team pick-and-rolls (rather than switching), defend him higher (so he can’t see the floor so easily), and make him see more bodies between him and the basket in half-court possessions when he has the ball on the perimeter…

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There were times when the Warriors overloaded on James in Game 6, but with too much of a cushion and bad positioning on the weak side…

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… allowing him to deliver easy passes for easy baskets.

Tristan Thompson also showed some deftness as a pick-and-roll playmaker (see here and here) in Game 6, but he’s still not Green or Boris Diaw in that regard.

The Warriors were fantastic in Game 1 when it came to overloading on James and recovering to the weak side. Since then, they’ve allowed the Cavs’ offense to become more unbalanced to the point where James can score or assist on 27 straight points, like he did in the second half of Game 6.

Doubles working for Cavs

Curry couldn’t score or assist on 27 straight points, because the Cavs have been defending him more aggressively than the Warriors have been defending James.

According to SportVU, Curry has passed the ball 61 percent of the time a teammate has set a ball screen for him in The Finals. James (47 percent) and Irving (42 percent) have passed the ball less often.

And when Curry has given up the ball, the Cavs have done a good job of filtering it to guys like Barnes (2-for-22 over the last two games) and Iguodala (5-for-16 from 3-point range over the last five games).

Here’s a (not all that aggressive) double-team of Curry…

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… that turns into a wide-open three for Barnes…

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The Cavs are probably happy to live with the results if Barnes takes another 10-12 shots in Game 7. And the Warriors should work on forcing more shots out of guys like Love and Shumpert. Getting the ball out of the hands of James would at least force the Cavs’ role players to make plays, something they haven’t been doing much of the last two games.

The Finals Stat: Game 6

CLEVELAND — We’re going to Game 7. The Cleveland Cavaliers fought off elimination one more time with a 115-101 victory and an all-time performance (41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and three blocks) from LeBron James. They’ve sent The Finals back to Oakland for a deciding game on Sunday (8 ET, ABC).

James scored or assisted on 27 straight points for his team spanning the third and fourth quarters, but another stat stood out as the Cavs became the first team since 1966 to force a Game 7 in The Finals after trailing 3-1.

The stat

47-19 – Score in fast-break points over the last two games, favoring the Cavs.

The context

20160616_basicsThe Warriors led the league with 20.9 fast-break points per game in the regular season, while the Cavs ranked 19th with just 11.8.

There was a thought that Cleveland wanted to keep the pace slow and play deliberate, half-court offense, like it did in last year’s Finals. But early in the series, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue insisted that he wanted his team to play faster, so that it could get easier looks at the basket.

Lue looks like a genius at this point, with the Cavs having won the three fastest-paced games of the series so far. They were out and running early in Game 6, outscoring the Warriors 31-11 in the first quarter, including 9-0 on fast-break points. There were many highlights throughout the night, including an alley-oop from J.R. Smith to James midway through the third quarter.

James has registered 12 of the Cavs’ 47 fast break points over the last two games, while Kyrie Irving has accounted for almost as many (18) as the entire Warriors roster.

And that the Cavs have kept the Warriors’ running game in check throughout the series is just as important as the Cavs’ own fast break points. Golden State can be absolutely deadly in transition, having registered an effective field goal percentage of 67.8 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock in the regular season.

But through six games, the Warriors have been able to get only 13 percent of their shots in the first six seconds, down from a regular-season mark of 18 percent. And the Cavs have limited them to an effective field goal percentage of just 49.1 percent on those early-clock shots.

This has been a wild series, and the wildest development may be that Cleveland is winning the transition game.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

Film Study: Warriors’ centers can’t contain Cavs

CLEVELAND — Some nights, Kyrie Irving has it going like he did on Monday. Some nights, he doesn’t.

Every night though, the Cleveland Cavaliers try to get him going early with the same action, a screen set by Tristan Thompson along the sideline. We saw it on the Cavs’ first two possessions of Game 1 of The Finals, as well as on the first two possessions of Game 2. It’s a play that, especially in transition, can get Irving going downhill and put the defense on its heels.

In Game 5, we first saw the Irving/Thompson sideline screen with the Cavs in a 9-3 hole…

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Thompson’s defender, Andrew Bogut, met Irving above the foul line…

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… and got beat to the basket.

On the very next possession, the Cavs ran the same action on the other side of the floor. Bogut didn’t come out so high…

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… and didn’t get beat to the basket. (Irving, instead, passed to LeBron James, who hit his first of eight buckets from outside the paint.)

Bogut made a quick adjustment and got a better result … if we’re talking about the shot and not the points scored on the play (three instead of two). The Warriors are generally happy with James shooting from the outside. In previous games, they’ve been content to have Bogut sag down to the low block and have Irving pull up for a mid-range jumper off that sideline screen.

Of course, James made twice as many shots from outside the paint in Game 5 as he did in any other playoff game this year and Irving’s shot-making was twice as ridiculous. Those guys would have had big games no matter who was on the floor for the other team, because there were too many moments where great offense beat great defense. (more…)