Random Thoughts: The ESPY’s, Yankees, delusional Mets fans, MVP races, etc.

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement www.nydailynews.com

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement
www.nydailynews.com

It’s another hot humid summer July day in New York City. I’m tired because I didn’t sleep due to no air conditioning last night. Thank god we got it reinstalled. Phew. I’m just gonna give some random thoughts on stuff. In no particular order:

1.John Cena wasn’t half bad hosting the ESPY’s. He even poked fun of LeBron James going from a good guy to a bad guy back to a good guy again by coming home and finally delivering a championship to Cleveland, ending a 52-year drought. I liked the transition from they need a new bad guy and it cued to a photo of Kevin Durant in a Warriors jersey, which got a chuckle from Stephen Curry. I also loved Cena’s final joke about the Irish pulling out of Rio. And he deadpanned:

“They never pull out.” 😉

2.Maybe Cena is right. Maybe sports are going the route of the WWE. Especially given the faces and heel turns. His best one liner had to be the one after he paid tribute to now retired stars Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant. He then went on to note that while their final games were memorable with Peyton riding off into the sunset and Kobe scoring 60, neither game had ‘much passing,’ which drew a smile from Manning.

3.In general, I don’t watch award shows. For some reason, I made this one an exception. I really liked the strong message Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and James sent about the divide in our country. There’s too much hate and way too many generalizations about African Americans and policemen. There needs be more common sense applied. Treat each other right and be respectful. Spread a message of love, peace and positives.

4.Seeing Craig Sager honored for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award due to his courageous fight against leukemia was special. His speech was powerful and so positive. He looked great. He’s easily one of the most beloved broadcasters. He’s always been so cool. It’s not just about his flamboyant outfits covering the NBA for TNT over three decades. It’s about his attitude. The way he carries himself is amazing. He’s truly inspiring. That speech was excellent. I believe we’ll see him on the sidelines next season. Maybe that’s what needs to be said.

B-E-L-I-E-V-E

5.I feel like the ESPY’s have become bigger than sports. It’s about recognizing truly courageous people. Stories of courage like Zaevion Dobson. A 15-year old high school football player who jumped in front of gunfire to save his Mom and older brother. It’s so sad that Dobson lost his life due to shots being fired for no reason. He sounds like a wonderful young man who had a bright future. Even sadder, his Mom revealed that his 12-year old cousin also was shot and killed after coming back from a basketball game. These kind of stories are a humbling reminder of how deadly guns can be in urban communities. Something needs to be done. I wonder what can. It almost always involves drugs and gang wars. If they tightened gun control, would it prevent such senseless tragedies? I wish I knew the answer.

6.I was so floored by how calm and well spoken Mrs. Dobson was along with her family. I can’t imagine losing someone that young. The pain they’ll have to live with the rest of their lives.

7.As for the awards, it was mostly an ode to LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers for finally getting the monkey off their back. James won Athlete Of The Year and the Cavs got Best Team. Their comeback against the 73-win Warriors was inspiring. I can’t disagree with the selection.

8.However, the Kansas City Royals got no love. How about that ridiculous eighth inning comeback at Houston in Game 4 of the ALDS? Hell-o! I get that it happened last year. But come on. Those guys just wouldn’t die. The Royal Crown basically got ignored. They weren’t the only team.

9.During the broadcast, I don’t think anyone ever referenced the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup. Jeez. I get that ESPN doesn’t cover the NHL. But they are broadcasting the World Cup this Fall. Would it hurt to at least mention the Pens, who dug deep to come back and beat the Lightning before winning in six over Team Martin Jones the Sharks? Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe. It really should stand for Con because he wasn’t even his team’s most consistent playoff performer. Bitter and biased Canadian media who just couldn’t admit Phil Kessel deserved it. No wonder Toronto hasn’t won a Cup since 1967.

10.It would’ve been nice if Novak Djokovic was up for Best Athlete. I guess because he’s Serbian and isn’t represented by Nike like other tennis stars, he doesn’t count. And Serena Williams only got a brief mention from Cena on her tying Steffi Graf for the most grand slams (22) after winning Wimbledon. I don’t think she was there.

11.At the end of the day, the ESPY’s are mostly about the two sports ABC/Disney cares about most. The NBA and NFL. When you have Aaron Rodgers winning Play of The Year for the hail mary against the Lions which beat out Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater that won the national championship for Villanova, it speaks volumes. That was the signature moment of 2016. It took a well executed play with Ryan Arcidiacono dribbling and kicking for a wide open Jenkins, who drained a 3-pointer cold blooded at the buzzer to stun North Carolina. Don’t forget Marcus Paige’s equally money off balance trey in which he double clutched in mid-air and tied the game. Those two plays consecutively were amazing.

12.If you really think about it, LeBron’s ridiculous block pinning Andre Iguodala’s potential game-winning lay-up was better than Rodgers’ hail mary. You don’t have to think twice. James’ clutch defensive play led to Kyrie Irving’s championship-clinching three over Curry. Not to take away from the athleticism and determination Rodgers showed on the hail mary that beat the Lions. But it ranks third behind LeBron’s block and Jenkins’ three at the buzzer to win the national title for the Wildcats. That shot cost my friend and brother lots of money. They had Carolina and the over. If it had gone to overtime and the Tar Heels prevailed, they would’ve won big. Crazy.

13.I just can’t understand what more J.J. Watt could’ve wanted in a woman than the hot and flirtatious Lindsey Vonn.

14.Russell Wilson doesn’t have to win anything else in the NFL. He already won at life marrying Ciara. Ciara makes Beyonce look average.

15.Are we at the point yet where that tool Randy Levine still needs convincing that the Yankees must sell before the July 31 deadline? I wish someone would send him on a one-way trip to Siberia.

16.I’ve said it all along. Michael Pineda just doesn’t have the head to be a consistent successful starting pitcher. BP Pineda has the stuff. But he doesn’t execute pitches. So, you get games like last night where he served up three home runs in a frustrating 5-3 loss to the Red Sox at home. The Yankee bats again went silent with only two runs against a Boston starter who had over a 7.00 ERA. Tone setter, much?

17.At least Brian Cashman can say he won the trade by getting Pineda and Vicente Campos for Jesus Montero. The 23-year old Campos has rebounded nicely. He’s currently pitching for Double-AA Trenton with a 4-1 record, 2.65 ERA over eight starts with 44 K’s in 51 innings. Maybe there’s still hope. As for Pineda, I wouldn’t count on it.

18.Cashman has done well recently using players who had good major league debuts. He correctly used Montero to acquire Pineda and Campos. Cashman also only parted with Shane Greene for starting shortstop Didi Gregorius. Gregorius has been the Yankees’ best position player. The 26-year old is not only a superb defensive shortstop but his offense gives Yankee fans something to get excited about. Didi is .295 with 11 homers and 41 RBI’s while hitting seventh in the order. He could’ve been an All-Star.

19.Is there a reason Gregorius doesn’t bat higher? I can’t think of any. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira barely hitting. A year after being factors in a wildcard, they’ve shown their age with injuries and inconsistency part of the reason the Yanks find themselves two under .500. The last time they were this late in the season and under .500 was 1995. That team had character and better talent, rallying around Don Mattingly to make the playoffs.

20.I’ll never understand the whiny Mets fan who’s angry at Daniel Murphy for having a career year with the Nationals. Following a great postseason, the Mets made it perfectly clear they didn’t want the second baseman back- preferring to go in a different direction. So what if Murphy is killing the Mets with over a .400 average, seven dingers and 21 RBI’s. After how even the Mets broadcasters talked bad- most notably Gary Cohen– it was obvious that it came from management. A PR smear campaign. Typical of how things are run these days. We saw this with the Rangers a couple of years ago when they purposely leaked what Ryan Callahan wanted before trading him for Martin St. Louis. Turn the fans against a player they loved and supported. Classy, eh.

21.Here’s why I don’t get the Mets fan who calls up the radio and complains over Murphy. His replacement Neil Walker has 16 home runs and 40 knocked in. Sandy Alderson stole him for Jon Niese. It’s not like the Amazin’s aren’t getting consistent production from Walker, who’s better in the field than Murphy. Also, the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera was excellent. The Mets’ middle infield has improved from last year. Cabrera also is a lot better offensively than Ruben Tejada, who now is playing third for the Giants after a failed stint with the Cardinals. Sometimes, fans will find any reason to complain.

22.So, ESPN has this promo for Sunday Night Baseball featuring the Red Sox and Yankees in tomorrow night’s series finale. In it, David Ortiz is prominently featured. Big Papi is having a final season for the ages. He’s always destroyed the Yankees. In the ad, the end of it shows a pic of Ortiz with a message that says Own The Bronx. Could they be any more obvious? Yes. Ortiz has owned the Yanks. But it does come off a little arrogant. It’s bad enough the Red Sox have a much better team than the Yankees. But do they have to rub our faces in it?

