The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the brink of perhaps winning their franchise’s first NBA title as they were able to force a Game 7 with their 115-101 win at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night.
Chants of “let’s go Cavs” and “defense” were humming throughout the building from the moment Tristan Thompson won the opening tip. Cleveland was active and swarming defensively from the start, and one sequence included a deflection and rebound, followed by a long outlet pass from Kevin Love to LeBron James that led to Draymond Green’s first foul of the game. Another play featured a James steal and quick outlet for a dunk in transition past the cautious defensive pressure from Stephen Curry, having picked up an early foul as well.
After missing their last nine shots of Game 5, Golden State started Game 6 a collective 0-7 before a Green drive and finish. Cleveland immediately responded with a Kyrie Irving three-pointer and another James finish at the rim. Even when Curry answered with a three-pointer of his own, Cleveland immediately attacked him on the other end and were rewarded with the second foul on the league’s MVP at the 5:45 mark of the opening quarter.
The Warriors were able to slow the Cavs down by influencing a miss, but Cleveland was simply fast to the ball and harder on the backboards throughout the first quarter. In fact, the Warriors scored just 47 combined points over three quarters when you include the second half of Game 5.
Golden State was able to chip away from what ballooned to as much as a 21-point lead in the second as Curry and others finally started making a few shots of their own. Once the Warriors got their offense going, it appeared to also settle them down defensively. Cleveland took a lead into the half. Klay Thompson struggled from the field (3-12) but remained aggressive for Golden State while Curry scored 18 points, but had three fouls in the first half. In the first half, James provided 14 points, six assists and three steals, Irving scored 20 of his own and Tristan Thompson chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers started the second half with an 8-2 run capped by a pair of free throws by Love. Love’s open look from beyond the arc extended Cleveland’s lead to 24. Cleveland was also able to relocate the defensive pressure that had previously limited these Warriors to just 47 points through three quarters (Game 5 second half and Game 6 first quarter) to start the third, but a late 14-4 run fueled by 15 points in the quarter from Klay Thompson brought Golden State to within 80-71 heading into the fourth.
Cleveland’s defensive effectiveness returned to start the fourth quarter, as the Cavs even managed to get an emotional outburst from the two-time defending league MVP as Curry actually threw his mouthpiece into the stands out of frustration following his sixth foul. James scored 41 points for his second-consecutive Finals game, but also dished out 11 assists, grabbed eight rebounds, swiped four steals and blocked three shots. Tristan Thompson also finished with 15 points and 16 huge rebounds for the Cavs.
The Cavs won Game 6 by not only doing the little things as a collective unit, but also dominating the box score – winning the battle for rebounds (45-35), steals (12-5), points in the paint (42-30), blocks (7-3) and fast break points (19-10).
In this series, James is now averaging 30.2 points, 11.3 boards, 8.5 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.2 blocks, while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.
To Curry’s credit, he did score 30 points before fouling out (and being ejected). No word on whether he’ll face any further disciplinary action for the events surrounding the ultimate ejection, but we should absolutely be in store for an incredible Game 7 from Oracle Arena on Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.
Game 7 Prediction: Cleveland is playing with all the confidence in the world behind a collective effort obviously led by LeBron James’s excellence, but the Golden State Warriors have faced and overcome adversity several times throughout this run and earned the right to defend their home court one last time. Andre Iguodala’s availability (sore back) will absolutely be vital for the Warriors. If he’s able to play at an effective level, you have to imagine guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes (just two for his last 22 from the field) will find a way to respond with their collective backs against the wall. Our guess is that Golden State guts out another tough one, but not without having to overcome another massive effort from James and crew.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN