Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

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.

Morning shootaround — June 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls side with Butler over Rose | Report: George to play for Team USA | Russell reassured by Lakers about trade chatter

No. 1: Bulls make their choice for future, deal Rose — If you somehow missed it yesterday, the Chicago Bulls sent their former MVP, Derrick Rose, to the New York Knicks in a trade that ends a memorable-yet-difficult era in Chicago. Yes, Rose was the league’s top player in 2010-11, the Rookie of the Year in 2008-09 and a three-time All-Star. But his greatness was sapped by a multitude of knee injuries and in his absence, swingman Jimmy Butler emerged as a star. In dealing Rose, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago made it clear who it is siding with as the face of its future:

It’s Jimmy Butler’s team now.

Gar Forman hesitated to call it that, but the general manager couldn’t hide from the obvious on Wednesday, after the Bulls announced that they had traded Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks in a five-player deal.

That meant Rose’s long-standing health concerns are no longer a Bulls problem. His camp’s inability to consistently have civil conversations with his hometown organization? His brother/manager, Reggie, spouting off? Rose’s questioned work ethic by Butler and others?

All of it, sent packing in a deal with the New York Knicks that now has Rose in the “Big Apple,’’ along with Justin Holiday and a 2017 second round pick.

“Knowing Derrick as I do makes this trade a hard one,’’ Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Everyone knows him as the local kid who became MVP for his hometown team, but not everyone got to know him like I did. While he is a terrific basketball player, he is an even better person with a tremendous heart.

“I wish him the best of health for the remainder of his career, and I want to personally thank him for everything that he did on the court and in the community during his time with the Chicago Bulls.’’

Forman reiterated that sentiment.

“It’s always difficult when you’re going to trade somebody like Derrick Rose,’’ Forman said in a news conference at the Advocate Center. “Derrick obviously has meant quite a bit to this team, to this organization, and to this city, and we’re very thankful with everything Derrick brought to the table.

“Even though it’s very difficult to move someone like Derrick, we thought it was the right decision for the direction that we’re headed.’’

Privately, the Bulls were getting the sense that Rose would want a max deal coming off a 2016-17 season in which he was scheduled to make $21.3 million, and rather than have to deal with the headache of negotiating or the public relations hit they might take, the decision was obviously made to move on now.

Forman called it a “basketball decision’’ rather than a financial decision, but reiterated that the cost uncertainty of free agency over the next few seasons because of a rising salary cap was a factor.

A graduate of Simeon High School, Rose’s game hit its ceiling during the 2010-11 season in which the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game. It was a year later in the playoffs, however, that Rose’s climb would come to an abrupt ending.

Tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season, and when he did return lasted only 10 games because of a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Since those injuries, Rose’s game was never the same, with his healthiest season coming this year, as he averaged 16.4 points and played in 66 games.

With Hoiberg and Butler both signing five-year deals last season, staying power wasn’t favoring the 2008-09 Rookie of the Year.

“The decision really was what I said,’’ Forman said, when asked if the clash of egos between Butler and Rose played a factor. “We felt that we needed to start changing the roster. We felt we needed to start getting younger and more athletic. It was more from a team building standpoint in trying to get this process started.’’

With Rose now out the door, it was further evidence of the break-up between free agent-to-be Joakim Noah and the Bulls also underway.

As the Sun-Times reported last month, Noah had already set his mind on going elsewhere because of a mistrust in the front office, specifically Forman. The Rose trade does very little to change that, especially with how tight Noah and Rose were.

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LeBron says he’s staying in Cleveland

It took 52 years and a historic achievement in the NBA Finals to deliver a championship parade to downtown Cleveland.

Now that he’s back as the hero in the middle of the celebration, LeBron James says he has no intention of leaving home or the Cavaliers again.

“I love it here in Cleveland. I have no intentions of leaving,” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin during the Cavaliers’ championship parade. “There are some technicalities to take care of I’ll leave up to my agent. That’s right from the horse’s mouth.”

James, who turns 32 at the end of December, completed the second season of his return to Cleveland by leading the Cavaliers to an NBA title. He was voted unanimous MVP of the Finals after averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3. He became the third player to record a triple-double in Game 7 of the Finals, joining Jerry West in 1969 and James Worthy in ’88.

James will almost certainly turn down the $24 million option to try to get a long-term, more lucrative deal in Cleveland.

James left, of course, back in 2010 to take his talents to South Beach in Miami, where he won two championships with the Miami Heat before turning to Cleveland in 2014.

When the team hit rough patches and coach David Blatt was fired back in January, rumors began to swirl that James might once again look to bolt from his native Ohio. But that was all before the gritty playoff run, the upset of the defending champs from Golden State, which included the unprecedented rally from out of a 3-1 hole, and the spectacular performance by James as the unanimous MVP of The Finals.

Analytics Art: Breaking down LeBron’s Finals MVP performance

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win a championship. James was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP after fueling this comeback and became just the third player ever to notch a triple-double in a Game 7 of The Finals (something only James Worthy and Jerry West did).

Staring down a seemingly insurmountable deficit against the best regular-season team in NBA lore — previous teams in The Finals were 0-32 all time after falling down 3-1 — James responded with back-to-back 41-point outbursts in Games 5 and 6 before his Game 7 triple-double.

As if his individual performances were not impressive enough, James also led The Finals in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s the first player to ever lead a playoff series in five stats categories.

It ultimately didn’t matter, but James’ efficiency throughout the Game 7 triple-double performance was grim. James shot 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) and made 1 of 5 3-pointers. His performances in Games 5 and 6, however, were tremendous.

In terms of Game Score — a statistic developed by John Hollinger to provide a rough measure of a player’s individual performance in a given game — those 41-point explosions were by far the best games James had played all season.

A Game Score of 40 is considered an amazing while a 10 is average. LeBron’s Game 5 Game Score was 39.2 and his Game 6 netted a 42.5.

All told, James’ Game Score average in The Finals was a 26.5. That’s remarkably impressive, but where does it rank among past Finals MVPs?

The PointAfter team found the Game Score of each Finals MVP dating back to 1985. In those 30-plus years, James’ Finals performance ranks in the top eight all-time.

Only Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson trump James in this context, but the list also shows just how phenomenal those players were in their prime.

O’Neal averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.7 blocks while shooting 61.1 percent in The 2000 Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

In The 1991 NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks and shot 55.8 percent in a five-game series win against the Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers.

In 1987, Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double for the series (26.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 13.0 assists) while collecting 2.3 steals per game. He also shot 54.1 percent overall and 96 percent on his free throws as the Lakers topped the Boston Celtics.

In this year’s Finals, James proved once again how elite he is in the scope of the NBA annals. He orchestrated the most impressive Finals series comeback ever against arguably the best team in ages, added a third championship ring to his résumé and brought Cleveland its first NBA title.

Nevertheless, even for as flat-out good as LeBron was throughout the series (sustaining a high level through seven games), the numbers other guys posted somehow make James’ look human.

Even the most devoted LeBron doubters should, logically speaking, acknowledge his status as an all-time great. That being said, several former NBA superstars somehow were even more dominant than James was The Finals’ stage in 2016.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — June 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics | Durant to play in 2016 Games | Pippen, Rodman maintain ’96 Bulls are best team ever | Thompson, Green likely in for Olympics

No. 1: Report: LeBron leaning toward skipping Olympics — What a season it has been for LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers star is fresh off perhaps the biggest win of his career after guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title on Monday. Understandably, the reigning Finals MVP is a bit tired and according to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix, James may not take part in the 2016 Olympics in Rio:

In the aftermath of a grueling NBA Finals, LeBron James is leaning toward not competing at the Olympics in Rio this summer, league sources told The Vertical.

While James has not informed USA Basketball of his decision, team officials are operating with the expectation that it is unlikely James will be part of the team.

James, 31, has been a member of USA Basketball since 2004. He is one of three players – along with Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony – to be part of three men’s Olympic teams and has been integral to the United State’s resurgence as a basketball super power.

James will likely join a growing list of notable players electing not to play in Rio this summer. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry withdrew earlier this month. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge have also chosen not to play.

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.

20160618_passes

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.