Cavaliers officially waive JR Smith after failing to find trade partner

JR Smith’s Cleveland Cavaliers tenure is over.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Cavaliers officially waived Smith at 5 p.m. ET on Monday, having tried and failed to find a trade partner before reaching that point.

The Cavaliers did everything they could to try to trade Smith, right down to getting him to postpone his guarantee date to try to make a move happen. No matter what Cleveland did, nothing materialized.

Smith will now be free to sign with any team he wants. He barely played last season and was not in Cleveland’s plans going forward.

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  By Grey Papke  |  Last updated 7/15/19

NBA free agency: Winners and losers from Day 1

NBA free agency officially tipped off around the league Sunday evening. It’s been one of the most highly anticipated free agent classes in modern history.

We got answers to some pretty big questions as free agency got going on Day 1. The Boston Celtics netted All-NBA guard Kemba Walker to replace Kyrie Irving, who ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic retained star center Nikola Vucevic on a less-than max contract. More than anything, the Nets’ ability to team Kyrie Irving up with Kevin Durant changes the entire dynamic around the Association.

It’s in this that we give you the biggest winners and losers from the first day of NBA free agency.

Winner: Kemba Walker

Walker traded the small market of Charlotte for the bright lights of Boston. While that’s going to come with a lot of pressure as the face of the Celtics’ franchise, Walker appears to be more than up for the task. He also joins a championship contender after toiling in mediocrity with the Hornets over the past eight seasons.

Equally as important, Walker netted a max four-year, $141 million deal from Boston after the Hornets low-balled him with a five-year, $160 million contract. Now the face of a contending team, Walker is a major winner.

Loser: Free agent big men

Nikola Vucevic receiving less than the max from Orlando represented a major hit for other free agent big men. In fact, his four-year, $100 million contract is well below market value. The same thing can be said about the three-year, $45 million contract Jonas Valanciunas signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.

This does not bode well for other free agents at the center position. Specifically, the market is going to be bare for DeMarcus Cousins.

Winner: Golden State Warriors

Even after both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious injuries in the NBA Finals, it was reported that Golden State would extend max-contract offers to both free agents. While Durant ultimately signed with Brooklyn, the Warriors did in fact offer him a five-year, $221 million deal. Meanwhile, Thompson committed to a five-year, $190 million max deal with Golden State.

It’s rare in today’s sports landscape to see a team show this type of loyalty to players. Thompson’s ACL injury is less severe than Durant’s ruptured Achilles. But both are serious. Offering up $411 million in guaranteed cash represents a major commitment for a team that’s facing billions in payroll over the next few seasons, even with Durant on his way to Brooklyn.

Loser: Kyrie Irving

Irving might have received a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night. But it did not come without his reputation being tainted big time. Reports of his diva-like mentality ruining the Boston Celtics gave way to Irving’s former team not showing any real interest in re-signing him. That’s a major black eye for the NBA champion.

It’s also important to note that Boston did not waste any time replacing Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Should Walker lead Boston to championship contention with Irving’s Nets struggling while forming a super team, it would represent another major hit for the veteran.

Winner: Brooklyn Nets

Irving as a loser with the Nets as a winner? Both can be true. Brooklyn targeted Irving immediately after the 2018-19 season. It culminated in a max contract agreement Sunday evening. It also represents the biggest free-agent signing in Nets history.

Well, that was until later on Sunday when Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Nets . He’s going to be joined by best bud DeAndre Jordan to form a new big three in the Big Apple. While KD is out for all of next season, the Nets still have a team worthy of competing in the Eastern Conference until he returns the following season. It was a memorable day Sunday in the Mecca of the basketball world. That’s putting it lightly.

Loser: Charlotte Hornets

Michael Jordan’s tenure as the Hornets’ owner has been an unmitigated disaster. The latest example of this is Charlotte offering Kemba Walker a five-year, $160 million contract, about $61 million less than it could have offered the All-NBA performer.

Instead, the Hornets head into next season with Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller counting a combined $71-plus million against the cap. That’s just horrible stuff right there. And it’s certainly enough to make MJ and Co. major losers in free agency. But hey, at least they’re now paying Terry Rozier nearly $20 million annually.

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By: Vincent Frank

One-On-One: The NBA Finals and the aftermath

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week’s topic: the NBA Finals and the future of the Warriors dynasty.

Heery: Sean,  the Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions. That six-game series was equal parts exciting, bizarre and sad. Game 6 was an NBA classic. We witnessed Kyle Lowry come out like a bat out of hell, scoring 21 points and recording six rebounds and assists in the first half. We saw Klay Thompson put on a Finals performance of the ages before getting injured, then getting carried into the locker room, then coming back out of the tunnel Willis Reed style to make his free throws, then being ruled out for the rest of the game. (He left in a brace and crutches and was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL .) Finally, we got to hold our breath in the last seconds as Steph Curry got a decent look in the last 10 seconds in a one-point game.

