Posts Tagged ‘Luke Walton’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers’ Jordan, Warriors’ Durant share deep bond | Report: LeBron to host team workouts in L.A. | Young, Russell mending relationshipReport: Grizzlies tried to sign Teodosic

No. 1: Durant, Clippers’ Jordan share deep bond — In just about every sense of the word, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors are rivals in the NBA. With Kevin Durant moving from Oklahoma City to Golden State this summer, that rivalry takes on added spice as the Clippers were one of the teams attempting to woo him. Yet despite the added aspects to that rivalry, Durant and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan remain as close as ever. Michael Lee of The Vertical details that bond as he catches up with the pair of Team USA teammates in Rio:

“If I were to get married today, he’d be in my wedding,” Durant told The Vertical about Jordan. “That’s how it is. That’s my brother.”

Numerically, Durant and Jordan were bound to be attached at the hip at some point during these Olympic games. Number 5 and No. 6, respectively, in your program for Team USA, the tallest players on the roster – don’t bother looking at the height listings in your program – are always side-by-side during the pregame introduction and national anthem.

But they have also been almost inseparable off the floor since the games began. They were seated next to each other, pumping their fists and cheering, and using their cellphones to record Michael Phelps collecting a couple more gold medals. They’ve joined teammates on trips to the Ipanema Beach to play volleyball, to Copacabana Beach to watch volleyball, to Olympic Stadium to see Usain Bolt scorch the track and to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue to admire one of the world’s great wonders.

The newest Golden State Warrior and the longest-tenured Los Angeles Clipper are proving that players from those hated rivals can get along. It helps that they’ve been friends almost a decade – beginning when Durant failed in recruiting Jordan to Texas, growing stronger a few years ago when Durant decided to make Los Angeles his offseason home and continuing through now, as they try to bring a third consecutive gold medal back to the United States.

When relayed Durant’s comments about being in his whenever wedding, Jordan nodded and told The Vertical, “For sure, he’s going to be in mine.”

Durant first met Jordan shortly after he committed to Texas and tried to convince Jordan, who was a year younger, to join the program. Jordan wasn’t swayed because he had little confidence they’d ever be college teammates, and signed with rival Texas A&M.

“I said, ‘Why would I come there, when you’re going to leave after your first year?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m going to leave. I think I’m going to stay.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘I’m telling you.’ And obviously, you know what happened,” Jordan told The Vertical with a laugh. “Ever since then, we’ve been really, really cool and he’s one of my best friends in the world.”

This summer, Jordan was on the other end, heading up to the Hamptons, along with Steve Ballmer, Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Lawrence Frank, to make a recruiting pitch for Durant to join the Clippers. “I tried every day,” Jordan told The Vertical. “We had a shot. And if you ask him, he’d say we had a shot. People can be happy for him, mad at him, but at the end of the day, he did what was best for Kevin, and he can live with that.”

In addition to hanging out with Durant, the Olympics have also given Jordan the chance to connect with players whom he’d always viewed as the enemy. Those differences have been put aside in pursuit of a similar goal, quarrels that become more difficult to maintain once those guys have been to your home, dining on your mother’s cuisine. Before leaving for Brazil, Jordan invited his Olympic teammates over for dinner at his mother’s home in Houston.

“Six months ago, I never would’ve thought I would’ve invited Draymond [Green] to my house,” Jordan told The Vertical, adding that his relationship with Durant had no influence on befriending the other Warriors on the Olympic team. “Once you’re around these guys you realize, ‘Oh, they’re cool.’ Before, I only looked at Draymond as Draymond who played for the Warriors. We always clashed. So, now that we’ve been together for over a month, it’s been amazing. We hate each other during the season, but it’s bigger than those two teams. Winning a gold medal, representing your country. We don’t even think about that anymore. Which is crazy. I’m happy to be playing with these 11 guys and we’ll be bonded for life after this.”

With Griffin missing most of last season with a nagging quad injury and a broken hand from a fight with a former team employee, Jordan was able to earn some of the appreciation he has long sought when he made first-team All-NBA despite never making the All-Star team. “I could care less about the All-Star team now,” Jordan told The Vertical. “Yeah, I really don’t care about it anymore. I’d rather go on my week vacation, to be honest. And being an Olympian, and potentially a gold medalist, that’s better than that. It’s cool to be appreciated and highly valued by your peers. That, to me, is the biggest thing.”

Durant believes the recognition was long overdue. “As a basketball player, you an appreciate what someone like him does, he sets screens, does all the small things, rebounds, blocks shots, talks out there, he’s an anchor on defense,” Durant told The Vertical. “If you’re really into the game of basketball, you can really appreciate him. That’s why he’s paid like a max player, because the Clippers know what he brings and how he helps the team. He helps everyone win.”

Fom the Donald Sterling fiasco, to Paul and Griffin both getting injured in a first-round loss to Portland last season, the Clippers haven’t been able to catch many favorable breaks, but Jordan is undeterred.

“Every team goes through ups and downs, and some dark times, but you’ve got to keep fighting through and find a way,” Jordan told The Vertical. “That makes for a better story for me. This is my ninth season, and I definitely want a chance at winning something that’s never happened before, with the Clippers. It’s big. I want a chance at the title.”

Jordan said there wasn’t any more urgency to win next season, simply because Paul and Griffin can both become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2017. “They’re both extremely talented players,” Jordan told The Vertical. “I believe whatever decision they make is going to be a great decision. I’m not worried about it right now. I don’t expect it to be a distraction during the season. I can’t speak for them, but at the end of the day, they’ve got to make the best decision for themselves and their families. Whatever happens, happens.”

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Blogtable: Biggest team turnaround with new coach?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on away-from-play rules changesBiggest turnaround with new coach?Incoming rookie destined for NBA stardom?


> Which team is poised to have the most dramatic jump in winning percentage next season: Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, Scott Brooks’ Wizards, Luke Walton’s Lakers, Dave Joerger’s Kings, Nate McMillan’s Pacers, David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, Jeff Hornacek’s Knicks, Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets, Frank Vogel’s Magic or Kenny Atkinson’s Nets?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Thibodeau’s Timberwolves will improve the most. No one coaches harder in the 82-game regular season, and Minnesota’s three youngest core players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — would naturally take a step or two in their development under almost any coach. Combine that, along with a pretty easy act to top (29 victories in 2015-16) and I’m expected an improvement of 10-15 games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe 17-win Lakers have the most room to work with, but the Lakers are also the farthest away. Frank Vogel’s solid defensive base will make the Magic jump if they can sort out the sudden glut of big men. But I’m making it a two-team race for biggest improvement. The Grizzlies and David Fizzle with a healthy Marc Gasol should go from 42 back to their customary 50-plus level. But I’ll give the nod to Minnesota. All that young talent combined with Thibs’ defensive chops will have the Wolves howling with a possible leap from from 29 to 40+ wins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLuke Walton’s Lakers, but in large part because they have the most realistic room to grow. It’s not hard to see L.A. adding 10 wins based on the energy of the coaching change, the experience D’Angelo Russell and (basically) Julius Randle didn’t have last season, the arrival of Luol Deng as a veteran presence and the addition of Brandon Ingram in the Draft. Ten wins is close to a 60-percent jump. A lot of the other options you mention will improve — Minnesota, New York, Orlando — but the Magic, for example, aren’t going to be 60-percent better in the standings. They will have more wins than the Lakers, just not a bigger increase.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll say the Lakers only because they were mostly dreadful and won just 17 games. Only one way to go, and if they win 30, which is somewhat realistic, that almost a 50-percent jump. Can’t see anyone else in this group pulling that off (where are the Sixers?) But again, it’s a backhanded compliment to the Lakers, who if nothing else should be exciting to watch even in defeat.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wolves are going to the playoffs next season. Tom Thibodeau will have them improve at least 10 spots in defensive efficiency, where they ranked 27th last season. The development of their young players — along with, hopefully, Zach LaVine playing a lot more shooting guard than point guard — should have them improved offensively as well. Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s next star and should do well with his first summer of work after finding out what the league is all about. He could make a huge leap.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As entertaining as I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves could be under Tom Thibodeau, I’m going to have to go with Luke Walton’s Lakers. They’ve got as much ground to gain (in percentages and raw numbers) as any team in the league, given their dreadful performance last season and the fresh new look they’ll have under Walton. David Fizdale’s Grizzlies, however, will go into the season as my potential surprise team in the Western Conference (provided they have a healthy roster to work with), where things could shift dramatically with all of the changes that have occurred in free agency.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe Timberwolves may reach the playoffs next season because of Thibodeau, who will hasten their development defensively and turn their athleticism into a force. D’Antoni has a history of elevating the value of his players and the Rockets appear to be in the mood to rally around him after embarrassing themselves last year.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI don’t know if there is a “most dramatic” winner out there. Scanning past those names, I don’t see any one team that immediately jumps out at me and looks like sudden a title contender. If I had to pick one, I’d pick a team in the East, where improvement may be easier to come by, and say either the Knicks (if they are healthy, which is a gigantic if) or maybe Frank Vogel’s Magic show in Orlando.

