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

 

Cavs Beat Celtics. It’s Warriors Vs Cavs III Y’all!!!

Written by Jeremy Bembry at The Undefeated.com

As Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue raised his hands to accept his team’s third consecutive Eastern Conference championship trophy, his excited players gathered around him tight.

J.R. Smith stood front and center, rubbing his hands and the trophy. Kyrie Irving stood just behind his coach.

And where was LeBron James during this celebration? James stood way in the back, somewhat detached from the group. It was likely an attempt not to take the spotlight off his teammates.

But how can you attempt to hide when you — James — are making your seventh straight trip to the NBA Finals? How do you duck the spotlight on the night you pass Michael Jordan to become the all-time leading scorer in NBA playoff history? How do you score 35 points, grab eight rebounds and pass off eight assists and think you can fade to black?

On Thursday night, LeBron James was back. His return came after two games in Cleveland where he played six subpar quarters — a stretch that had fans doubting whether his greatness was, indeed, Jordan-like.

Count that as a minor hiccup, as James was completely dominant in Cleveland’s 135-102 win Thursday night, leading the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference title again.

Basketball fans get their wish: Golden State vs. Cleveland for a history-making third straight year. LBJ vs. Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry. The two most dominant teams in the NBA Finals in the rubber game of their series — and both teams are, for the first time entering the Finals, healthy.

“I’m going to be honest, I’m not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State,” James said after he emerged from the Cleveland locker room celebration early Friday morning. “Golden State, they’ve been the best team in our league for the last three seasons, and they added an MVP. That’s all I can give you now.”

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Warriors Sweep Their Way Into The NBA Finals

Written by Chris Haynes at ESPN.com

The Golden State Warriors have advanced to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year after sweeping the San Antonio Spurs by way of a 129-115 victory in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Monday.

The Warriors are now a perfect 12-0 in the playoffs, and they are the first team in NBA history to accomplish such a feat. They’re also the first team in NBA history to sweep three best-of-seven series in the same postseason.

“It’s a big task. It’s a huge accomplishment, and I tip my hat off to all of our players, our coaching staff was phenomenal,” Warriors acting coach Mike Brown said.

Stephen Curry produced a game-high 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting. He also had five boards, six assists and five 3-pointers.

He dribbled circles around whoever was guarding him. There was minimum defensive resistance, whether he was penetrating to the basket or getting open for 3s out of pick-and-pop sets.

After drilling his fourth 3-pointer of the game, Curry passed Kobe Bryant (292) for fifth place on the NBA’s all-time playoff 3-pointers list. Curry now has 295 career postseason 3s.

Curry said that starting “12-0 is great, but it doesn’t mean anything going into the next series.” He harped on how impressed he was with his team’s overall closeout mentality.

“It’s a great run, and we had an opportunity to get it done tonight,” Curry said. “But more importantly, it was obviously just a closeout kind of mentality coming into tonight, trying to take care of business, play a good 48-minute game.”

Kevin Durant dominated this game while in cruise control. Nothing was rushed on his part. He picked his spots and attacked when needed, which resulted in 29 points on 10-of-13 from the field to go with 12 rebounds.

“You look down at the box score, and KD had a heck of a game scoring,” Brown said. “He was very efficient with his scoring.”

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Warriors Take Three Game Lead on Spurs, Look to Sweep Tonight

Written by Tim Bontemps at Washington Post.com

Before Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night, San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich was asked how he expected his team to play without star Kawhi Leonard after a disappointing performance in Game 2.

“I hired some soothsayers, I channeled Rasputin, and all sorts of things,” Popovich joked, “so I think we’re ready to go.”

Popovich would’ve been better off finding someone who could conjure up prime versions of Tim Duncan, David Robinson and George Gervin to have at his disposal instead.

Popovich’s team acquitted itself well for most of three quarters Saturday night, but it may take that kind of star power to beat these Golden State Warriors Warriors with Leonard remaining out due to a sprained left ankle. Instead, the Warriors pulled away to claim a 120-108 victory and a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series. The contest served up another reminder – with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in attendance – of just how underwhelming these NBA playoffs have been.