Kawhi Leonard was spectacular all playoffs and took home the title, his second Finals MVP, and some would argue, the Best Player in the World Belt. Fred VanVleet was one of the best five players in this series. Pascal Siakam, who won the Raptors Game 1 by going 14-of-17 from the field and 32 points, had a clutch Eurostep in the final 30 seconds and scored 26 points and grabbed 10 boards in 46 minutes. Lowry and Serge Ibaka were great in the last four games.

Sean, give me your eulogy for the Warriors’ injury-riddled Finals run this season and your thoughts on last night’s game.

Keane:  It’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of ending for the Warriors, who through the playoffs dealt with KD’s Achilles, Boogie’s ruptured quad tendon, Kevon Looney’s shattered collarbone and the injury gods’ repeated assaults on Klay Thompson’s ankle, knee and hamstring. Yet they still had a chance to force a Game 7 with the greatest three-point shooter of all time firing away as the game ended.

If you were trying to make the super-team Warriors interesting and sympathetic again, this is how you’d do it. Take away an All-Star, then take away another one, and see how they react. They managed to beat the Rockets on the road short-handed, came back from double-digit leads against the Blazers and almost pulled out Game 6 with Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston on the floor.

The weirdest part of the run was their near lack of home-court advantage at Oracle Arena — they were 6-5 at home and 8-3 on the road. It’s almost as if they wanted to pay tribute to the main thing that happened over the years at Oracle — lots and lots of losing.

Pat, what does this mean for the future Raptors and their fans? And is Kawhi going to stick around to be a part of it?

Heery: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this means that about 72 hours after catching flak for cheering the KD injury, Toronto is back! Not sure there are any JR Smith-type parade guys on the Raptors, so get ready for a lot more Drake during the parade.

As for Kawhi, I feel like the postgame celebration revealed a lot about him: There’s actually some personality in there once you peel back the layers, and he clearly has developed a bond with his Raptors teammates, especially Lowry. I now think he stays for at least another year in the Six to defend his crown. If he leaves, which would be unprecedented for a Finals MVP, he might have a built-in excuse if Masai Ujiri takes the money and runs to the Wizards, who are apparently about to back up the Brink’s truck with a $10M/year deal.(He’s worth it too, especially considering Jordan Clarkson makes $12M.)

Speaking of free agency, poor KD and Klay — both free agents this summer and both out for the majority, if not all, of next season with severe injuries. What are some of the ripple effects these injuries have on these two, the Warriors and the rest of free agency?

Keane: It’s likely the Warriors still offer KD and Klay their max deals, but it’s unlikely either plays before the All-Star Game. And if these Finals have proved anything, it’s that rushing back from injuries can have dire consequences, as does not paying the market rate for your training staff. The capped-out Warriors are looking at a season with Draymond Green, Curry and not a lot else. That’s a team that is contending for the six seed, not an NBA title. It could also be a chance for the Warriors to tank load manage their stars, who have played 100-plus-game seasons for five years, get a decent draft pick for the first time since 2012 and reload for a full strength 2020-21 year.

Regardless of what happens, a devastated Warriors team and an uncertain Raptors future means the road to the NBA championship is wide open, and the pool of available free agents is down two Hall of Famers. Milwaukee went all in last year and figures to be 110 percent all in this year. (That math works, right?) Philly is likely to pay all their free agents, after being one crazy Kawhi shot and one Joel Embiid hand wash away from knocking off Toronto. Even though he insists he won’t re-sign there, Boston might be tempted to trade for Anthony Davis anyway — a one-year rental of a guy who wants to play in Los Angeles just worked out great for Toronto!

Davis may be a Laker by the time you read this, and LeBron-plus-The Brow alone may be a legitimate contender in the Warriors-free West next year, provided the team signs better players than Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson this time. To me it also says that Bradley Beal is extremely available now, particularly if Ujiri accepts the Wizards’ giant offer of $10M and his choice of national monuments. It also says that Chris Paul should be unavailable. Two weeks ago, Daryl Morey threatened to trade anyone on his roster. Now the team that beat him four of the last five years has crumbled, and his team is poised to flop its way into the Finals.

What should the Warriors do in this impossible situation? And are there other teams that should be pushing their chips in this summer?

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By: Pat Heery and Sean Keane

 

Why Raptors are on verge of delivering knockout blow to Warriors

Before the Warriors dynasty, the two most famous teams of the 21st century, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and LeBron-Wade Heat, had their historic runs end by way of a 4-1 drubbing in the Finals against an underdog. This iteration of the Warriors is on the verge of suffering the same fate, and the similarities don’t stop there.