Morning shootaround — July 10





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s Knicks connection | Rockets extend Harden | Walton ready to grow | Wade no hard feelings

No. 1: Noah and Jackson have a historyJoakim Noah had been to Madison Square Garden many times as a kid to watch the likes of Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson in the glory days of the ’90s. But it was an unexpected and daresay unusual visit to Montana that providing the first meeting between Noah and Phil Jackson and eventually led to them reuniting now in New York. Christian Red of the New York Daily News detailed the long and winding road that brought them together:

About five years ago, Noah says he visited Phil Jackson at the Zen Master’s Montana retreat, after Jackson had left the Lakers’ bench and was semi-retired. The trip, which was sparked by mutual friends of both Noah and Jackson, now seems to have been a hint of things to come.

“My father used to make me read (Jackson’s) books when I was a kid. I hate reading books, but I read his books,” says Noah. “I had an opportunity to go to Montana and meet (Jackson). So I took the plane, went to Montana, and I knock on his door. We start talking and he goes, ‘Why are you here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was a great couple days. I got an opportunity to meet one of the legends and spend time with him. Life works in mysterious ways. Now we’re here.”

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No. 2: Rockets bet on Harden — With the ill-fated Dwight Howard era in the rearview mirror, the Rockets have wasted no time in re-establishing James Harden as the face — and The Beard — of the franchise by extending the contract of the All-Star guard through 2020. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com says Harden is looking to establish a lasting legacy in Houston:

Harden did some good on Saturday by staying. He keeps the team relevant with his superstar stature and he also displayed a sense of loyalty. No need for the Rockets to head to the Hamptons for visits with free agents.

“It’s just that feeling where everything feels comfortable,” Harden said. “You felt loved and people want you to be here, and that feeling right there outweighs anything.”

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No. 3: Walton will grow with young Lakers — To twist a lyric from his father’s favorite rock and roll band, what a short, strange trip it’s been. But even though he’s just 36 years old and doesn’t have a long resume of coming up through the ranks and paying dues, Luke Walton says he’s up to the task to rebuild the Lakers. Our own Walton watched his young players get their first taste of summer league action in Las Vegas and our own Scott Howard-Cooper was there to catch up to him:

If someone told him nine months ago he would be coaching the Lakers, Walton would not have believed them. He would have taken it. But he wouldn’t have believed them. Yet there he was, walking through the black curtains of Thomas & Mack before their summer-league opener against the Pelicans, about to watch D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, two of the new franchise cornerstones, paired for the first time.

“It was unusual,” Walton said of the insta-path that led him from novice on the bench to the chance to be the No. 1 with a franchise and a front office he knows well in an area he loves and had kept his permanent home. “It happened faster than I would have guessed. I think obviously Steve’s health issues and being the interim head coach up there for 40-plus games this year was the main reason the process has sped up and obviously the success we’ve had up there. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I think everybody does, no matter how long you’ve been doing any job. I’m excited and I feel like I’m ready for this and I’m looking forward to it.”

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No. 4: Wade-Riley have ties that bindDwyane Wade has read and listened to all of the analysis of the break-up with Heat president Pat Riley that led to his departure from the only NBA franchise he’s ever known. But the All-Star guard and three-time champion told Shandel Richardson of the Sun Sentinel that there are no hard feelings over the break-up and there will always be love for Riley:

There were reports Wade and Riley were at odds during negotiations. Wade turned down the Heat’s two-year, $40-million contract, joining the Bulls for a deal worth roughly $7.5 million more.

“Because you love somebody so well, you guys love each other, but the business side comes out,” Wade said. “You know? And we have to deal with that. I’m not saying we’ve hugged and cried and shared tears at this moment. But I love Pat and I will always love Pat. And I know he feels the same way about me.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Grizzlies pick up another shooter in a trade for Troy Daniels … After helping Croatia punch its ticket to the Rio Olympics, Dario Saric said his next stop is Philadelphia to join the 76ers … Little Isaiah Thomas is looking for a big payday from the Celtics … The Warriors make it official with veteran forward David West … Darrell Arthur re-signs with Nuggets … Pelicans remembering Bryce Dejean-Jones.

Morning Shootaround — June 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Is Ingram the next big star in LA? | Bucks big on Maker | Rose sounds off

No. 1: Is Ingram the next big star in LA? — These are enthusiastic times in Los Angeles regarding the Lakers. They have Luke Walton as head coach, they no longer need to deal with the Kobe retirement tour, and the draft fetched Brandon Ingram, the promising forward from Duke who should pay immediately, or at least the Lakers hope. He’s the most anticipated rookie since Kobe if only because the Lakers are awaiting the next star and also coming off a poor season that led to the draft lottery. Here’s Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times going full cuddle on Ingram:

In his first and only season at Duke, the kid shot 46% on two-pointers, 41% on three-pointers, both figures which would have led all Lakers playmakers last season. Throw in the kind of defensive havoc that a 7-foot-3 wingspan can cause and you’ll understand how even cool hand Luke Walton got excited.

“We got the player I wanted in the draft,” said Walton at a buzzing Lakers training facility. “I don’t know if he’s the best or not, but we got the player I wanted, for sure.”

Oh, he’s the best. The majority of scouts who follow these things agreed. The sly smile on General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s face agreed. The perception was even shared by the crowd of Lakers season-ticket holders sitting on folding chairs watching a giant TV on the facility’s gym floor, as they cheered loudly before Ingram was even picked.

They were cheering because the Philadelphia 76ers, picking first, went for the glitz selection of Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons. Many of them then erupted in a standing ovation when the obvious pick of Ingram was next.

“We felt we’d be very lucky to get Brandon into this organization,” said Kupchak.

The celebratory mood was in contrast to the defensiveness that permeated the organization last June when the Lakers shrugged off the natural No. 2 pick of Jahlil Okafor and instead reached for D’Angelo Russell. In some ways, they’re still reaching for Russell, trying to connect with him, and this pick of Ingram may lead them to eventually trade him for a stabilizing veteran if they feel a core of Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle is their future.

“We’re going to stress competition here, and we’re going to compete,” said Walton. “And if that means a young guy we’re developing isn’t playing the way he should be, then he’s got to come out of the game.”

Or out of the organization? Stay tuned. For now, the Lakers are thrilled to add a player who, unlike Russell last year, played bigger as the games became bigger, growing from an early benching to playing 119 out of a possible 120 minutes in three NCAA tournament games, averaging 23 points, six rebounds and three assists.