“We knew we were going to be able to bounce back, at least emotionally, today and play a better game,” Manu Ginobili said.

“The fact is, it’s just too tough.”

As expected, the Spurs played much better in this one than they did in Game 2, when they trailed by as many as 41 points and never led as the Warriors hammered them from the first minute to the last in embarrassing fashion. Even a vintage performance from Ginobili, the aging icon who had 21 points in 18 minutes off the bench, wasn’t enough to offset the loss of Leonard, perhaps the best two-way player in the league.

No one enjoyed Leonard’s absence more than Kevin Durant, who cruised to 33 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes, making 11 of his 19 field goal attempts and looking capable of getting any shot he wanted. It was Durant who scored eight points during a 12-0 Golden State run late in the second quarter with the game tied at 49 to help the Warriors go into halftime with a 64-55 lead.

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Celtics Stop The Sweep, Win Game 3 From Cavs Without IT

Written by Jeff Zillgitt at USAToday.com

Takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 111-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday night.

Sub-par LeBron

LeBron James had his worst game of the postseason with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, including 0-for-4 on three-pointers. He had six rebounds, six assists and six turnovers and scored just three points in the second half and zero in the final 16 minutes, 32 seconds.

“I had a tough game, period,” James said. “Not just in the second half. Me personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me personally, I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”

James’ run of playoff games with at least 30 points ended at eight. He has scored at least 30 in nine of 11 playoff games. Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t about to take any credit for “stopping” James.

“I don’t want to act like we’ve figured anything out,” Stevens said.

Even though Kyrie Irving (29 points) and Kevin Love (28 points) had great scoring games, it’s tough for the Cavs to win with James scoring just 11.

Celtics plays after timeouts

Stevens has a reputation for drawing up great plays during a timeout.

Stevens’ after timeout plays – known as ATOs – worked to perfection. In the final minute, the Celtics called three timeouts and they scored after each one – an Al Horford jump shot, a long Jonas Jerebko two-pointer and Avery Bradley’s game-winning three-pointer.

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How Mike Brown and Gregg Popovich Continually Cross Paths

Written by Brian Windhorst at ESPN.com

In the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s unfortunate injury in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, old friends Gregg Popovich and Mike Brown came to defend their sides with different game plans.

No, Zaza Pachulia did not purposely move his leg in under Leonard, Brown said calmly. Then he pointed out several moments from Game 1 when San Antonio Spurs players had moved under Golden State Warriors defenders that did not result in injury — but could have. Brown’s case had time stamps for good measure. It was neither inflammatory nor aggressive, as is his nature.

Popovich, on the other hand, came with heat, accusing Pachulia of an “unnatural” closeout, branding him a dirty player because of a history of elbow throwing, and then compared the results of his reckless abandon to manslaughter. He did so with what appeared to be a boiling rage.

Then Popovich cracked a joke, defusing the mood and making everyone wonder whether he was angry enough to declare war over this act or if he was merely executing some sort of radical commentary about hot-take artists. It was probably the former, but he likes to keep people off balance.

In that moment, you had the yin and yang between Brown and Popovich — close friends, mentor and pupil, and combatants once again in what could end up being a lopsided playoff series.

“Pop and Mike are very different guys,” said Hank Egan, the sage old coach who happens to be the mentor of each man. Egan was Popovich’s coach at the Air Force Academy and later gave him his first coaching job in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Egan was Brown’s coach at the University of San Diego.

“If they were painters,” Egan said, “Pop would be sort of like Jackson Pollock and Mike would be like Norman Rockwell. One guy likes to stay within the lines, and the other guy, well, let’s say he can be a little more spontaneous.”

Their arguments in the wake of the Game 1 event backed that up. Popovich was aggressive and sublime in the same moment, Brown going for analytical and arguing it was just a bad break in the beautiful game.