In 2014, facing a 3-1 Finals deficit against the Spurs, James told his Heat teammates to “follow my lead ” and threw an absolute haymaker at the Spurs in the first quarter. San Antonio barely flinched and went on to dismantle Miami. Kind of reminds you of what happened to Steph Curry in Game 3 against the Raptors, doesn’t it? Curry unleashed an all-time haymaker on the Raptors, and Toronto was barely bothered by it, easily winning by 14 points.

In 2004, Kobe Bryant guaranteed the Lakers would win Game 5 after falling behind 3-1 to the Pistons. Kobe assumed his team could summon a championship effort out of thin air, and Detroit proceeded to smash LA in Game 5. Kind of reminds you of Draymond Green telling the media the Warriors would win in six after losing Game 3, doesn’t it? In Game 4, the Warriors tried to summon a championship gear they suddenly don’t have, and the Raptors stoically showed them the exit to Oracle Arena, bringing about what appears to be an end to the Kevin Durant era in Golden State.

What am I getting at here? Dynasties in the NBA have a way of ending abruptly. The signs often are right in front of us, but we don’t believe what our eyes tell us. For anyone who still thinks the Warriors can win this series without Durant, you haven’t been watching the same series as the rest of us.

How did we arrive at this point?

“The board man gets paid”

I’m not sure there has been a more on-point story about a superstar than the oral history of Leonard in college by Jayson Jenks of The Athletic. It included a great anecdote about Kawhi’s obsession with grabbing rebounds. He clearly had the right mindset then, but who could have predicted he’d be the best player in the NBA someday?

The “board man” is putting the finishing touches on a playoff masterpiece — he has averaged 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists on 50-39-89 shooting. He’s firmly in Bill Simmons’ 42 Club (add up points, rebounds and assists per game in the playoffs, and if it equals or surpasses 42, that guy is having a pantheon-level postseason).

On the way to the Finals, Kawhi dragged the Raptors through a series against the more talented 76ers with two “ice in his veins” shots — a contested go-ahead three in the final minute of Game 4 with the Raptors down 2-1 in the series and a memorable walk-off series winner in Joel Embiid’s face. Then, just when it looked as if  Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were ready to run away with the Eastern Conference Finals, Kawhi put the clamps on him. He held Giannis to 21 points in Game 6 and 43.5-percent shooting in Games 3 through 6 -– all wins by the Raptors.

The Finals have been more of the same. Kawhi has averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block (and shot 45-40-94) through the first four games. Despite the gaudy numbers, Leonard waited until Game 4 to really put his Klaw imprint on the series. With his teammates playing one of the worst halves they have played all season, Leonard scored 14 of Toronto’s 17 first-quarter points to keep the Raptors within striking distance of the emotionally charged Warriors.

On the first two possessions of the second half, Leonard “came out and hit two big eff-you shots,” as Fred VanVleet so aptly put it, to give the Raptors their first lead. Leonard finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and four steals on 50-56-100 shooting. His net rating per 100 possessions was a freaking plus-54! He made all the right reads when the Warriors doubled and trapped him on pick-and-rolls. He gobbled up all of the rebounds that Green is usually able to tip-out to teammates. And he did it all with the same Terminator-like, emotionless demeanor that seems to have infected his teammates. Did I mention that he’s doing all this while clearly being hampered by his lingering quad injury?

You shouldn’t conflate Kawhi’s heroics as a failure on the part of Curry and the Warriors though.

These guys are still “eff-ing giants”

Steve Kerr’s quote about the Steph-Klay-Draymond core after the Game 5 win against the Rockets earlier these playoffs still rings true, especially as it relates to Steph and Klay. Curry’s 47-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist effort was damn near as impressive as LeBron’s iconic Game 1 in last year’s Finals (and that was the greatest 48-minute stretch of basketball I’ve ever seen). Even though Curry got gassed a bit in Game 4 (and kept double-clutching on some of his three-point attempts), he has nothing to hang his head over. He’s averaging 34 points, six rebounds and six assists on 45-40-94 shooting in the nine games without Durant this postseason. The Raptors employed a box-and-one defense on him. I can’t think of higher praise than a team playing a gimmicky high school defense on a player in the NBA Finals.

Thompson deserves recognition for his gutsy Game 4 performance as well. Klay scored 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting in 42 minutes despite being hampered with a hamstring injury that was so bad, the team wouldn’t let him even suit up for Game 3. Every time he goes down with an ugly injury, he finds a way to not only tough his way through games, but play at a high level, too. Unfortunately for the Splash Brothers, sometimes you just run into a buzzsaw in the Finals and there’s nothing you can do, no matter how well you play.

There are 82-game coaches, and then there are 16-game coaches

Coaching in the Finals is all about making the right adjustments. By that measure, Nick Nurse is having one of the finest Finals coaching performances since Rick Carlisle in 2011 for the Mavericks.

Nurse’s strategy in Game 1 didn’t get much recognition because of Pascal Siakam’s dominance. Thus, the first major sign of Nurse’s brilliance came in Game 2, when he ran a box-and-one defense that held the Warriors scoreless for five minutes, 32 seconds in the fourth quarter (until Iguodala’s dagger-three with seven seconds left).

After losing Game 2 basically because of an 18-0 blitz by the Warriors to start the second half, Nurse decided to start VanVleet over Danny Green in the second half of Games 3 and 4 because of FVV’s ability to chase and deny Curry. Toronto outscored Golden State by a combined 21 points in those two third quarters. Nurse’s emphasis on speeding the tempo in Game 4 -– the Raptors were even pushing the ball off made baskets -– was genius, too, as it led to inefficient shots and undisciplined defense by the depth-less Warriors. (Watch Curry gamble and leave Green wide open on this fourth-quarter three.)

Sticking with the vets

Another coaching move Nurse deserves credit for is sticking with Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry through their early-series struggles.

Ibaka had a horrendous first half in Game 3, highlighted by him inviting an on-fire Steph to dribble into multiple wide-open three-pointers as though he’d never played against him before. He was also out of sorts and clumsy on offense. The stage seemed too big for him. His next six quarters were probably the best six quarters of his life. He had five blocks in the second half of Game 3 and added two more in Game 4. Moreover, he played like an all-star on offense in Game 4, finishing just about everything in the paint, making smart reads while catching the ball on the move in the pick-and-roll, and even hitting a step-back off-the-dribble and a three-pointer just for kicks.

Much like Ibaka, Kyle Lowry struggled a bit early in Games 3 and 4, but was brilliant in the second half of both games. In Game 3, his excellent play was evident in the box score as he had 23 points and nine assists. In Game 4, it was less about his statistics and more about the constant pressure he put on the Warriors’ defense by pushing the pace and driving into the lane, leaning his large backside into defenders and finding open shooters. His fourth quarter was a special display of point guard wizardry -– none of the four assists in this highlight will win an ESPY, but they probably won the Raptors the title.

I said “probably” because …

Poetic Justice 

While I question whether Durant will even be 70-percent healthy if he plays Game 5, this series has broken perfectly for him to write a storybook ending to a confusing, albeit brilliant, three-year run with the Warriors. The layers of irony run deep. He never would have joined the Warriors had the Thunder not blown a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in 2016. He never would have joined the Warriors had they not blown a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers the next series. The basketball community has spent the better part of three years complaining that Durant was the personification of an embarrassment of riches. And Green even told him earlier this season, “We don’t need you. Leave.”

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By: Pat Heery

 

Raptors roar: Winners and losers from Game 1 of the NBA Finals

The long-anticipated 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors tipped off Thursday night in Canada.

Coming into the series, Toronto found itself as the overwhelming underdog. Though, Kawhi Leonard and Co. were favored to win the opener at home.

From pretty much the start, Toronto played like the better and more hungry team. Pascal Siakam dominated all four quarters. Leonard came through when it counted the most.

Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get any secondary scoring behind Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson struggled and was visibly frustrated. Draymond Green found himself in foul trouble.

Here are the biggest winners and losers from Toronto’s 118-109 Game 1 win over the defending champs in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Winner: Marc Gasol 

A lot was made of Gasol’s struggles on offense in the Eastern Conference Finals. He also didn’t seem to have a great matchup against Golden State’s bigs in the NBA Finals. If Game 1 is any indication, that was nothing more than narrative.

Gasol led Toronto in scoring with 14 points in the first half, finishing that span plus-11 in the process. Showing improved defense, his all-around game was excellent. In the end, the borderline future Hall of Famer scored 20 points and grabbed seven boards before fouling out.

Loser: Klay Thompson

 With Kevin Durant out of action, it was rather apparent that Thompson needed to step up behind Stephen Curry. That certainly wasn’t the case in Game 1.

Klay just didn’t have it on either end of the court. His frustration boiled over with a dumb technical in the final stanza. Thompson was ultimately minus-10 on the court and didn’t show the same long-range sniper ability that has defined his career. Maybe he should start listening to Drake music again.

Winner: Danny Green 

This NBA champ entered Game 1 having hit on just one of his past three 15 three-pointers. But proving himself to be the solid veteran we saw in San Antonio, Green did not hesitate to take big shots at big times.

Still getting the starting nod for Nick Nurse, Green drained 3-of-7 three-point attempts and played some absolutely great perimeter defense against the likes of Curry and Thompson. Green could very well be an X-factor moving forward in the series.

Loser: Draymond Green

The aggressiveness we saw from Green during Golden State’s four-game sweep of Portland in the Western Conference Finals just wasn’t there Thursday night. He attempted three shots in the first half, committing as many fouls and turnovers in the process.

Green might have finished the evening with a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), but he was not the same overall presence we’ve seen through the playoffs. That’s magnified by the performance Siakam put up on him offensively.

Winner: Pascal Siakam 

Not enough can be said about this youngster. He might not be the best player in Toronto, but Siakam continues to perform like a king. Thursday night’s action was no different.

At one point that spanned the final three quarters, Siakam hit on 11 consecutive shots. He did so with elite defenders such as Draymond and Kevon Looney on him. With Kawhi laboring a bit, Siakam’s 32 points were the difference in this game.

Loser: Warriors other bigs

While DeMarcus Cousins was performing well in limited action, the likes of Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell did not do their thing. Bell got the start over his counterparts, playing a combined 12 minutes and scoring two points. Meanwhile, a previously impressive Looney scored nine points but was negative-four in 28 minutes of action.

We’re highly intrigued to see how Steve Kerr employs his bigs in Game 2. The rotations clearly did not work Thursday evening. There’s now a good chance that Cousins will get the start over the others Sunday evening.

Winner: Stephen Curry 

Pretty much the only member of the defending champs to do anything on offense Thursday night, Curry was hassled by both Toronto’s defense and some bad officiating. Despite this, the two-time former MVP was still able to do his thing.

Curry scored 34 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including a ridiculous 14-of-14 mark from the free-throw line. He continued to display aggressiveness while not settling for threes. That’s what the Warriors need with Durant sidelined.

Full Article

By: Vincent Frank

 

Top takeaways from Warriors’ series-clinching overtime win over Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers needed a win to stay alive in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4. They did not get it.

A high-scoring first quarter (36-35 in favor of Golden State) set the tone for what would be an exciting night of fast-paced basketball. At halftime, the Blazers led by the score of 69-65 thanks in part to a breakout game from Meyers Leonard.

The second half featured more of the same breakneck pace, and heading into the fourth quarter, Portland held a tenuous eight-point lead. With the season on the line, the Blazers felt their nerves a bit, and at the end of regulation, the score was tied 111-111.

Overtime beckoned in the NBA playoffs for the second night in a row.

In overtime, Golden State once again showed its championship mettle, outscoring the Blazers 8-6 for the clean sweep.

Here’s a look at the top takeaways from the Warriors’ crushing victory over the Trail Blazers in Game 4.

Who are you and what did you do with Meyers Leonard?

Both teams got off to a torrid start offensively, but if not for Meyers Leonard blowing up with 14 points in the first quarter, things would have gone a lot differently. It was a really fun environment watching Leonard hitting from pretty much anywhere he wanted — minus his one embarrassing faux pas at the rim. His 25 halftime points marked a career high in any game — both as a pro and at college.

All told, he racked up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Just an incredible breakout performance from this former No. 11 overall pick out of Illinois.

To be completely fair, Leonard didn’t completely come out of nowhere, having scored 16 points in 31 minutes a game prior. But this is a guy who averaged 5.5 points per game in the playoffs before Game 4. And the way he jumped out with a dominant performance early set the tone for the Blazers and gave them a chance.

Third-quarter Dubs? Not this time

The Warriors’ hallmark has long been their ability to absolutely blow teams away in the third quarter. Portland experienced this firsthand, having been outscored 68-37 the previous two games in this period.

Coming out of halftime, it seemed like Golden State was primed to make another big run, down by just four despite some insanely hot shooting by the Blazers. Instead, Portland came out of the locker room with incredible focus and intensity to outscore the Warriors by four points in the third and go into the final period up eight.

Steph stayed hot with legendary performance

Without Kevin Durant, and with Andre Iguodala also watching from the bench with a sore Achilles, the Warriors were extremely shorthanded in Game 4. Thankfully for Golden State, Stephen Curry continued to put up points in bunches.

Curry was unbelievably hot in the first half, hitting 7-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-7 from three with 25 points. Scoring wasn’t the only thing Curry was doing well on Monday night, either. He kept putting the ball into the hoop to finish with a 37-point triple-double, adding 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Just a phenomenal overall performance by a legendary player who will one day have a place in the Hall of Fame. The only real negatives were that his legendary free-throw streak finally was snapped, and his sloppy travel with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Portland’s backcourt was phenomenal

Lillard hasn’t looked like himself in this series. Of course, separated ribs would have something to do with his sub-par performances. We knew that if Portland was going to stay alive with a win in Game 4, he’d need to figure out a way to get going, regardless.

Portland’s star point guard did just that on Monday night. Putting together his finest performance in this Western Conference Finals, he scored 28 points, dished 12 assists, hauled down four rebounds and was responsible for the most entertaining highlight of the game (and some broken ankles for one poor defender).

Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum was also effective as we’ve seen throughout the series. He scored 26 points and added seven assists. Combined with Leonard, these guards presented the Warriors with a three-headed monster all night long.