“We’re picking a player that played at, some might say, a very established college basketball program,” said Kupchak with a grin, the former North Carolina star taking his usual draft-day shot at Duke. “And he played big minutes in an excellent league with excellent competition

The Lakers love Ingram’s maturity, which was in evidence from the first answer he gave as a Laker, saying on national TV that he wanted to bring leadership to the team. The young Lakers could certainly use some of that, and while it’s unlikely an 18-year-old kid can lead anyone right now, it’s revealing that he aspires to do so.

“You need leadership, you need cohesiveness, you need energy, and everything I’ve heard about this kid, he brings all those to the table along with his skill set,” said Walton.

The biggest hindrance is his weight, which is officially 190 pounds, which unofficially makes him look downright reed-like even though he’s reportedly gained nearly 30 pounds in the last year. He’s always been thin, and the target of jokes because of it. When he was growing up in Kinston, a town of about 22,000 in eastern North Carolina, he was so thin he could barely wear his souvenir Duke jersey. Even today, he hears it all the time, including immediately after being drafted when his first interviewer called him “Skinny.”

“I think it just gives me motivation to show these guys that the skinny part doesn’t matter,” said the quiet Ingram in a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “It got me here today … and being skinny didn’t mean nothing when I was battling with each and every guy, each and every night.”

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No. 2: Bucks still defending Maker decision — The Milwaukee Bucks rolled the biggest pair of dice on draft night when they used the 10th pick to select seven-footer Thon Maker, a human question mark, as far as the average NBA fan is concerned. Bucks coach Jason Kidd and GM John Hammond believe Maker, in time, will become a solid player if not a star with the Bucks, even though his name wasn’t a prominent one prior to the draft. He grew upin South Sundan and then Australian before coming to the States and impressed the Bucks during his workout. Here’s Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel with more clues:

Maker wasn’t even in ESPN international expert Fran Fraschilla’s top five international players.

“The reason why is he’s neither fish nor fowl,” Hammond said. “He wasn’t an international player; he wasn’t a college player. He was the only high school player in this year’s draft.”

Hammond said when Maker worked out for the Bucks a few weeks ago, he stayed around after the six-man session and went through drills with some of the Bucks coaches for another hour and 45 minutes.

“I didn’t know if we were going to be able to draft him, but we got in the car and I said, ‘Thon, if you get drafted, you just got a taste of what’s going to happen with you.’

“The blueprint is real simple. It’s called hard work and it’s going to happen here in this gym. He’s willing to do it; that’s the most important thing.”

Hammond said the Bucks explored moving up in the draft but decided they had to give up too much to do that. Published reports said Boston was seeking deals with multiple teams, trying to get shooters or scorers, and Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker were Bucks players named as sought by the Celtics.

Maker played for two schools in Ontario, spending last season at the Athlete Institute Academy in Mono. Earlier he played for Orangeville Prep and was a teammate of Kentucky recruit Jamal Murray, who was selected seventh overall by Denver on Thursday.

“He’s really multifaceted,” Hammond said. “At 7 feet tall, he has the ability to handle the ball more effectively than you realize. He has good vision with the ball.

“The fact he shoots it makes it extra exciting. His experience is limited but I think he does have a pretty good feel for the game.”

Hammond said the age controversy did not affect the Bucks’ interest at all.

“Look, he’s 19 years old,” Hammond said. “We’ve been through this before with international players at times. Sometimes guys are questioned on age. It’s tough. You look at Thon Maker coming from the South Sudan and there are difficult situations.

“But we’re comfortable with who he is and what he is.”

In the evolving NBA, what position will he play?

“We’re going to figure it out,” Hammond said. “I don’t know. You have a vision.

“Could you ever imagine, three years down the line when we’re moving toward becoming a championship-caliber team, could you see having Giannis and Jabari and Thon at the floor at one time?

“I think it has a chance to be pretty dynamic and I don’t know who is playing what position, but hopefully we’re going to be pretty good doing it.”