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Cavs Dominated Celtics In Game One

Written by Brian Windhorst at ESPN.com

When LeBron James played his first playoff game in Boston, Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown was just 11 years old. Brad Stevens had just finished his first season as a head coach. Tyronn Lue was playing for the Atlanta Hawks.

In short, James has been playing big games in Boston for a long time. And for the past seven years or so, he has pretty much dominated in TD Garden in the postseason. He added another notch Wednesday, setting the tone for the Cleveland Cavaliers with relentless attacks to the basket that methodically broke the Celtics en route to a 117-104 Game 1 victory in the Eastern Conference finals.

With nine days off giving spring to his legs, and worry about rust defining his game plan, James bull-rushed the Celtics early to help the Cavs establish a lead and snuff out any momentum the Celtics might’ve carried over from their Game 7 victory over the Washington Wizards 48 hours earlier.

The Celtics opened with a plan to switch defenders off screens to prevent James from turning the corner on drives. James shook it off, more than happy to set up the Celtics’ big men and beat them with strength, quickness and plain ruthlessness. He seemed to take special pleasure when he was guarded by Kelly Olynyk, a nemesis from his previous playoff vanquishing of the Celtics in 2015, skipping before crushing him on easy finishes. At one point the Cavs were 6-of-6 shooting for 15 points with Olynyk as the primary defender.

“I think it’s the mindset that you have to have when you go on the road for a Game 1,” James said. “You can’t start the game off lax or shooting a bunch of jump shots. That’s my mindset. … I have to be in attack mode and just put the pressure on the defense.”

James went 7-of-7 from the paint in the first quarter alone, and the Celtics’ dreams of catching the Cavs with rust were dashed when they went 0-of-8 on open 3-point shots in the first half.

Eventually the Celtics gave up and let the perimeter players stay on James, and that served only as a further green light. When it was over, he’d piled up 38 points plus nine rebounds and seven assists. It was his seventh consecutive playoff game scoring at least 30 points, a personal record. He did break a sweat, but one could be convinced otherwise.

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Warriors Dominate Kawhi-Less Spurs, Taking Game Two, 136-100. Leads Series 2-0

Written by Chris Haynes at ESPN.com

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals was in the books long before it was in the books.

It was widely believed that a Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs squad didn’t stand a chance at Oracle Arena, and that proved to be accurate Tuesday evening.

The Golden State Warriors pummeled the Spurs 136-100, taking a commanding 2-0 series lead as the series shifts to San Antonio for Games 3 and 4. One ankle sprain appears to have drastically changed the competitive nature of this series.

“We have to strike first,” Kevin Durant told ESPN before the game. “We can’t allow them to get off to the start they had last game. We have to be the aggressors.”

Aggressors, they were.

Curry dropped 15 of his 29 points and four of his six 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes of the contest. At the end of one, the Warriors led 33-16. The Spurs, who were 6-of-26 from the field at the time, scored just one more point than Curry after one quarter.

Curry has knocked down at least one 3-pointer in all 68 of his postseason games, extending an NBA record. In the last three games, he’s averaging 33.0 points and shooting 57 percent from the floor and 49 percent from long distance.

Every active player scored for the Warriors, with seven players reaching double-digits. Golden State registered 39 assists on 50 field goals and drained 18 3-pointers, 10 more than their opponent.

All evening San Antonio struggled to get into offensive sets and seemed confused as to where the offense would be generated.

They tried a couple of options. Midway in the first quarter, they went down low to Pau Gasol.

The big man was defended by Draymond Green. Gasol took a couple of back-down dribbles and Green snatched the ball away and proceeded to start a 3-on-1 break that ended with a Curry left-wing triple.

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Celtics Win Game 7, Stand In The Way of LeBron and His Seventh Straight Finals

Written by Chris Manix at YahooSports.com

Danny Ainge couldn’t have predicted this. Who could? Four years ago Ainge, the silver-haired Boston Celtics general manager, orchestrated the deconstruction of a fading contender. On Monday he was celebrating a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, while wishing his owner, Wyc Grousbeck, good luck in Tuesday’s draft lottery; Boston, owners of Brooklyn’s draft rights, have the best statistical chance of landing the top overall pick.

“Now that,” Grousbeck said, “is how you go to the lottery!”

Indeed. What a season. Boston is conference finals-bound, courtesy of a 115-105 win over the Washington Wizards on Monday, and on Tuesday will position itself to add another elite player to the mix. It’s like being handed a bag of cash, then having someone knock on your door the next day and hand you another.

Beating Washington wasn’t a surprise. The home team controlled this series. Of course it won in the end. Isaiah Thomas (29 points, 12 assists) was brilliant. Kelly Olynyk (26 points) was too. The Wizards expected problems from Thomas. They were ready for Al Horford. But a 48-5 battering from Boston’s bench? A 71 percent shooting night from Olynyk? When Washington tried to claw its way back into the game in the fourth quarter, Olynyk (14 points in the fourth) was there to beat it back.

As Thomas walked towards the interview room, he slapped hands with Celtics president Rich Gotham and pointed to Olynyk walking in front of him. “There he is,” Thomas said, smiling. “The new King of the Fourth.”

It’s Cleveland’s conference, but Boston’s message on Monday was unmistakable: We’re coming. The Thomas-Horford combination has been complemented by rapidly developing young talent. Marcus Smart didn’t make a shot in Game 6; he made four – including a pair of threes – in Game 7. Jaylen Brown, an afterthought in the first round, played nearly 20 minutes on Monday.

The Cavs have won eight straight to open the playoffs, and will be heavy favorites. The Celtics? They expect it – and they are OK with it.

“We know it’s going to be tough, but at this point anything can happen,” Thomas said. “And we really believe it. They didn’t give us a chance in this series, they didn’t give us a chance when we were down 2-0 in Chicago. We got the No. 1 seed and they didn’t give us a chance. They don’t ever give us a chance, and we just keep going. We don’t care about what others say.”

Ainge is the architect of this stunning rebuild, but don’t expect him to croon about it. Success is fleeting, Ainge reminded a reporter, and this game has a way of humbling you. Ainge was a member of Boston’s 1986 championship team, which celebrated a title in June and the addition of Len Bias, the No. 2 pick, weeks later. Bias died shortly after the draft, a devastating loss no one saw coming.

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John Wall Hit Game Winner To Keep Wizards Alive. Game 7 Tonight.

Written by Mike Prada at SB Nation.com

This isn’t how the semi-annual Biggest Game In The Sad Recent History Of Washington D.C. Sports is supposed to end.

It’s supposed to end with The Team That’ll Finally End Our Suffering firing blanks against their biggest rivals — again. It’s supposed to end with last-ditch miracles from Imported Cult Hero We’ve Come To Adore that of course slide off the fingertips a tenth of a second too late. It’s supposed to end with That Kind Of Misfortune Only Happens In D.C. Sports, followed quickly by They Looked Shell Shocked, Flickering Moment Of Hope We Know Will Fade, and eventually Yup It Faded.

It’s supposed to end with backbreakers from Rival Of Our Beloved Stud. It’s supposed to end with game-sealing plays from The One That Got Away or That Annoying Motherfucker Who Always Seems To Kill Us.

But this was a team that was never supposed to have the season it did. It’s only fitting that it was the one that flipped the usual script.

Game 6 actually ended on a botched play rescued by a ballsy shot. John Wall cut to the right corner, clearing space for Marcin Gortat to spring Bradley Beal with a screen going to the top of the key. Beal was supposed to come off that screen and have a good look going to his right. But Marcus Smart wedged himself between Beal and Gortat, throwing off the timing of the play.

“The last play was for me to get to the corner and for Brad to get open, but he didn’t get the opportunity to get open and I didn’t want to get a five-second violation,” Wall said. “So I came and just got the ball.”

As he turned 35 feet from the basket, he saw feisty Avery Bradley staring him in the face. Wall took one dribble and Bradley backpedalled twice, conceding the very shot that opponents have dared Wall to take his entire life.

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