Draymond Green = X-factor

One of the more underrated players the Warriors have relied on during their current dynasty, Green rose up with a virtuoso performance in Game 4.

He did the little things all night long. He dished an incredible 11 assists en route to a gritty triple-double that included 18 points and 14 rebounds.

And then, with the game on the line late in overtime, he hit his first three-pointer of the game.

Full Article

By: Jesse Reed

Top takeaways from Blazers-Nuggets Game 7

All the chips were pushed to the middle of the table Sunday in a win-or-go-home Game 7 between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.

The home team dominated a testy first half that included a tense moment and went into the locker room up by nine points, 48-39. Portland scrapped back with a 32-point third quarter to pull to within one, setting up a balls-to-the-wall fourth quarter.

Portland continued to assert itself in the final stanza and outscored Denver 29-24 to pull off a spectacular 100-96 road win.

These were the top takeaways from Sunday’s series-clinching win by the Blazers over their Western Conference rival.

Shooters from both teams held fierce brick-laying contest

You think nerves played a role in Game 7? We do.

Nobody — and we mean nobody — was hitting from outside the arc. The two teams combined to make just six total three-pointers out of 45 attempts. Folks, that’s a 13.3-percent make rate. This postseason before Game 7, Denver had hit 35.7 percent of hits threes, while Portland had made 37.4 percent.

Just an astonishing display of Game 7 jitters as shooters couldn’t find their touch whatsoever.

Dame Time? Not this time

After ripping off 32 points in Game 6 to help his team pull even in this series against the Nuggets, Blazers star Damian Lillard was ice cold to open the game. He went into halftime with just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-for-4 from behind the arc.

The second half was more of the same, as he stayed stuck at seven points well into the fourth quarter. Lillard’s first made three-pointer didn’t go in until fewer than nine minutes remained in the game.

However, it’s worth pointing out that Lillard did hit a key three a bit later in the fourth. He also nearly had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Still, it wasn’t a signature game from Lillard, who will have to bounce back in a big way against the Golden State Warriors.

Joker couldn’t quite do it all in loss

Nikola Jokic had prettier games during this series than his Game 7 effort. He went cold at times and missed some key opportunities on offense — especially late. Additionally, he simply could not find his shooters like we’re used to, finishing with just two assists.

Despite that, Jokic continued to prove without a shadow of a doubt he’s one of the best big men playing in the NBA today. He struggled to find his stroke in Game 7 but still finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Notably, Jokic also blocked four shots and gave his team a chance while others, such as Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee, were unable to give the Nuggets a boost.

Zach Collins was a spark plug

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Zach Collins (33) fouls Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) in the second quarter in game seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big reasons Portland was able to generate such a strong push in the second half is that Collins came alive. On both ends of the court, he was the energizing force the Blazers needed.

Playing 23 minutes in Game 7 while Al-Farouq Aminu was riding the pine, Collins didn’t put up a ton of points. But his scoring was timely, and his presence as a rim defender was a huge weapon for Portland. All told, the second-year forward racked up five rebounds and four blocks while scoring seven points.

McCollum was divine

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) shoots over Denver Nuggets forward Mason Plumlee (24) and center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter in game seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. McCollum kept the Blazers in the game with 15 first-half points. However, without its leader in sync, Portland floundered badly on offense. As Lillard continued to lay an egg in the second half, however, McCollum picked up the slack.

The shooting guard was aggressive in all facets of his game. He kept attacking the hoop and wasn’t settling for his outside shot.

His third-quarter effort (14 points) was stunning. In the end, McCollum put up 37 points on 17-of-29 shooting while adding nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block. Portland wasn’t great overall in Game 7. But McCollum was.

By: Jesse Reed

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Cavaliers to hire John Beilein as head coach

The Cavaliers have picked a head coach, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that the team has reached a deal with Michigan’s John Beilein.

The two sides have agreed to a five-year contract, per Wojnarowski.

It’s a surprising conclusion to a lengthy head coaching search which saw the Cavs focused primarily on NBA assistants. The club reportedly interviewed nearly a dozen other candidates, most of whom are currently members of NBA staffs, including Ettore Messina (Spurs), David Vanterpool (Trail Blazers), Alex Jensen (Jazz) and many others.

Instead of going with one of those options though, Cleveland will dip into the college ranks for Beilein, who informed Michigan’s administration on Monday morning of his decision to make the leap to the NBA, according to Wojnarowski.

Woj adds that discussions between Beilein and the Cavs escalated over the weekend before they reached an agreement on Sunday.

Beilein, a veteran NCAA coach who had stops at a number of other schools — including West Virginia, Richmond and Canisius, before arriving at Michigan — has a career college record of 754-425 (.640). With the Wolverines, that mark is 278-150 (.650). Although he didn’t win an NCAA championship at Michigan, he led the team to appearances in the title game in 2013 and 2018.

Beilein interviewed last spring for the Pistons’ head coaching job and also talked to the Magic, but ultimately decided to stick with the Wolverines. It appears his interest in the NBA was legit though, and now he’ll get the opportunity to reunite with Cavaliers assistant general manager Mike Gansey. As Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports observes, Gansey played under Beilein at West Virginia from 2004-06.

By: Like Adams

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Top takeaways from Raptors’ dramatic Game 7 victory over the 76ers

It all came down to a single game as the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors were even at three games apiece heading into Game 7.

With the game being a see-saw affair throughout, it should surprise nobody that the final contest of this highly competitive series went down to the wire. The game was all tied up at 85-85 with less than two minutes remaining. From there, the Raptors did what they had to and pulled away thanks to a clutch game-winner with time expiring by Kawhi Leonard.

These are the top takeaways from Game 7 between the Sixers and Raptors.

Toronto almost doomed itself early

The Sixers opened Game 7 going 0-for-10 from the field. Yet somehow, when JJ Redick finally broke the spell and drained a three, Toronto had just a three-point lead with half the first quarter gone by.

By the end of quarter No. 1, Toronto led 18-13, despite Philly going 5-for-19 from the floor and attempting just two shots from the free-throw line. Of course, Toronto couldn’t buy a bucket either and had the lead only because of eight made free throws.

That’s not the start either team was looking for. But Toronto failing to take advantage of the Sixers early — playing at home, against a team that couldn’t buy a bucket — was a huge storyline in this game, because at halftime the Raptors led by just four points in a game that was decided at the last second.

Marc Gasol was a liability

It’s a good thing that Serge Ibaka had a strong first half, because Gasol was almost completely invisible. The big man went 0-for-4 from the field in the first two quarters, despite playing 22 minutes. In fact, he was the only Raptors starter who had a negative plus/minus in that first half (minus-5).

The most notable thing Gasol did in that first half was barely brush Joel Embiid’s hair as the center stroked a three — earning three free throws in the process after an award-winning flop.

Things did not improve in the second half, either. Although Gasol scored seven points and hauled down 11 rebounds, the Raptors were minus-10 with him on the court in Game 7.

Even on off night, Embiid continues to be key factor

For the fourth game in a row, Joel Embiid was unable to come close to his seasonal scoring average. He came out of the gate slowly and struggled to find his shooting stroke throughout. Embiid also wasn’t nearly as aggressive as we’ve grown to expect in the paint. All told, he hit just 6-for-18 shots from the field and scored 21 points.

Yet, as we’ve seen throughout the series, even without dominating offensively, Embiid found ways to make a positive impact. While he was on the court for the Sixers, they were plus-10 in Game 7. That’s just incredible considering the contest was decided by two points and Embiid played 45 minutes. It just goes to show how valuable the big man is — even when he’s off his game.

Serge Ibaka was the X-factor

As we mentioned while discussing Gasol, Ibaka was incredible off the bench in Game 7. He and Fred VanVleet were the only reserves utilized by Raptors head coach Nick Nurse in this pivotal game. And when his number was called, Ibaka delivered an amazing performance.

The backup center played 29 minutes, putting up 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists. With him on the floor, Toronto went plus-22 on the scoreboard. That’s an unbelievable impact, and it was the difference in the game.

Kawhi wouldn’t be denied

May 12, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dribbles the ball against Philadelphis 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (23) in the first half of game seven of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It was a weird night offensively for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry suffered a hand injury on his non-shooting hand early and was out for a while. Pascal Siakam disappeared for long stretches. We already touched on how poorly Gasol played most of the game. Danny Green was allergic to shooting.

With all those guys failing to step up, Kawhi Leonard went ham.

Launching an absurd 39 total shots, he wasn’t sharp hitting just 16 of his attempts. However, Leonard got hot late and ended up pouring in 41 points to lead the Raptors to a legendary victory and a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. He’s been absolutely unstoppable in the playoffs thus far.

Why KD, Kawhi, not MVP candidates Giannis, Harden, are NBA’s best

“There are 82-game players, then there are 16-game players” ~ Draymond Green

The 2018-19 NBA regular season featured a two-man MVP race for the ages as Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden did things we’d never seen done on a basketball court. Antetokounmpo, the one-of-a-kind, 6-foot-11 point-center, dominated the paint like Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, dished out six assists per game and played Defensive Player of the Year-caliber defense. Harden, with his step-back three-pointer, averaged 36.1 points and essentially broke basketball by maximizing his shot efficiency and advancing the three-point revolution to a point that probably made Steph Curry jealous. If you asked an unbiased person to watch every game from this season (aka “Pulling a Tom Thibodeau”), that person would undoubtedly tell you that either Giannis or Harden was the best player in the league.