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No. 3: Rose sounds off — The biggest trade of the summer so far is Derrick Rose going to the Knicks, and in a hard-to-please city, the news was met with mostly positive reviews. So Rose has conquered one demand, at least for the short term. But what does he think about the Knicks, especially after leaving his hometown Bulls? KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune found out:

“It still don’t feel real,” Rose said in New York. “Driving in and seeing my picture on a billboard or a screen outside the building, it kind of blew me away a little bit. It probably won’t hit me until I step on the floor and put a uniform on.”

“Chicago is more than just like a home. It grew me into the man I am today,” Rose said. “All my family and friends are back there. It’s one of the reasons why I changed my number to 25.”

That’s Rose’s number from Simeon Career Academy, the high school that officially retired it in 2009 to honor the late Ben Wilson. Previously, Simeon’s best player, including Rose, wore it to honor Wilson.

Now, the Knicks, who acquired Rose in Wednesday’s stunning, five-player trade, hope Rose becomes one of their best players.

“I feel like I’m great right now,” Rose said. “I felt like the only thing I was missing was my rhythm. … Last year, I feel I had a hell of a year coming off three injuries. And I think it’s only going to get better.”

Rose, who once famously said he’d roll with Keith Bogans as his running mate at shooting guard, served as a tepid participant in the Bulls’ recruiting pitch to Carmelo Anthony in 2014. After his first trade and fresh start with a new franchise, Rose said he likely would change his approach to recruiting players. And he started with a passionate pitch to Joakim Noah, with whom he partied Thursday night in New York.

“I want him,” Rose said. “He knows that. I think his family knows that. I think everyone knows that.”

Rose raised eyebrows last fall when, in unsolicited fashion, he raised his 2017 free agency on the first day of Bulls training camp. Though he often has been linked to returning to Los Angeles, where he makes his offseason home, Rose sounded committed to the Knicks.

“I hope I’ll be able to play the rest of my career here,” he said.

Rose clearly sounded like someone who had moved from cherishing the ability to play in his hometown to getting worn down by the burden. Now, looking odd in Knicks blue, he has a fresh start.

“I don’t hold any grudges with the front office or anybody in Chicago,” he said. “I loved all the teammates I had there. … I don’t know why I was traded. But I would like to tell them, ‘Thank you.’ For real. Giving me another start, I’m grateful to be where I’m at.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Suns are big on Dragan Bender and suspect he can get big minutes right away on a front court that’s as thin as he is … The Nuggets are telling third-year pro Gary Harris not to worry, he’s the starting two-guard this season … Remember, the Jazz are still a developing team, so it’s small steps for them until a franchise player arrives, and no such player is coming from the draft … Remember when the Pistons drew a few scattered thousand fans per game and routinely missed the playoffs, like a few years ago? Well, incoming Pistons rookies have nothing but good things to say about the franchise.

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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The Finals Live Blog — Game 1

Draymond from the corner.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

OAKLAND  — The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t want you to call it a rematch of the 2015 Finals. They insist this year’s team is so drastically different at this stage of the season that it’s unfair to call this series against the Golden State Warriors a “rematch.”

Kevin Love is healthy. Kyrie Irving, who went down late in Game 1 last year with a cracked knee cap and missed the remainder of the series, is back and healthy. LeBron James is certainly healthy and rested after the Cavaliers smashed their way through the Eastern Conference finals.

But what is this if it’s not a rematch?

The same two teams going at for the second straight season for the Larry O’Brien Trophy … sounds like a rematch to me. I bet it sounds like a rematch to the reigning two-time (and this time unanimous) KIA MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (that’s him up top in black and white) and the rest of the champion Warriors and the raucous crowd here filling up Oracle Arena as we get closer to tip off of Game 1 of these 2016 Finals.

Just call it what it is.

Round 2.

The Remix.

Part II.

#NBAFinals — Dubs-Cavs II

It’s a rematch. And it’s the one we all wanted. It’s okay to admit it now that they’ve both made it back here.

Don’t tell Harrison Barnes, who is back in the starting lineup for the Warriors, that it’s not a rematch.