23.If Boston had better starting pitching, they would be a legit contender. That lineup is scary. Xander Boegarts. Mookie Betts. Jackie Bradley, Jr. Travis Shaw. Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Hanley Ramirez too even though he’s so not the player I thought he would be. Once part of a deal for Josh Beckett, Ramirez looked like he’d have a long distinguished All-Star career at short or third with the Marlins. Instead, he failed at left field in Year 1 back in Beantown and now is playing first and has lost his power. Wasted talent.

24.AL MVP Race:

A.Jose Altuve, Astros

B.Manny Machado, Orioles

C.Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

25.If you’re wondering, Mike Trout is in the top 5. Unfortunately, he plays in obscurity on a dreadful Angels club. Francisco Lindor is the best kept secret in baseball. The Indians shortstop is in the conversation.

26.NL MVP Race:

A.Daniel Murphy, Nationals because of course

B.Kris Bryant, Cubs

C.Brandon Crawford, Giants doesn’t get much recognition

27.Nolan Arenado is right there but like Trout, plays for a mediocre team in Colorado. He’d have to blow away the competition to win.

28.When I’m getting excited for Summer League, that’s depressing. D’Angelo Russell gave his best Kobe impersonation in the second half of a Lakers’ loss to the Cavs. Not a ringing endorsement. What if Jordan McRae makes the Cavs stronger? Kay Felder also looked good as did former Johnnie Sir Dominic Pointer. I always gotta support my boys.

29.I saw that Jamie Benn got a new contract with the Stars. It’s for eight years, $76 million. Yes, that’s over nine million per year. But the Dallas captain is one of the top three stars in the NHL. Compared to other superstars, that’s actually a bargain. I hope one day he leads the Stars to a Cup. He’s one of my favorite players. A complete hockey player in every sense.

30.The way things are going for them, would the Rangers ever consider exploring a trade for Henrik Lundqvist? Even with GM Jeff Gorton doing a solid job improving the fourth line and penalty kill, things aren’t exactly looking up. At best, they’re third in the Metro Division behind the Pens and Caps. That’s glass half full. At worst, they’re on the fringe fighting it out with the improved Devils for the wildcard.

31.I’ll just quote good buddy Brian Sanborn of our Hard Hits Network show again:

“The Oilers traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson AND…      “

32.I still have that Dwight Gooden no-hitter scorecard saved in the attic with the pencil. One of my favorite moments at the House That Ruth Built.

33.Another Sanbornism:

“Tell me why Mattingly isn’t in the Hall of Fame while Kirby Puckett is.”

If you answer the lame reply that dope Bill Madden gave about championships, you lose.

Puckett

.318 career average

207 HR

1085 RBI

134 SB

2304 hits

1783 games

1 batting title (.339 in 1989)

12 seasons

3 top 3 MVP finishes

6 Gold Gloves

2 World Championships (’87, ’91)

Mattingly

.307 career average

222 HR

1099 RBI

2153 hits

1785 games

1 batting title (.343 in 1984)

1 MVP (.324-35-145 in 1985)

14 seasons

2 other top 5 MVP finishes

9 Gold Gloves

34.If you want to see an unreal season, go look up Rickey Henderson’s ’85 with the Yankees. Best leadoff hitter and one of the greatest outfielders ever.

35.Kinda feel for Matt Harvey. Pitchers are so fragile. Who knows if the Dark Knight will ever be the same?

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Random Thoughts: Dwyane Wade trades in Heat for Bulls

Even in a hard fought battle, the Heat and Spurs exhibited what's right with sports. Getty Images/Steve Mitchell

So Dwyane Wade traded in his Miami Heat jersey for the Chicago Bulls. After spending over a decade helping the Heat win three NBA titles and reaching five Finals, D-Wade is no more in South Beach.

Personally, it’s sad. Sure. He decided to go home but what for? The Bulls are one of the most puzzling franchises in the league. They have no direction. Get rid of Derrick Rose, who was blamed for everything. Subtract Joakim Noah, who got one too many years to come home with the Knicks. Let Pau Gasol sign with the Spurs because Tim Duncan is supposed to hang it up.

At least they kept Jimmy Butler. Not like they could’ve shipped him to Boston for that third overall pick, etc. If you asked me to name the Bulls’ projected starting five, I can’t. They have done so many odd moves that it’s hard to figure out. Between sending Tom Thibodeau packing and hiring the confusing Fred Hoiberg, what are they doing?

Where does a 34-year old Wade fit in? The Bulls also brought in Rajon Rondo. Can he and Wade coexist? Wade’s from Chicago and starred for Marquette leading them to a Final Four. As the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft that featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, D-Wade is the second best player from that famed draft. He’s a proven winner who has always been an electrifying player who can close games. When James and Bosh decided to join Wade and form a super team, they won two NBA championships and lost in the other two. But before James carried them to those two wins, Wade did it with an older Shaq to win Finals MVP in ’06.

Simply put, Wade doesn’t get enough credit for Miami’s first NBA title. He was 24 and won in his third year. Jason Williams was their point guard and Antoine Walker played a prominent role. They won with guys like Udonis Haslem and James Posey. Alonzo Mourning backed up Shaq. Gary Payton also was part of the roster. That’s probably one of Pat Riley’s best coaching jobs.

So, you might ask why would Wade join the Bulls for $47.5 million over two years. Of course, he also has a player option if he wants to opt out for 2017. Why wouldn’t he? The Bulls are going nowhere. I can’t understand why he didn’t just stay with the Heat. Granted. They only offered two years for $40 million. Based on what other players are getting, I can see why Wade wanted more. But come on.

The Heat with Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow could compete if Bosh is medically cleared to return from blood clots. That’s the biggest question with Miami. The Heat also have three days to match a four year $50 million offer sheet Tyler Johnson signed with the Nets.

When it comes down to the wild and crazy madness of NBA free agency, it’s unpredictable. It’s also become frustrating. Especially when you start to see rumors that Ray Allen wants to come back and play with the Warriors and their super team. Is this really what basketball has become? So much for competing.

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Disloyalty: Durant takes easy way out

New teammates? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are no longer rivals with Durant trading in his Thunder jersey for the Warriors. A move which was sadly predictable in today's free agent era of disloyalty.  The Warr Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

New teammates? Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are no longer rivals with Durant trading in his Thunder jersey for the Warriors. A move which was sadly predictable in today’s free agent era of disloyalty.
The Warr Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The longer the Fourth of July holiday weekend went, the more I knew Kevin Durant was leaving the Thunder for the Warriors. All the early leaks that had the former league MVP staying with Oklahoma City for another year turned out to be just that. False.

With him hosting five teams at what essentially was a house party in The Hamptons, something seemed amiss. As reports came out that he was impressed with the Clippers’ presentation, I didn’t see it. Why go to a team that doesn’t know how to win? There also were the Spurs because of course there were. In desperation mode knowing Tim Duncan is about to retire. Hence the Pau Gasol agreement. The Heat were also in but didn’t stand a chance. If Dwyane Wade doesn’t return, then keeping Hassan Whiteside will be for naught.

As this played out, I knew it would come down to the Warriors or the only team Durant has known. The Thunder franchise he helped build from the ground up after Seattle relocated. Durant, an explosive scorer with flair was the man in OKC. He teamed with sidekick Russell “Westchuck” Westbrook to take the franchise to its only NBA Finals only a few years ago. As it turned out, they were no match for LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh as the Heat defeated them in five games. It was a series James dominated for his first NBA title with his new team in South Beach. The Thunder never got back.

Of course, James was the trendsetter using ESPN and the Boys and Girls Club to create a game show out of his first free agency in 2010. It became known as the Summer of LeBron. What would he do? Stay with his hometown Cavaliers in then suffering Cleveland or leave. He played it the same way attracting a few big suitors including the Bulls, desperate Knicks and of course the Heat. There was all sorts of talk of James going to Chicago to team with then MVP Derrick Rose to bring the Bulls back to supremacy. Back then, they were a strong contender featuring a healthy Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver. A group that would win an NBA best 62 games in ’10-11 only to be derailed by James’ Heat. The team he “took his talents” to. :\

When the announcement came live with James acting all emotional like it was such a tough decision, the truth was revealed. The real rumors were true about him and Bosh teaming up with Wade to form a team of superstars in Miami. Bosh was never returning to the Raptors. That much was clear. It was really all about James, who used the Knicks as a pawn. The biggest reason I never loved him. Sure. There were fools out there who actually believed LeBron would consider the Knicks and play in the biggest market under the bright lights at The Mecca on Broadway. Suckers.