But if you ask that same person to pull a Tom Thibodeau for the playoffs, his answer would be much different -– it’d be Golden State’s Kevin Durant or Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard. In fact, if you asked this person to keep ranking players, he’d pick Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Portland’s Damian Lillard before he’d even consider Giannis or Harden. How do players who battled all season for the “Best Player on the Planet” status suddenly look like they might not even be top-five players in the NBA? By the same token, are Durant and Leonard the actual “Best Player on the Planet” candidates? Let’s see if the numbers back up what our eyes tell us.

Why doesn’t Giannis Antetokounmpo look as dominant in the playoffs?

A quick glance at Giannis’ playoff averages this season compared to last season indicates he’s reverted to last year’s postseason’s form (25.7 ppg., 57% FG). Is that really what’s happening here? Not at all -– he averaged 10 more minutes per game last spring. Giannis is a much better player than he was last postseason, but scouting is making his teammates less efficient players, and, by virtue of their struggles, he also has become less efficient. (Side note: Mike Budenholzer better start playing Giannis more than 29.8 minutes per game and trim his rotation -– this isn’t youth basketball, Bud!)

Interestingly enough, Giannis’ per-36 minute stats these playoffs compared to the regular season are almost identical, except for his assists. He’s averaging around 30 points, 13 rebounds and a steal and block or two each game. He averaged 6.5 assists per-36 minutes in the regular season and is down to 4.0 assists per-36 minutes in the playoffs.

Herein lies the first reason why Giannis looks different. With Celtics coach Brad Stevens employing a “wall” transition defense with Al Horford and help defenders stunting Antetokounmpo’s drives across the foul line, preventing him from having a runway to the basket, Giannis is forced to kick the ball out to open teammates for three-pointers. In the regular season, those open teammates were the likes of Malcolm Brogdon (43 percent on threes) and Tony Snell (40 percent). Because Brogdon and Snell are battling injuries, those open teammates in the playoffs are the likes of Pat Connaughton (28 percent) and Ersan Ilyasova (25 percent).

With his teammates missing open threes, the defense stays packed in on Giannis’ drives and he is unable to get as many easy buckets, which is the second reason for Giannis’ playoff drop-off. Check out these numbers:

Besides his three-point percentage (which mirrors his second-half regular-season percentage), Giannis’ percentages are down across the board. The 13-percent drop on field goals inside eight feet is particularly eye-opening and indicative of defensive schemes built around shutting down his drives. One more revealing stat: Giannis is attempting almost five fewer shots per game within five feet of the basket in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. Pretty staggering considering he lived in the paint all season, averaging over 11 shots within five feet.

In sum, Giannis isn’t playing much differently –- the opponents are just forcing his teammates to make open threes. Since his teammates aren’t making as many open threes, the defense is clogging the lane even more than usual, which is not allowing Giannis to take and make as many shots near the basket. Giannis will eventually figure it out — the great ones always do — but it might not happen this postseason

Why isn’t James Harden a cheat code anymore?

Finding the difference between regular-season Harden vs. playoff Harden this season is a little easier than doing the same for Giannis. Harden’s playing the same minutes, averaging the same rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game, and shooting approximately the same number of shots per game with the same kind of distribution. But he’s just not making shots or getting to the line as frequently as he did during the regular season. His scoring is down from 36 to 29 points per game and his shooting splits (FG-3FG-FT) are down from 44-37-88 to 38-34-88. He’s being forced into taking two fewer shots at the rim and two more shots -– typically floaters –- between five and nine feet from the basket (of which he’s only making 19 percent in the playoffs). Not allowing him the same driving lanes he’s accustomed to is a tribute to his opponents’ defensive schemes. But what about the slips in shooting percentages?

Well, this is nothing new for Harden in the playoffs. In the regular season the past five years, Harden has shot about 44 percent from the field and 36 percent from three every season. In the playoffs over that same stretch, those averages drop to 41 percent from the field and 32 percent from three. Every. Single. Spring.  We know Harden takes his conditioning seriously, so why the same drop-off in the playoffs ever year? It’s some combination of fatigue from Houston’s willingness to let Harden carry an insane load all regular season and over-reliance on him to take and create open shots against teams that spend weeks scouting him for his every tendency each spring. In essence, the Rockets are betting that Harden is good enough and has the endurance to get them 50-plus wins in the regular season, and then 16 more wins in the postseason even though they know his efficiency is going to drop off. It almost worked last season. It still might work this season, but it’s not looking great right now. (The Rockets trail the Warriors 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals.)

Another interesting stat to keep an eye on in the playoffs is Harden’s free throw attempts per game, which have dropped from 11 in the regular season to 8.6 in the postseason. This may not seem like much, but two or three more points per game and we’re not having this discussion. Interestingly, the drop-off in free throws probably has a lot to do with referees having more time to “scout” and not fall for Harden’s foul-baiting ways.

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By: Pat Heery