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There are all sorts of lineup and rotation tweaks that will determine this series, which is exactly what you want in #NBAFinals

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Keep an eye on the long ball tonight and throughout this series!

An #NBAFinals matchup filled with storylines

A video posted by @nbatv on

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Waiting on John Legend to do his thing with the anthem now …

Dude can sing a little bit. #nbafinals John Legend

A photo posted by Sekou Smith (@sekou3000) on

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Still trying to figure out who is playing the villain in this series?

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C’mon man, leave Mark Jackson alone!

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Full circle for Coach Kerr and Coach Lue …

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Great question!

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If he can’t the Cavs are in for a rough ride.

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I said John Legend on the vocals with the anthem …

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Play the percentages, huh? This is the #NBAFinals!

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Sooner or later someone is going to learn switching these bigs on to Steph!

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Love off the bench? Nah!

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Just in case you were wondering …

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Whoop, whoop!

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Whenever he feels like it, folks!

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Y’all aren’t tired from that 7-gamer against the Thunder in the conference finals?

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It’s okay to say it loud.

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Kind of like last time.

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ROARacle!

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Agreed!

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And the Razzie goes to … Day Day Green!

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WARRIORS 28, CAVALIERS 24 at the end of the first.

Solid stuff from both sides. Warriors don’t look fatigued from the conference finals and the Cavaliers didn’t show much rust from their layoff.

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Important stretch coming up. Seriously.

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Welp!

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Hustle Hard!

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Don’t we all …

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Bench mob doing the job!

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It does have a throwback feel to it.

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Barbosa = Ballin’

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Flop warning for Ken Mauer.

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Barbosa, the real MVP?

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They shoot the ball so well we often forget this Warriors team plays some wicked defense!

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Another angle …

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#Shaqtin

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They call it bully ball!

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Plenty of game left to play. Plenty.

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It usually works better when the Splash Brothers are out there together.

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Dubs up 52-43 at the half.

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@stephencurry30 knocks down his first triple of the #NBAFinals!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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@kingjames spins to the rim for the @cavs! #NBAFinals #phantomcam

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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Among other things … #SHADE

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More #SHADE …

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Somebody say something else about Larry Hughes and see what happens #StLouisStandUp

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Sloppy stuff from the Dubs and the Cavs crawling back into this thing down 56-52 with 8:03 to play. Kerr needed a timeout.

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Anybody seen the SPLASH BROTHERS?

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It’s not all smiles with Steve Kerr!

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Cavs battling their way back into this thing the hard way.

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Interesting flashback …

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Delly with a blow down low on Iguodala … ouch!

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WARRIORS 74, CAVALIERS 68 after a brief power outage for the home team late in the third quarter.

Steph is not feeling the fire so far tonight …

And the Cavs are still up 78-68 with 11:10 to play. Helps when the reigning Finals MVP  and the bench crew are rolling.

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Livingston is the old man at the park playing in cut-off jean shorts who only has a mid-range game and yet you cannot stop him!

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Warriors up 88-72 with 8:34 to play and they have three guys off the bench in double figures while The Splash Brothers struggle with fouls and missed shots. #StrengthInNumbers, eh?

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#FinalsShade

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Showtime Warriors in the building. Steph with the no-look to Iguodala for the jam. Sick. 96-76 Dubs with 5:43 to play.

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Podium Game for Livingston …

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Fair or foul?

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Just when thing started to get interesting down the stretch … #SPLASH

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WARRIORS 104, CAVALIERS 89

Bench Brothers carry the Splash Brothers to the finish line in Game 1.

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@theblurbarbosa gets to the rim for the @warriors! #NBAFinals #phantomcam

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

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No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

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No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

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No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Blogtable: Smartest coaching move of the offseason so far?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Smartest coaching move of offseason? | Your advice for Tim Duncan? |
More pressure on Lakers or Sixers in Draft?