James’ end game was always about getting the chance to play with true talent. Wade had carried the Heat to its only championship with an older Shaq. He wanted to win championships. So, he bailed on Cleveland and got his “college experience.” Playing in South Beach is far different from Cleveland. Miami is a party town. So, James got to experience life. But most importantly, he wanted to win. In all four years he was a member of the Heat, they made the NBA Finals. They went 2-2 losing to Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs in an upset the first year. Then defeating the Thunder in 2012. They would repeat in a seven-game classic against the Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili Spurs. The rematch was won by San Antonio with NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard dominating along with an array of Spurs’ sharpshooters.

When it ended, James decided to opt out of his contract. Most believed he would stay with the Heat. But the way they lost said otherwise. The Spurs took them apart. The longer James didn’t commit to coming back, it felt like a hometown return was in the woodwork. A feel good story came to fruition when James penned a letter in Sports Illustrated about his desire to finally come home and bring a championship to the city of Cleveland. Though he didn’t deliver in the first year due to a much healthier and better Warriors beating a LeBron-led Cavs in six games last year, James willed them back along with Kyrie Irving from a 3-1 series deficit becoming the first team to ever win an NBA championship from such a hole in the Finals rematch against the heavily favored Warriors.

All postseason, Golden State looked fragile. Despite winning an NBA record 73 games to eclipse the ’96 Bulls, they didn’t look right struggling against the Blazers in the second round. They got lucky against the Thunder, who had them dead to rights. That’s what makes Durant’s decision to join the enemy puzzling. For four games, OKC dominated Golden State blowing them out twice to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Final. They were the superior team. Westbrook had the better of it against a hobbled Stephen Curry. He was the best player on the floor the first four games. Durant was doing his usual timely scoring while big man Steven Adams was killing the Warriors inside. Serge Ibaka was also a factor.

It looked like it was over. But the Warriors got off the mat to win Game 5 on splendid shooting from Curry and Klay Thompson, who really was the driving force behind the comeback. Even in Game 6 when the Thunder had the Warriors on the ropes, they never could put them away. They were always a couple of three’s away from a run to hang around. OKC fell apart in crunch time with both Westbrook and Durant disappearing. Neither played well. Durant shot poorly and Westbrook forced the issue and had a couple of costly turnovers. Who knew that would be the final home game Durant would ever play?

The Thunder had their chance early in Game 7 getting off to a strong start. But by the half, the Warriors were right there. They took over in the second half with everyone contributing. With Westbrook reverting, Durant tried to bring them back one final time. His own 7-0 run cut it to three. But a ticky tac touch foul on a Curry three finished them. He sank all three free throws. Golden State finished it off and celebrated on their chaotic home floor. Before Durant left, Curry gave him a hug. Now, it’s poetic.

I really wanted to believe Durant would opt to stay with the team who drafted him. They were so close to dethroning the champs. They choked. Why not come back for one more run? Was the Ibaka trade to Orlando that much of a factor? Somewhat curiously, Durant said he liked the move that brought back Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and 2016 first round pick Domantas Sabonis, who should be a good player. I guess it was all for show.

In the end, Durant proved he was no better than James. The only difference being James didn’t leave to join the enemy. His reasoning was also better. The Heat weren’t even on the radar before he and Bosh joined Wade. The Warriors were a nemesis who had gotten the better of the Durant/Westbrook Thunder in a seven-game series. One which they had won. Honestly, Durant joining Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green in the bay area is worse than LeBron’s charade on ESPN. Who cares if he revealed it in Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune. I’m getting tired of seeing players defend themselves on that site.

Durant could’ve decided to return and take one more run at it with Westbrook, who is the NBA’s most exciting superstar. A guy who plays balls to the wall. Does Westchuck show sometimes? Yes. But he’s impossible not to love. A triple double machine who’s not the size of James. But is all heart and energy. A road runner on the court who plays above the rim. Instead, he’s left to ponder his future. Will he even want to stay with OKC? Or will he be traded in a long rebuilding project? The latter seems like a likely possibility.

Blame Durant. He took the easy way out joining a team of stars. In doing so, he made it easy for Golden State to say thanks but no thanks letting Harrison Barnes free to the Mavericks who massively overpaid on a four-year $95 million offer sheet for the restricted free agent. Had Durant chose the Thunder, the Warriors would’ve matched. With an escalating floor, we’ve seen a fair share of insane contracts. The Grizzlies giving Mike Conley, Jr. the max on a contract that pays him $30 million a year. He’s good. But come on. That’s ludicrous.

Durant signed a two-year deal worth $54.3 million with a player option after Year 1. Something all too common in the NBA. So, if for some reason it doesn’t work in Golden State, he can opt out. Gee. Do you think there will be enough basketballs for Durant, Curry, Thompson and Green to coexist? It should be interesting to see how Kerr handles his new All-Star lineup. Durant’s reasoning he posted on the Players Tribune is weak:

“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote. “But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.”

What exactly does that mean? I guess KD never heard of a little truth in advertising. How about coming directly to the point? ‘It was about joining a better team who knows how to win. It’s about championships. Clearly, I’m a traitor.’ 😉

Whether the aloof Durant wants to admit it, he’s now become public enemy number one. The Warriors are now viewed the same as the Heat. Universally loathed. Outside of Golden State, nobody wants to see them win. The whole superstar joining superstar thing is weak. There’s not enough hatred in sports. Not enough players who want to come back and get revenge. You saw it with James, who showed you raw emotion following a rejection of Curry in the Cavs’ win in Game 6. He wanted it. He let Curry know about it.

When it comes down to it, there’s no loyalty in sports. Rare is the athlete who wants to stay with one team. There aren’t many Cal Ripkens or Derek Jeters. Granted. The success Jeter had in the Bronx winning five world championships and seven pennants was a huge part of it along with the money. But could you have really seen Jeter ever leaving the Yankees? What about Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson? Never. Isiah Thomas wouldn’t either. Even Martin Brodeur should be viewed similarly. Sure. He didn’t retire following his final season with the Devils. That was his choice. But he had done everything, winning three Stanley Cups and appearing in five Finals including at age 40 when he outplayed Henrik Lundqvist in 2012. All the records came with the Devils. So, he played a few games with St. Louis before calling it quits. So what. He also was a throwback.

Sports have changed. Ever since free agency really picked up in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, it’s become a business. Most athletes are out for themselves. Which team can guarantee them the most money? In hockey, the no-movement clause is vital. Players won’t sign without it. In other sports, it’s different. Only football doesn’t have guaranteed contracts. Sure. Some of the money is guaranteed. But once a player becomes expendable, they can be released. Baseball and basketball are different. If you overpay a player who declines, you’re stuck with the contract. There’s always risk.

The NBA has become unique in that some star players are looking for the right fit. So, you get what James did and now Durant. But Durant is joining an established model. Can we fault an athlete for deciding to play for a proven winner? No. But do we have to like the process when that player joins the team who beat his former one? A resounding no. It is what it is. While the league loves it because it guarantees higher ratings and more jerseys being sold along with more money to be made, it’s boring. Super teams aren’t fun.

There’s something very wrong here. Especially when a irresponsible team like the Lakers can shell out $64 million over four years for Cavs’ bench warmer Timofey Mozgov right after midnight. The kind of money being thrown around by owners and general managers is absurd. A spot up shooter like Ryan Anderson got $20 million per year from the Rockets. It’s great to be a role player in the NBA. Just ask Barnes, who benefited from Mark Cuban’s insanity.

The unfortunate part is it will continue. When I’m agreeing with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who called Durant’s move to the Warriors, “The weakest I’ve ever seen,” you know there’s a problem. Disloyalty in sports. A trend started by Benedict Bobby Holik, who got a mammoth $45 million over five years from the Rangers which helped cause the 2004-05 lockout. There will always be turncoats. Johnny Damon came to the Yankees from the Red Sox and helped them win in ’09. Even if my team benefited, it’s the same thing. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t worked out like that with the Yankees a mediocre team under .500 needing to sell despite what clueless bozo Randy Levine thinks.

In truth, the business of sports is ugly. Mark Messier once left the Rangers for the Canucks. A move which was all about the money and because he felt disrespected by then MSG President Dave Checketts, who took care of Patrick Ewing. You can always find examples. I just can’t remember a time when I truly hated what free agency has become. The NBA makes me sad. May Kevin Durant and the Warriors have no success at all.

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Believe In Cleveland! Finals MVP LeBron James delivers on promise as Cavs make history

Finally, Cleveland can celebrate. After 52 years, their wait is finally over. LeBron James delivered on his promise by leading the Cavs to their first NBA championship. They did it by making NBA Finals history in becoming the first team to ever rally from a 3-1 series deficit. They completed the comeback in epic fashion by beating the defending champion Warriors 93-89 in a memorable Game 7 at Oracle Arena.

“I came back for a reason,” James said. “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. Knew what I learned the last couple of years that I was gone. And I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place we’ve never been.”

They did it by shutting down the league’s highest scoring team. In a tightly played fourth quarter, the Cavs held the Warriors to 13 points. It wasn’t a matter of outscoring a record setting 73-win team who only lost twice at home all season. It was about out-executing and outworking them in crunch time. Golden State didn’t score a single point the final four and a half minutes. Unheard of for a team that could put up points in bunches.

Against a determined Cleveland Cavaliers squad who wanted it more, the Golden State Warriors ran out of gas. They blew a 3-1 lead losing twice on their home floor in Games 5 and 7. They never could put away the Cavs. Even with a quick 8-2 start, they never could escape a more together team that had the game’s most dominant player. Even on a night where he didn’t shoot particularly well, James recorded a triple double going for a team high 27 points with 11 rebounds and 11 assists. However, he was able to deliver when his team needed it most. Take drawing a three shot foul on Festus Ezeli. With the Cavs trailing by four, James coolly knocked down all free throws.

The biggest play the NBA Finals MVP made was on the defensive end. On a turnover which led to a two-on-one Golden State fast break, James hustled back to perfectly block Andre Iguodala’s lay-up pinning it off the backboard with the game still tied at 89-89. At that point, neither team could score. Each continued to misfire on empty trips. Both looked nervous and tired. If James doesn’t reject Iguodala, there’s no telling if Cleveland wins. That kind of athleticism from a complete player was huge. It kept the game tied and gave the Cavs momentum.

It was Kyrie Irving who delivered the knockout blow when he pulled up from three over Stephen Curry, hitting nothing but net to give the Cavs a 92-89 lead with over a minute left. While James averaged 29.0 points-per-game, Irving averaged 27-plus hitting on 41 percent of three-pointers. He was the perfect sidekick during Cleveland’s historic comeback. It was him and James combining for 82 with each going for 41 in the Cavs’ momentum shifting 112-97 win in Game 5 that allowed them to force a Game 6 at home. Irving was an assassin in that one. It was James who did the heavy lifting in the Cavs’ 115-101 win in Game 6, scoring 41 again with 16 rebounds. In Game 7, the dynamic duo combined for 53 of the Cavs’ 93.

As much as we talk about Irving’s scoring, it was his passing that allowed Cleveland to seal it. After Curry missed a wild three from way out, there was a four-second difference between game and shot clock. An aggressive Irving penetrated before finding a wide open James for a dunk attempt. But Draymond Green fouled him cleanly, sending James flying to the floor in pain. James was holding his right hand. But after a couple of minutes, he got up. After missing the first free throw, he made no mistake draining the second for the final margin.

All that was left was for the Warriors to force a couple of contested three’s which had no chance. Following a wild miss from Marreese Speights, a pumped up Cavs bench mobbed the floor celebrating with James, Irving, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

The best part was when an emotionally and physically spent James knelt to the floor and kissed it while crying tears of joy. It was a heartfelt moment that will be remembered forever in NBA history. A superstar from Akron, Ohio who originally went number one overall to his hometown team had come home and made good on his promise. He sealed his place in history as one of the all-time greats. Winning three NBA titles and three Finals MVP’s. The four-time league MVP had finally won the most important Larry O’Brien Trophy in his brilliant career. It took a lot more time than most thought. He had been here before twice with Cleveland losing the first time and then returning last year in this second act.

Cleveland finally can celebrate again. For the first time since 1964 when Jim Brown and the Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship, they will have a parade celebrating their first ever NBA championship. As James said during an emotional interview, they deserve it. This is for all those true believers. All the witnesses. A hometown kid who made good. It’s not about The Decision anymore to leave Cleveland and go to Miami and win two of four NBA Finals with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This is what James will always be remembered for.

“Throughout my 13-year career I’ve been nothing but true to the game, give everything I have to the game, put my heart, my blood, sweat and tears into the game and people still want to doubt what I can do.

“So that was a little icing on the cake.”

The Cavs prevailed because they truly were better. All the role players stepped up. That included Love, who had his best game of the series. He pulled down a game high 14 rebounds (4 offensive) and played a gritty game. Love scored nine but was a game best plus-19 with him on the floor. Thompson also scored nine on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting and 3-of-4 from the line. But only had three boards. It was Love and James who were towers of strength helping the Cavs to a 48-39 rebounding edge.

Another role guy who fit in well this year was Smith. The former Knick who hit for four treys in Game 6 had 12 points on 5-of-13 from the field with two three’s. He also grabbed four boards and had two assists. In one of the coolest scenes during the post game press conference, an emotional Smith cried while praising his parents for all the love and support they gave him with his Dad present on Father’s Day. When he finished talking, he gave his Dad a big hug.

Cleveland pulled this off with practically no bench. However, Richard Jefferson played a solid role. The likable 35-year old vet gave coach Tyrone Lue valuable minutes throughout. In 25-plus, he grabbed nine boards and had two points with a steal. Afterwards, he announced his retirement. What a way to go out.

Iman Shumpert also saved his best for last. He scored six points off the bench in 19 minutes. None bigger than a miraculous three that went down leading to a four-point play. Shumpert was awful from the outside all postseason. But that one made three and free throw were huge.

On the Golden State side, neither Curry nor Klay Thompson had a night to remember. Each struggled mightily with their shot. Curry got off to a decent start but finished with just 17 bricking 10 of 14 three’s. The unanimous league MVP was a huge disappointment during the rematch only going over 30 twice. He never got in rhythm and looked frustrated by the Cavs’ defense. Curry was a goat in crunch time forcing some terrible shots that didn’t come close. He never once looked for his teammates. Meanwhile, Thompson wound up with only 14, shooting a woeful 2-of-10 from three and 6-of-17 overall. The Splash Brothers combined for only 31 while missing on 24 of 36 field goal attempts including 6-for-24 from downtown.

The only Warrior who showed up was Green. After hurting his team with the Game 5 suspension and not doing much in Game 6, he was on fire. Green hit on five three’s in a well played first half. He scored most of his game high 32 in the opening 24 minutes. Green was dynamic pacing the Dubs in points (32), rebounds (15) and assists (9). However, he did miss one wide open three with the game tied. It was really his only miscue on what was a great night in defeat. The good Dray shot 11-of-15 from the field including 6-for-8 from downtown and a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in a game high 46:54, narrowly missing a triple double.

Had either Curry or Thompson gotten hot, Golden State prevails. Coach Steve Kerr didn’t have a good end to the series. Even in Game 7 with it all on the line, he kept Curry on the bench to start the fourth quarter. Granted. That’s what he always did. But this was a one-point game in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on their home court. At that critical point, you play him all 12. Go with your best. Look no further than what Lue did playing LeBron without rest when the chips were down. He did find a couple of minutes for Irving to rest before his clutch dagger.

It was odd how the Warriors went away from Green. He was the biggest reason they had a chance to repeat. For a second consecutive game, Iguodala was ineffective offensively only finishing with four. Maybe the bad back factored in. He still gave a strong overall effort pulling down nine boards while blocking two shots and recording two steals with four assists. But he misfired badly on three three-point attempts.

Shaun Livingston was effective again off the bench contributing eight in 16 minutes while going plus-eight. He and Leandro Barbosa (3) had good series. Harrison Barnes contributed 10 including two treys but again didn’t shoot well missing 7-of-10 field goals.

In the end, both teams went at it toe to toe in the deciding seventh game. Unlike the first six where one took control to win going away, neither did. Each made runs delivering flurries. But both came back making it anyone’s contest. With it remaining close throughout, I felt that favored the Cavs. They knew how to win in this situation. Had they fallen behind, it probably would’ve been curtains. They never gave in. That’s why they prevailed.

When it was over, a downcast Klay Thompson left the court without congratulating the Cavs. You had to figure he was upset with Curry, who was selfish with just two assists. He also had four turnovers including an awful behind the back pass that went out of bounds with Thompson the target. The bottom line is he played careless ball. That’s how Golden State played throughout. They relied too much on the three and didn’t pass the ball enough. Going against what got them last year’s title.

It can’t always be about one player being the hero. Even LeBron James needed his teammates to get it done. Otherwise, there’s no championship for Cleveland. Congrats to the Cavs on finally winning that NBA title. Hope all celebrate with class and in style. Enjoy it Cleveland. Do it the right way!

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Hard Hits Late Night: Derek and Justin talk Cavs and Warriors

Since I’ve returned to blogging here, shows have returned. Every week, I host Hard Hits on my own Hard Hits Network. You can catch any show on Blog Talk Radio. Hard Hits has been around for nearly a decade. On and off but here we are back working on rebuilding an audience. Last night, I was joined by Justin “JNF” Felix for a Hard Hits Late Night. Catch the show archive or download the podcast on I-Tunes.

Plenty was covered. Among the notable topics were the Cavaliers’ run at history. Having rallied from 3-1 down to become only the third NBA team to force a Game 7, LeBron James and the Cavs look to make history by becoming the first team in NBA Finals history to complete a comeback from a 3-1 deficit. They’ll have to do it by again winning at Golden State for a pressure packed Game 7 tomorrow night on ABC!

How will the Golden State Warriors respond to the challenge? Faced with adversity similar to last round when they were the team who came from behind to stun the Thunder, now it’s their reputation at stake. The defending champs who won a record 73 games including a flawless 39-2 on home court must defend their home turf. If unanimous MVP Stephen Curry and Splash Brother Klay Thompson aren’t successful, it’ll be classified a choke. Their season a failure.

Who will step up? Is it LeBron’s time to deliver on his promise finally bringing a championship back to the city of Cleveland for the first time in 52 years? Or can Curry and a rattled Golden State respond and deliver a repeat? There are plenty of key performers on both sides. The Cavs featuring the dynamic duo of James and Kyrie Irving with role players Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Richard Jefferson and Kevin Love. A deeper Warriors’ cast that includes Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa.

Who will step up? Will either Love or Barnes do anything to tilt a deciding seventh game to their side? Neither has been a factor. What about Iguodala, who tweaked his back? How effective will he be with an extra day off? He was a non-factor offensively. And what of the moody Green who didn’t show up with his ‘A’ game after serving a one-game suspension? What about Tristan Thompson, who has continued to be a main contributor for the Cavs during their comeback thanks to some strong work inside and on the glass? There are many factors in play.

Are the Warriors able to refocus after Curry fouled out and got tossed with coach Steve Kerr getting fined $25,000 for criticizing the officiating? His team hasn’t defended the Cavs well with LeBron in full attack mode. The Cavs have adjusted. Does Kerr have an answer? What about Curry, who had to deal with wife Ayesha Curry losing it on Twitter by calling the NBA fixed before deleting her tweet? Then admitting that her father was mistook for a criminal in false identity by the Cleveland security? How much will the distractions help or hurt the Warriors?

Plus plenty of baseball discussion from the Felix Bros. The Yankees remain a .500 ball club. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman could be available next month. Will the Cubs, Giants and Nationals come lining up? What of certain All-Star Carlos Beltran, who with another home run upped his total to an earth shattering 18 in a Yankees’ 7-6 win over the awful Twins? The 39-year old right fielder could be a great addition for a contender.

Which NL ace is the best? The Felix Bros discuss Clayton Kershaw’s dominance and who it reminds them of. Plus Derek continues to eulogize Christina Grimmie and the all the victims of the Orlando shooting. An overtime that includes some Wimbledon discussion from the tennis expert.

We also remember Prince Be, who passed away at 46 last night. A musical genius whose r&b style and dope lyrics contributed to P.M. Dawn’s early 1990’s classic hits “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” and “Die Without You.” Known as Attrell Cordes, he teamed up with brother Jarrett Cordes to form P.M. Dawn.

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LeBron James and Cavs with great chance to make history

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.  AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement www.nydailynews.com

LeBron James blocks Stephen Curry sending a message in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
AP Photo courtesy Getty Images Licensing Agreement
www.nydailynews.com

How does one define greatness? For LeBron James, he’s out to prove a point in this NBA Finals rematch. Since the Cavs fell behind 3-1 to the record-setting 73-win Warriors, they were written off. Most observers figured there would be a coronation in Game 5 with Golden State celebrating a repeat on their chaotic home court at Oracle Arena. James and Kyrie Irving had other ideas. Each going for 41 points in a 112-97 win to force a Game 6 back home in Cleveland.

The focus has been different for James and his teammates since losing Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. With their backs to the wall, the Cavs have played with more intensity on both sides of the floor. They’ve executed the game plan handed out by coach Tyrone Lue. There’s no doubt that the Warriors not having knucklehead Draymond Green for Game 5 hurt their momentum. Whether you agree with the NBA’s decision to upgrade his double foul incident with James to a flagrant-1 which meant an automatic one-game suspension, it doesn’t matter. He woke up the beast.

James has been a different player since. He followed up a 41-point, 16 rebound, seven assist, three blocks and three steals performance with an even more dominant Game 6, leading the Cavs to a 115-101 home win before screaming Cleveland fans who chanted, “One more game!” during an emotional interview with guest reporter Craig Sager. Sager has continued to bravely fight leukemia and got the chance to work his first NBA Finals game in 30 years. Full credit to both TNT and ESPN for agreeing to make it happen. #SagerStrong has been a popular hashtag on Twitter. The man with the best outfits covering NBA games is a true inspiration. The emotional interview is too good to pass up.

“How in the hell did you go 30-plus years without working an NBA Finals game. That don’t make no sense,” an emphatic James told the beloved Sager, who as usual played it off because he’s so cool. The 64-year old sure deserved that moment. Hopefully, we will see him for the biggest game of the season. Game 7 tomorrow night at Golden State.

ABC lead play-by-play man Mike Breen called both James and Sager legends. He’s right. They are. Speaking of which, the four-time league MVP delivered back-to-back 41-point games against the best team in the league. This one was even better. After they built a remarkable 31-9 lead in the first quarter, the Cavs couldn’t put away the resilient Warriors. They shot themselves back in it. Unanimous league MVP Stephen Curry had it going from three. He made some long treys to keep the defending champs afloat. Cleveland finished the first half strong behind James and Irving (20 first half points) taking a 16-point lead to the locker room.

One thing about Golden State. They never give up. Even with the Cavs coming out quickly in the second half to lead by more than 20, the Warriors continued to come back. The ice cold Klay Thompson heated up in the third quarter scoring 15 of his 25. It was his quick buckets in transition along with Leandro Barbosa’s timely shooting that suddenly made it a game in the fourth quarter. The Warriors only trailed by seven with plenty of time left. But James wasn’t having it on Thursday night. Coincidentally, it was the one-year anniversary of the Warriors winning the NBA title in Cleveland for Game 6. In attack mode for a second straight game, James delivered a personal 8-0 run. Dating back to the end of the third quarter, he scored 18 straight points for the Cavs. That included a huge step back three and two identical tough fade away jumpers over the hobbled Andre Iguodala.

It was vintage LeBron. Unlike the first four games where he wasn’t in attack mode looking to score, James had the eye of the tiger. Make no mistake. The Cavs coukdn’t come back and win this series unless James took over. Similar to what he did last year when he averaged over 36 points in a six-game series loss minus Irvin and Kevin Love. James made so many great plays to help even the series. There were two beautiful lobs off hard drives to Tristan Thompson for easy slams that ignited the crowd. Thompson had feasted on the smaller Warrior interior going for a huge double double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. In fact, he had it by halftime. A role player stepping up when the Cavs needed it most.

Golden State lost center Andrew Bogut for the series. While coach Steve Kerr doesn’t play him much due to opting for a smaller lineup featuring Iguodala and more quickness and athleticism, Bogut was a presence who protected the rim. He blocked shots and altered others. Without the oft-injured Australian big man, the Warriors are easier to attack. It’s not surprising that the Cavs have since gotten to the basket at will and are finishing more consistently. But also, they have changed the strategy. With James able to pick apart the switches along with Irving, they’re taking full advantage. James has also made his outside shot. Something he didn’t have confidence in early on. He’s shown a willingness to pull up on drives when defenders have backed off. He’s also been unafraid to step out and take and make the three in stride.

With a more confident James in beast mode, it’s made it that much harder for Golden State to play D. When he’s hitting from the perimeter, that means they must play up on him which opens up the middle for the most dominant force to drive and either score or set up open teammates. With him scoring, it has spaced out the floor for J.R. Smith, who connected on a big triple from the key off a James pass. He scored 14 including four from downtown. When Smith is confident, he’s able to find room and connect from the outside.

The Cavs are doing this without Love, who just hasn’t fit in. In Game 6, he picked up three early fouls including one phantom call that put him on the bench. The officiating has been inconsistent for each side. It was some calls on Curry that finally led to him snapping. In foul trouble, he was called for two reaches for his fifth and sixth fouls, fouling out for the first time this season. Neither call was correct. Both looked like clean steals. The second coming on James, who moments earlier made a resounding rejection of a Curry offering with some choice words.

“Get that stuff outta here,” is essentially what an emotionally charged up LeBron said to loud cheers. It was refreshing to see him let Curry know about it. Not on my watch. In the past, we haven’t seen him that fired up. When James plays with an edge, he’s more effective. Clearly, the criticism early in the series along with the Warriors going after him for the Green suspension are on his mind. He’s channeling it in a positive way by leading the underdog Cavs back. James always plays both ends which is why he’s the most complete player in the NBA. Still the best. Nobody can defend like him. Along with his game high 41 on an efficient 16-for-27 which included three treys and 6-for-8 at the line, he dropped 11 dimes, pulled down eight boards, had four steals and three blocks.

The big man can do it all. It’s why the Cavs should feel pretty good about their chances on Sunday night. They’re only the third team in NBA Finals history to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-1. No team has ever come back from that deficit. So, they’re looking to make history. As James noted to Sager, “Records are made to be broken.”

Given that Cleveland’s more aggressive defense has frustrated Golden State and their offense has been in better sync, they are psychologically ready. We don’t know what the Warriors’ mindset is entering a seventh game. However, they did rally to beat the Thunder from the same 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Final. They will be home. A place they have dominated opponents. If there is one thing to watch for, neither Curry or Thompson have yet to dominate a game together against the Cavs in this series. There’s always a chance that the Splash Brothers could erupt. If ever there was a time for it, it would be in Game 7 with the pressure mounting.

Imagine winning a record 73 games and losing only twice on your home floor. Having Games 5 and 7 at home where you went 39-2. Imagine losing three straight games including those two home games. It’s the Warriors, whose legacy is on the line. The Cavs aren’t supposed to be here. They were supposed to roll over and pack their bags for the summer. Instead, they’re trying to deliver a championship back to the city of Cleveland for the first time in over 50 years. You have to go back to the 1964 Cleveland Browns when they won the NFL Championship before the merger. They also won it three times in the 50’s.

The long history of Cleveland has been well documented. From the original Browns losing two heartbreaking games to the Broncos in consecutive years to the Indians losing the World Series in excruciating fashion to the upstart Marlins. Michael Jordan over Craig Ehlo is still fresh. So too is James walking off the court after losing to the Celtics en route to The Decision. After four years away going 2-2 with the Heat in four consecutive NBA Finals, he returned to his home for one reason. To deliver that elusive championship to Cleveland. Last year, they fell short losing in six to the Warriors. This time, James is trying to change the end result.

If he can, it’ll be with plenty of help from his teammates. Every role player must come to play. Irving probably will need to score 30 for the Cavs to pull it off. He had 23 the other night. He and James won’t get any rest. It’s the final game of the season. As James told Sager, he’s gonna leave it all out there and give his team everything he has. That’s what Game 7 is all about. Do it one more time successfully and they’ll return home heroes to a wild celebration.

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Irving and LeBron each score 41 to lead Cavs past Warriors 112-97 in Game 5

2016 NBA Finals - Game Three

AP Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images License Agreement

A record performance from Cleveland’s two stars allowed them to prevent Golden State from a celebration on its home court. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James became the first pair of teammates in NBA Finals history to each score 40 points or more in a game. They each poured in 41, combining for 82 of the Cavs’ 112 in a resounding 112-97 win over the Warriors in Game 5.

The virtuoso performance from both kept the Cavaliers very much alive in the best-of-seven series. Following a disappointing Game 4 loss, James said their focus was just on winning one game and getting it back to Cleveland for Game 6. Mission accomplished. Playing much more aggressively in score first mode, James looked more like last year’s version taking apart the Warriors for 41 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks. Unlike Game 4 when he had seven turnovers, he only had two.

James was more explosive attacking the basket while also taking what the defense gave him. Playing without Draymond Green, who served a one-game suspension due to a Flagrant-1 foul, the Warriors struggled to contain the deadly combination of James and Irving. Without the versatile Green, who is a strong defender that protects the rim, they were unable to get any stops. The tandem of James and Irving also made tough shots. Both hit from the outside with Irving a sizzling 5-of-7 from downtown and James connecting on 4-of-8 triples. That clutch shooting opened up holes in the Golden State defense which also lost center Andrew Bogut due to a left knee sprain. He underwent an MRI and is unlikely to return for Game 6. Given his injury history, he probably is done for the series.

James did most of his damage in the first half scoring 29 of the 41. He was dominant on both ends. This was vintage LeBron. A determined and hungry player intent on forcing Game 6. There would be no coronation for Golden State. LeBron shot well hitting on 16-of-30 from the field. Most notably, he used his quick step to back off a weakened Warriors’ defense and hit pull up jumpers. He also wasn’t afraid to step back and knock it down from beyond the arc. He was confident in his shot. Something that wasn’t true in the first four games of this NBA Finals rematch.

While James did his thing, Irving was unconscious. He had one of the best games for a guard in a pressure situation. He couldn’t be stopped. The explosive Irving took apart Stephen Curry off the dribble. He shot a ridiculous 17-for-24. Aside from being hot from outside, Irving lit up the Warriors on an array of drives finishing lay-ups. Particularly when Golden State crawled within six on consecutive three’s from Klay Thompson and Curry, he put Cleveland on his back by starting a 13-0 run that ballooned the lead back up to 19. That included a ridiculous and-one on a beautiful spin move and sweet finish. The next time down, he launched one from way downtown that hit nothing but net, silencing the crowd.

On a night they got nothing out of Kevin Love, who had two points and three rebounds in nearly 33 minutes after returning from a concussion, this is who the Cavs had to be. A two-man team just destroying the Warriors on the match-ups. Only J.R. Smith was the other player to hit for double digits netting 10 in a inconsistent performance due to foul trouble. Tristan Thompson did most of his work on the glass grabbing 15 rebounds while scoring six including 4-of-10 from the line. The Warriors tried the hack-a-Thompson strategy in the third. But after missing three straight, Thompson made the last two to help the Cavs build a nine-point lead after three quarters.

Unlike in most games, the Warriors went ice cold in the fourth quarter. They scored only 13 points including just one in the final six and a half minutes. The Cavs outscored them 19-13 to win comfortably by 15. Golden State was unable to knock down their shots from three-point range, clanging 28 of 42 attempts. That included both Curry and Klay Thompson misfiring on wide open looks. Curry was only 5-for-14 finishing with 25 points in an uneven performance. Thompson did most of his damage in the first half scoring 25 of his 37 before halftime. He was the more explosive Splash Brother shooting 11-of-20 overall and 6-for-11 on three’s. The more aggressive and stronger Thompson also got to the line, sinking all nine of his free throws.

Harrison Barnes had his worst game making only 2-for-14 from the field while missing on 5-of-6 three-point attempts. Normally, he shoots a higher percentage. Like Curry (8-of-21), they weren’t going in.

The only Warrior who had a consistent effort was valuable Sixth Man Andre Iguodala. Starting in place of the suspended Green who took in Game 5 next door from a luxury suit at Oakland Coliseum, Iguodala finished with a double double going for 15 and 11 while recording a team high six assists. When that’s your leading assist guy, it’s not a ringing endorsement. After a good first half, Curry disappeared. Maybe he can show off his disgusting mouthpiece after such a listless game that saw him get schooled by Irving.

If there has been an unsung hero for Cleveland in their two wins, it’s likable vet Richard Jefferson. The 35-year old former Net when they were an actual franchise in New Jersey, played a solid supporting role off the bench. He scored eight going 4-of-6 with three steals. Jefferson’s effort defensively provided a lift for the Cavs. So did Iman Shumpert, who will never light it up offensively. But the former Knick can be counted on for aggressive defense. He blocked two shots and added four points including a sweet finish off a great Irving set up.

The question for the Cleveland is this. When the NBA Finals resume for a do-or-die Game 6 in their building Thursday night, can they get another heroic effort from the dynamic duo of Irving and James? Most likely, they’re gonna need it just to force a Game 7. Especially with the annoying Green returning.

Let’s say the Cavs don’t get a combined 80 from Kyrie and LeBron. Then either Love or Smith must step up. Cleveland doesn’t have much off the bench. Matthew Dellavedova and Channing Frye have been non-factors. In fact, Frye didn’t play last night. With Dellavedova, who can provide grit defensively not supplying anything, does maybe coach Tyrone Lue go to the more offensive-minded Mo Williams?

Basically, it comes down to the Cavs’ starters. How much will a supporting cast that features Love, Tristan Thompson and Smith give James and Irving? They know what they’ll get from Jefferson and Shumpert. But can a seven-man unit become the first team in NBA history to pull off a comeback for the ages. No team in Finals history has ever rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

As for the Warriors, you have to wonder why they didn’t play with more killer instinct. It was like they were just out for a walk in the park. There was no intensity. Matador D. Too many stars relying on their talent and home court. Too much fanciness. They had 17 turnovers and 18 assists. A bad ratio. The Cavs were no better finishing with one more turnover (16) than assist (15). But the dominant performance from James and Irving were enough to win. They also still combined for 13 assists and six turnovers. Curry had four assists and four turnovers. Another disappointment from the two-time MVP.

So, what will happen? It says here that a focused Cavs refuse to lose Game 6 this time at home. I see a Game 7. If they force it, anything can happen. Maybe even history.

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NBA suspends Draymond Green for Game 5

Dray Green.jpg

LeBron James reacts to Draymond Green during a disagreement late in Game 4. The NBA upgraded Green’s reaction shot to James’ groin as a Flagrant-1 foul automatically becoming a one-game suspension for a potential close out Game 5 for the Warriors when they host the Cavaliers tomorrow night. Photo courtesy the Getty Images Licensing Agreement/Associated Press 

In news that can only be described as predictable, the NBA decided to suspend Draymond Green for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Following an incident with LeBron James late in the Warriors’ Game 4 win, the four-time league MVP complained about a few words that the ornery Green said to him in the heat of battle. He didn’t once voice his displeasure over a Green cheap shot to the crown jewels.

Rather, James was unhappy with how Green described him on an NBA court. Let’s just say he called him the b-word. Interestingly, the NBA officials called a double foul on both players after the heated exchange that also included James taking a step towards Green. It took the league 48 hours to upgrade Green’s right to James’ groin to a flagrant-1 foul, resulting in an automatic one-game ban due to his recent history. James was assessed a meaningless technical foul.

So, did NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe overreact? It depends whose side you’re on. If you’re Golden State, you hate the ruling because it takes away one of your most effective players for a potential close out home game tomorrow night in Game 5. In particular, Green’s length and athleticism has given the Cavs fits including James, who has had to deal with multiple defenders ranging from Green to sixth man Andre Iguodala to even Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry.

“I do think it’s curious how somebody who gets knocked out in the first round (of the playoffs), and who has been on vacation for seven weeks, is under the same penalty system as someone who is still playing in the Finals now,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in a story that appeared in the USA Today online edition. “I’m not sure why that’s the case. It seems like a strange rule … That may be something to bring up in the offseason. It does seem a little strange.”

If you’re the Cavs, you’re certainly happy to get the annoying Green out of there for tomorrow’s elimination game. It will be hard enough trying to win in one of the loudest buildings. Oracle Arena will no doubt be rocking with their team having a chance to clinch a second consecutive NBA championship on home court. Last year, the Warriors prevailed in six winning their second NBA title in Cleveland.

“Again, what’s important is that this was – you look at this play on a standalone basis – other things were going on in the game, obviously – but this was viewed as a Flagrant One on its own. It wasn’t that we suspended him, it was that it triggered the suspension,” VanDeWeghe said.

“Draymond was on notice, certainly, and certainly after the last contact to the groin with [Steven] Adams, so what’s important I think is to understand that this was one point, it was viewed as a Flagrant One, and you can’t make an exception. You have to do the right thing for the play.”

The curious thing was Green reacted to being knocked down on the floor. James stepped over him. That drew the reaction. Whether or not you agree, he is a pest who can get underneath opponents’ skin. Just as we saw in the Western Conference Final when he twice got away with what looked to be deliberate kicks to Adams in the upper region. He plays on the edge. This was the risk.
So, can the Warriors close out the Cavaliers tomorrow? Without Green, figure Kerr to move the versatile Iguodala into the starting lineup. What it means is that Golden State’s Strength In Numbers takes a hit. They also lose a shot blocker with Green a strong rim protector. He also is a good rebounder and effective offensively. Able to knock down open three’s while also setting up teammates, he plays at a high tempo. The Dubs will miss him in transition.
Cleveland should benefit. Life should be a little easier for Kevin Love, who probably will get the nod over Richard Jefferson. James also won’t have to deal with Green but should see plenty of Iguodala. If the Cavs can get a win on the road and take it back home, a potential Game 7 is possible.
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NBA Finals: Curry’s 38 lead Warriors past Cavaliers 108-97

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 10:  Stephen Curry #30 and Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors walk off the court during a time out against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the fourth quarter in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Stephen Curry had the answer in Game 4 leading the Warriors with 38 points including seven from downtown in a 11-point win over the Cavaliers to pull Golden State within one win of a repeat in the NBA Finals rematch. AP Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images per Getty Images License Agreement

There would be no repeat of Game 3. Stephen Curry made sure of that. His game high 38 points led the Warriors to a 108-97 victory over the Cavaliers in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Unlike the first three games of the best-of-seven series when the tenacious Cleveland defense held the two-time league MVP under 20 along with Splash Brother Klay Thompson, Curry snapped out of it by draining 7-of-13 three-pointers on a record night when Golden State poured in a Finals record 17 from downtown- eclipsing the 2013 Spurs’ previous mark of 14.

Naturally, Curry was more deadly from beyond the arc than from two going 4-for-12 on his other field goals. Thompson, who was held to 10 in a 30-point blowout defeat, found his stroke. He connected on 4-of-9 triples and shot 50 percent overall (7-of-14) while making all seven free throws en route to 25. Both Splash Brothers hit big shots in a seesaw game full of ties and lead changes. Unlike the first three games which resulted in unwatchable blowouts, this one was close throughout.

Looking to even the series, the Cavs got inspired efforts from Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving in the first half. In particular, Thompson was a men among boys on the offensive glass grabbing four offensive rebounds in a high scoring first quarter that saw the teams combine for 57 points. Cleveland led 29-28 after one. Thompson did most of his damage in the first half, converting on put backs and finishing inside off the glass. His hustle paid off. That included a rare fade away baseline jumper with the shot clock running down in the first half. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to hit at the line missing all five free throws. As a team, the Cavs missed 11 from the charity stripe. It hurt big time. They were 15-for-26 while the Warriors connected on 25-of-31 with Curry doing most of the damage late to preserve an 11-point win.

As for Irving, similar to Game 3 the explosive Cleveland guard scored early and often. He wasn’t as hot from the outside but poured in a team high 34. Irving shot 14-for-28 from the field including making two treys in six tries. He also was 4-for-5 from the line. It was his hot scoring off an array of aggressive drives and mid-range jump shots that kept the Cavs afloat. Especially in a oddly played half by LeBron James. The four-time MVP didn’t look for his shot. Instead, he was tentative looking for open teammates. Sometimes, on drives where he could’ve scored, he passed. Some of those passes resulted in turnovers. For the game, he had seven. James still handed out nine assists and led the Cavs with 13 rebounds. But he never really asserted himself.

LeBron’s tendency to be unselfish is part of his character. Considering how well the supporting cast stepped up in Game 3, it was understandable. But he still had 32 points taking over in the third quarter as the Cavs routed the Warriors. He isn’t Michael Jordan. There are times where he drives hard and either gets stripped or doesn’t finish. Let’s put it this way. Compared to where he was in leading the Heat to consecutive championships a few years back, James is clearly not the same player. He’s slowed down. The speed is still there along with the tremendous athleticism. Nobody is fiercer in transition or at dunking. His defensive instincts remain superb, such as his theft and slam at the start of the fourth quarter.

If there is a weakness, it’s James from the perimeter. He isn’t always confident in his shot. His three-point field goal percentage dropped to 30.9 percent this season. He didn’t make or take as many finishing 87-for-282 from downtown. In tonight’s game, he only made one out of five. As a team, the Cavs struggled mightily misfiring on 19-of-25 three’s. That discrepancy really hurt. James still finished with 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting. But missed two of four free throws and turned over the ball due to some indecision. He did block three shots and record two steals.

It’s also worth noting that in a must win situation, he played over 45 minutes. So, coach Tyrone Lue couldn’t afford to rest him in a close game. Irving and J.R. Smith also received over 43 minutes. Given how few options they have off the bench, they had no choice. Even with Kevin Love returning in a role off the bench for the first time since he was a rookie in Minnesota, they didn’t have enough horses to even the series. Smith couldn’t duplicate his brilliant Game 3 when he poured in 20 on five three’s. He did have a gritty game hitting double digits with 10 but only went 2-of-8 from downtown. If he, Irving and Love aren’t hitting three’s, it really puts the onus on James. Love scored 11 off the bench in 25 minutes with five rebounds and one block. He only took six shots making three and was 1-for-2 from three, hitting an uncontested corner trey off a James dish.

Love competed hard defensively, altering a couple of Draymond Green shots while also switching on Curry. But he wasn’t a factor in crunch time. Lue opted to keep him on the bench, going once more to Channing Frye to spread the court. It again didn’t work. Frye has been a non-factor in the series. Unable to get open and find his shot, he’s totaled two points in the four games and been held scoreless in three straight. Sadly, he’s missed all three field goal attempts including his only three-point shot. Defensively, he can’t guard anyone on Golden State, which probably explains why he hasn’t played a whole lot.

Speaking of Green, he had a strong night defensively. Even though he didn’t score much for a second consecutive game winding up with nine, the lanky small forward was a pest. He pulled down 12 rebounds, blocked three shots and bumped heads with James late in the fourth quarter. They got tangled up leading to the two exchanging words. A visibly frustrated James jawed at Green. It led to double fouls. He got a hand on a LeBron drive, recording a steal to stifle the Cavs during a critical possession. At this point, with neither Curry nor Thompson establishing themselves, Green might actually be the favorite to win Finals MVP. He was superb the first two games and has been a factor unlike against the Thunder.

As usual, the Warriors got solid contributions from Harrison Barnes and last year’s Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Barnes finished with 14 including 4-of-5 triples. The versatile forward also grabbed eight boards including three offensive. As for Iguodala, his fingerprints were evident. He connected on two treys and was again a defensive force when he guarded James. He made life difficult by getting his hands on James shots and causing havoc. Iguodala also had a nice dunk and distributed the ball with seven assists. He grabbed six rebounds. As usual, coach Steve Kerr went small down the stretch with the combo of Iguodala, Green and Barnes doing the job defensively.

Golden State took much better care of the basketball. They only turned it over as a team eight times. The Warriors were back to getting into the lane and making the extra pass to set up Curry and Thompson off screens. The Cavs did a poor job on assignments leaving each with too much space. They didn’t have to work as hard. Ditto for Barnes and Iguodala, who combined for six three’s. The Dubs totaled 23 assists. They played team oriented basketball, pulling within one win of repeating in a historic season. They can close out the Cavs back home on Monday for Game 5.

Cleveland wasn’t able to execute as well offensively. There was too much standing around and not enough movement. The end result was 15 assists and 11 turnovers. Seven coming from James, who felt the pressure of a swarming Golden State defense. It is hard to win when you lack a consistent bench. Richard Jefferson also couldn’t duplicate his Game 3, finishing with just three points and six boards in his second straight start. Figure Love to replace him in the starting lineup for the elimination game.

Unlike the Cavs, who basically use Iman Shumpert for defense due to his limited offensive game, the Dubs can count on contributions from Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Livingston added eight in 18-plus minutes with a pair of free throws. The Warriors’ Strength In Numbers has been a huge advantage. It won the first two games. They didn’t have to do the heavy lifting tonight. But Kerr isn’t afraid to play them. He even gave former Cav Anderson Varejao a cameo and went to James Michael McAdoo while Leandro Barbosa did not play.

It helps when their two best players perform to capability. There was no way they were gonna be held down forever. If the Warriors do finish off the Cavaliers, they can stake their claim as one of the better teams. Even if you can’t compare their roster to classic throwbacks such as the 90’s Bulls or Showtime Lakers due to the difference in styles and officiating, no one can take away a repeat in which they set a NBA record with 73 wins. They still have to finish the job. Close out games are usually tough. Figure James and the Cavs to put up a great fight.

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The NBA Finals from Hell

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LeBron James hugs Kyrie Irving after a convincing 30-point home win in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Cavs trail the Warriors 2-1 with a big Game 4 tomorrow. AP Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images License Agreement

If this truly is a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals, where is the competitiveness? So far, we have been treated to three lopsided games all in favor of the home team. After Golden State’s Strength In Numbers took apart Cleveland in the first two games, it was the Cavs’ turn to dismantle a 73-win team in what amounted to a 120-90 blowout win in Game 3 last night.

How bad was it? The Cavs started the game on a 9-0 run with a punchless Warriors going through the motions. Before you knew it, they were down 19-4 eventually falling behind by as many as 20 in the first quarter. Starting in place of concussed Kevin Love, Richard Jefferson inspired the Cleveland faithful with some aggressive offense that included a strong take resulting in an easy Tristan Thompson put back. The ageless Jefferson also drained a corner three that forced Steve Kerr to call for time.

What was so perplexing was the lack of effort from MVP Stephen Curry. He admittedly hasn’t been himself in this series being held under 20 in the first three games. In a foul plagued first half, he only scored two points while badly missing some wild three’s that had no chance. Even though he finished with 19 to pace the Warriors, most came in garbage time. More concerning were his poor shot choices, forcing the issue when he wasn’t in rhythm. Ditto for the six turnovers on a night Golden State committed 18. A similar issue they had in the first four games against Oklahoma City.

Klay Thompson wasn’t much better finishing with 10. Most coming during Golden State’s one push in the second quarter that cut a 20-point deficit to eight.Astonishingly, he only finished with 10 and clanged six of seven from downtown. The Splash Brothers have been out of sync all series. A credit to the Cavs’ defense which have aggressively played Cutty making it tough to find room. Thompson has had more room but they haven’t been falling. He also took a tough shot from Timofey Mozgov on an illegal screen. Mozgov nailed Thompson in the hip sending him to the locker room.

Unlike Games 1 and 2, a more determined Cavs executed from the start. In particular, Kyrie Irving came out on fire scoring 16 of the Cavs’ 33 in a dominant opening quarter before a loud atmosphere. Signs were held using the catchphrase that’s become a rallying cry for a city that hasn’t seen a professional sports team win a championship since the 1949 Indians. Believe In Cleveland signs were held in unison at Quicken Loans Arena. Irving was sensational draining a pair of three’s from deep off perfect Mozgov screens. He was much more aggressive, taking advantage by scoring 21 of his 30 in the first half, while also dropping eight dimes. He even put in a better effort defensively.

The Cavs’ defense was on a whole better. They also got help from the Warriors at the start. Golden State fell back into the bad habit of rushing shots. Draymond Green missed their first shot from three a few seconds in setting a negative tone. Guarded by LeBron James, the star of Game 2 was held in check to two of eight shooting and only seven points. He missed all four three attempts. James didn’t have a great first half. He struggled to finish in the second quarter blowing three lay-ups. However, Tristan Thompson was there to clean up on the glass. He had a strong game scoring 14 with a game best 13 rebounds including seven offensive boards. Thompson was a standout shooting 5-of-6 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line.

Everybody chipped in for Cleveland. Jefferson had a gritty performance on both ends hustling and showing the will to win. A playoff tested vet who also was on the Nets and Spurs in the NBA Finals, he put together a solid night dropping nine points with eight rebounds and two steals in 33-plus minutes. All five Cavs’ starters played over 30 minutes while combining for 105 of the Cavs’ 120 points.

There was a J.R. Smith sighting. The former Knick came to play knocking down a couple of early treys en route to 20 with five coming from downtown. In the first two games, he was unwilling to shoot the ball. Last night, that wasn’t the case. He also played strong defensively, coming up with a steal that led to a bucket in transition.

After an off second quarter in which he shot only 1-from-8 and turned the ball over a couple of times, James took over in the third quarter. He drained a couple of long two’s inside the left key which ignited another big run that turned a 51-43 halftime lead into a 20-point cushion. The Warriors didn’t start the second half. Similar to the beginning of the game, they got severely outplayed and outhustled by a grittier Cavs’ first unit. Cleveland outscored them 38-26 in the third.

The biggest highlight was an Irving alley-oop to James, who had to reach back to grab the basketball and in full extension slam the ball during a lopsided fourth quarter. He was back in form topping all scorers with 32 on 14-of-26 shooting to go with 11 boards, six assists and two blocks. The game’s most explosive player methodically dominated on both ends. But this time, he got plenty of help from teammates, who definitely were lifted by playing on their home court.

It wasn’t shocking that the Cavs won. After how many criticized and questioned their effort the first two games, this was a must win. It was do or die for them. Especially James, who has so much pressure to perform in his seventh NBA Final (sixth consecutive appearance). This is try number three to deliver a championship to Cleveland. A promise he made when he penned that letter in Sports Illustrated to leave Miami and come home. His heart was still in Cleveland. It’s that promise that drives him.

For the Cavs, it’s up to James and the starters to have a repeat performance in Game 4 tomorrow night if they’re to even the best-of-seven series. With a 2-2-1-1-1 format, the Cavs must duplicate last night’s effort. Otherwise, face the daunting prospect of going back to Golden State and having to stave off elimination in Game 5. Basically, the pressure is still on them to tie the series. Only then does the pressure shift to the Warriors in what would be a pivotal Game 5.

Golden State continues to have a decided edge off the bench. During their one run in the first half, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa got them back in it. In a 30-point blowout loss, they combined for 19 points. Along with effective starter Harrison Barnes, who had a strong night shooting 7-for-11 with two triples, 18 points and eight boards, they made a push. Barnes has been impressive so far showing versatility. Able to step out and hit the three, he also can take his man off the dribble and finish. Shaun Livingston was held to five with six rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. It’s that Warriors’ second unit which can turn the momentum.

The Cavs have gotten nothing out of Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye. Matthew Dellavedova plays hard defensively but is hardly being used by coach Tyrone Lue. If Love is cleared for Friday, it’ll be interesting to see how Lue handles him. He didn’t tip his hand. Perhaps he’ll stick with the starting lineup that had so much success. It makes sense. He could then bring Love off the bench as a sixth man. Not a bad option.

Most intriguing will be how Curry and Thompson respond to the Cavs’ challenge defensively. Neither has done much yet their team still leads 2-1. At some point, one needs to go off. Does it come tomorrow? Or can the Cavs put the pressure fully on the Warriors, who are trying to make history?

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