> What has been the smartest coaching move (so far) this offseason?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Orlando hiring Frank Vogel to replace Scott Skiles. Bringing Skiles in always seemed odd, and his decision to walk had the optics of disaster for the Magic’s highest-ups, who pushed for his return. Fortunately, Vogel became available, and he’ll be a much better fit for the team’s young core. Whatever you think of Elfrid Payton, the Magic’s basketball people think a lot of him and want him to succeed, so he should have a coach who believes in him and can get the most out of him. Vogel should be able to do that, as well as find ways to maximize the Magic’s youth and length to raise its defensive profile.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comEach of the interviewees and candidates who turned down the Sacramento job? The hierarchy there, both formal and unofficial, should trouble any solid basketball professional, in my view. But let’s not dwell on the negative. I’ll go with Tom Thibodeau’s hiring in Minnesota. He was the best available candidate landing in the best situation as far as talent base and a willingness to (finally) make significant changes. He has the authority in his dual role to make the necessary changes and he’s already made a few in the front office. The Timberwolves are on their way up and Thibs will end up doing Flip Saunders‘ legacy proud.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThere’s a lot to like. Luke Walton has the smarts, the championship experience as player and coach as well as the Laker bloodlines to make his hiring the right move. Frank Vogel should be the guy who finally gets the Magic shifted out of neutral. But I’m going with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota as exactly the right prescription to get the young talent of the Timberwolves howling on defense and taking the first steps to become a long-time force in the Western Conference.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Jazz and Quin Snyder doing an extension. I don’t think many others will make the same choice, and there are other good moves to pick, but Snyder-Utah is such a good fit. His background of working with veterans and developing prospects has already come through, and I sure would have liked the Jazz’s chances to be in the playoffs if they were anywhere close to healthy. This is a team obviously heading in a good direction. Snyder is one of the reasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Tom Thibodeau took a year off after getting booted from the Chicago Bulls, rather than jump at the first offer. In hindsight, this was the best offseason move. He waited for the best opening this season, and now gets the luxury of coaching a young and intriguing Timberwolves team that’s on the way up and also serving as GM. On paper anyway, it appears to be a solid match, especially if Thibodeau learned from the mistakes he made in Chicago.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThere were also big upgrades in New York and L.A., but it’s hard not to like the addition of Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota the most. The Wolves have a group of young talented players that’s ready to take the next step and can play great defense with the right direction. The offense will come, but if Thibodeau can take them from the bottom five to above average in defensive efficiency, they can be a playoff team next year.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The smartest coaching move, by far, is the Los Angeles Lakers adding Brian Shaw to the staff to assist Luke Walton. No one knows the importance of a top flight assistant head coach like Walton does, having served in that role for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr this season. Shaw would have been a fine coaching candidate himself, but lands in the perfect spot with a franchise he knows inside and out after years of experiences in The Finals as both an ex-Lakers player and assistant coach (under Phil Jackson). For an organization that hasn’t earned praise for much recently, this is one of the better moves they’ve made.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comMany of them — Tom Thibodeau to Minnesota, Scott Brooks to Washington, Frank Vogel to Orlando and Nate McMillan’s elevation with Indiana — make a lot of sense. One that was not so obvious was the contract extension for third-year coach Quin Snyder, which speaks to Utah’s investment in the longterm. The Jazz, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2012, appreciate the direction of their steadily-improving young team and with Snyder they’re looking to build a program that can last.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: The move that keeps coming to mind for me is the Magic grabbing Frank Vogel. They really lucked into him, in a lot of ways, with Scott Skiles surprising everyone by stepping down, and Larry Bird removing Vogel in Indy despite what seemed like Bird not really wanting to part ways. Vogel took a young Pacers team a few years ago and made them a legitimate challenger to the Heat’s Big Three, and came up with a defensive scheme that made Roy Hibbert an All-Star. In many ways, it’s thanks to Vogel that we still talk about “verticality.” Now Vogel has a roster he can shape and mold to play any style he wants.

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

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No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

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No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

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No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Morning shootaround — May 21





NEWS OF THE MORNING
Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”

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No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.

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No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.

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No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com:

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.

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No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.