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

LeBron.jpg

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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Random Thoughts: Muhammad Ali, NBA Finals, Yankees, Stanley Cup

King James goes airborn.

King James goes airborn.

A warm weekend in the first weekend in June has passed. Whether you’re in New York City or New Jersey or a forgotten borough as I am in Staten Island, it’s time to reflect on what was an emotional sports week.

1.Like many, I’ve been watching the many tributes to Muhammad Ali. As someone who grew up with boxing in our family due to my great uncle Barney Felix, who was the man in charge for Cassius Clay’s upset of Sonny Liston, I have been captivated by the kind of person Ali was. At the beginning, he was brash and mean saying disparaging things about opponents that divided fans over him. Many rooted for Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century for that reason. But Ali was much more than the trash talking poetic speaker who made predictions while hyping prize fights. He stood for something. As his protest against the war in Vietnam demonstrated, he took a stance by refusing to get drafted into the Army. A crime he was arrested for. It cost him most of his prime. When he returned to the ring, he wasn’t as quick. But after losing the epic bout to Frazier, he used his head to outsmart George Foreman in what became known as the Rope-A-Dope. Eventually, the powerful Foreman punched himself out allowing Ali to stun him with a quick flurry of rights off the ropes to knock him out and win the heavyweight championship for the second time. In a gruesome display, he outlasted Frazier in their third meeting in the Thrilla in Manila. A epic battle that resulted in both Frazier’s eyes being closed and unable to come out for Round 15. Ali would refer to it as a near death experience in 100-plus degree heat in the Philippines. He would also avenge a loss to Leon Spinks and win the belt once more and then retire.

2.Unfortunately, like most boxers Ali couldn’t escape the game. Whether it was due to only the money or the Nation of Islam, he returned to the ring to fight former sparring partner Larry Holmes in 1980. The Magic Man ran out of any tricks that night in Las Vegas. Oddly prescribed thyroid pills two months before the fight after training hard, he took pills that weakened his body, turning him into a vegetable against the heavyweight champion. Holmes dominated from start to finish, pulverizing a man he loved. Despite taking so much punishment, Ali wouldn’t go down. Eventually, trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the one-sided fight after the 10th round. The legendary trainer who formed a unique bond with Ali stuck with him from the beginning to end from 1960-81. Despite being urged by former Ali doctor Ferdie Pachecho to quit working in Ali’s corner, he stuck with him.

“I honestly felt that if Muhammad was insisting on fighting on, I had to be there to make sure he didn’t get hurt real bad,” he said in a story that appeared in the Independent online at age 90 a year before his death.

3.It’s sad that it ended up the way it did. A suffering Ali from all the shots absorbed was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984. An incurable disease that is debilitating. For 32 years, he fought on continuing to make public appearances until his body was too weakened. To quote Pachecho in the great Muhammad and Larry 30-for-30 ESPN documentary- who recognized the early signs of Ali slowing down and slurring his speech- he felt that Ali could’ve lived forever because he was so strong. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. We can still remember him showing courage lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Games. An emotional and spiritual moment that’ll never be forgotten.

4.I think what I enjoy most is listening to my father tell stories of how he used to go watch all the fights in a theater on pay-per-view. The same family who got together for fights on CBS and HBO during the 80’s at my Uncle Murray’s when they lived out here. The same family whose grandparents visited us often on weekends for similar reasons. It’s why I became such a huge boxing fan. Funny enough, my favorite fighter growing up was not a popular name. It was Donald Curry. A light middleweight who was exciting to watch knocking out opponents. He was a welterweight and light middleweight champion. Ironically, I also was a huge Sugar Ray Leonard fan. Curry hated him. Mike Tyson of course was my favorite. Nobody packed more punch. The heavyweight game hasn’t been the same Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis departed. It never will be. I also loved Roy Jones, Jr. What an artist. He never ducked anyone and was electrifying. I’m a Manny Pacquiao guy over Floyd Mayweather, who only cared about the money. Sadly, that great era is over.

5.So, what’s left in the fight game? Well, you got Triple G , Gennady Golovkin awaiting Canelo Alvarez. If it ever comes off, that should be worth watching. Though I believe Golovkin will knock Alvarez out. I believe he’s too strong. More consistent too. I did catch a good fight this past Saturday on HBO. Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido fought to a majority draw. It was a exciting fight between two proud Mexicans who gave it their all in every round. The classic toe to toe battle where each traded blows. Like watching trench warfare with the gloves on. Vargas adjusted his style late by boxing to lead on the scorecards by two points. But the relentless Salido won the final two rounds to gain the draw. Two judges had the fight 114-114 while one scored it for Vargas 115-113. I myself had it 114-114 for a draw. If there were more fights like that, it would be great.

6.If the NBA Finals rematch is gonna be this one-sided in favor of the Warriors, then the Cavaliers may as well do us all a favor and quit on the bench. Their play in Game 2 last night was humiliating. Even the great LeBron James couldn’t be bothered in the third quarter. When the self-proclaimed King James basically gives up during a sad quarter, it speaks volumes. The sad aspect is James led a 7-0 run at the end of the first half to keep the Cavs within single digits. Like a broken record, the Warriors got great play from Draymond Green, who had his second consecutive big game going for 28 with five three’s, seven rebounds and five assists. He took advantage of the Cavs overplaying Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Nobody rotated out for Green’s uncontested treys. Curry and Thompson each hit four triples while combining for 35 points, nine assists and eight turnovers. It hasn’t mattered due to Golden State’s superior depth.

7.The officials missed an obvious foul on Harrison Barnes, who nailed Kevin Love from behind with an elbow to gain an offensive rebound. With Love down and out, Green took advantage going around a fallen Love for a three-point play. A dazed Love left the game and was treated for head trauma, which might mean concussion. He struggled mightily prior with five points and three rebounds while being beaten on defense. He’s not the biggest issue for Cleveland. That would be the vanishing act of Kyrie Irving. Has anyone seen him? The Cavs have three days before hosting Game 3 on Wednesday. If they’re going to make a stand, it must come in Game 3 before their fans. One win and their back in the series. Momentum can change that quickly. But what will Irving do? And when will James take over? Scoring 19 points and turning over the ball seven times while being tentative won’t get it done. Where is last year’s LeBron, who took it to these Warriors? That’s the one needed for any hope of a comeback.

8.I still for the life of me can’t figure out what Tyrone Lue’s job is.

9.It’s okay to shoot the rock J.R. Smith.

10.When ageless dinosaur Richard Jefferson is your best player, you have issues. He was my Player of the Game on my Twitter account. Be sure to follow me @derekflexfelix on Twitter.

11.I made a fascinating discovery last night. While watching the awful second half at my buddy’s, I discovered that Earl Watson coaches the Phoenix Suns. Why? Talk about a confused franchise. They are the same one that dismissed Jeff Hornacek. Maybe the Knicks actually made a good hire. But this business about how players want to come here is a joke. Unless you’re name is Melo, it’s clearly not the case.

12.Speaking of the Suns, they collect point guards. The Knicks don’t even have one on the roster. What if some of Phoenix’s guards get hurt. Maybe Watson activates himself. My favorite small PG was Earl Boykins. From Eastern Michigan, he could ball.

13.Nobody cares about the useless defending of LeBron by ABC apologist Mike Breen. Clearly, his supporting cast hasn’t come to play. But James isn’t immune to criticism. He gave up last night. Remember. Trading for Love was his move. Ditto acquiring J.R. and Shumpert. Channing Frye was brought in for shooting off the bench. It worked the first three rounds because the East is so unbalanced.

14.The city of Cleveland deserves better than this. They’ve waited a long time. Tell you what. If the Cavs lose Game 3, maybe I’ll start believing in the Indians, who swept the Royals over the weekend and are in first place.

15.I don’t have too many thoughts on the Yankees other than that Fearsome Three hasn’t exactly stuck fear in the late innings recently. Dellin Betances clearly is being overused. He’s already pitched in 28 games. It’s not surprising that he’s been more hittable. The 55 strikeouts in 28 innings remain impressive. But he’s also lost four games, giving up big hits. He shouldn’t be taxed. Eventually, Brian Cashman will decide to move either Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman for a haul next month. Assuming the Yanks remain inconsistent and look more pretender than contender.

16.The AL East is now a three team race. With the Blue Jays continuing to get good pitching, they’re two and a half out behind co-leaders Baltimore and Boston. I’m still not sold on the Orioles’ starting pitching. But they sure can hit. Mark Trumbo now has 18 dingers. As predicted, Adam Jones broke out with a pair in a win over the Yankees. Their offense and bullpen are team strengths. As for the Red Sox, they’re the most explosive offense in baseball. Mookie Betts is as good as advertised and Xander Boegarts looks like he’ll vie for a batting title against Astros wonder Jose Altuve.

17.I still can’t get over David Ortiz. Big Papi leads the majors with 54 RBI’s while hitting .340 with 16 home runs. If it truly is his final year, talk about going out with a bang. Hopefully, it’s clean. I’m not as sure about Danny Valencia. How does a mostly backup utility guy suddenly become productive in his 30’s? Odd.

18.I guess it’s safe to say Matt Harvey is back. Nothing given up in his last two starts. Of course, the Mets didn’t score for him in a 1-0 shutout loss to the Marlins Sunday. Jose Fernandez was at his best fanning 14. When he’s right, Fernandez is lethal.

19.Trades you regret: Giants send OF Adam Duvall to Reds for SP Mike Leake. The 27-year old Duvall leads Cincinnati in home runs (16) with 35 RBI’s. Leake signed with the Cardinals where he’s 4-4 with a 3.82 earned-run-average.

20.Daniel Murphy is up to 10 dingers with a NL-leading .384 batting average with 37 knocked in. Right team. Right situation. Not that the Mets miss him. Neil Walker has 13 home runs and 25 RBI’s. He’s never hit more than 23. Murphy’s career high was achieved last year with 14.

21.While the NBA Finals thus far have been unwatchable, the same cannot be stated for the Stanley Cup Finals. All three games between the Sharks and Penguins have been decided by a goal. The last two have needed overtime. After rookie Conor Sheary won Game 2 to put the Pens ahead 2-0, the Sharks got a reprieve thanks to a great individual effort by Joonas Donskoi. His beautiful move around the net and shot through a screen beat rookie Matt Murray to give San Jose their first win of the series. They trail 2-1 with a largely important Game 4 at the Shark Tank tonight at 8 EST.

22.It’s hard not to be impressed with the Pens’ relentless fore-check pressure. They use their speed so well to create total chaos. Four lines deep boasting the HBK line which features former Ranger Carl Hagelin along with Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, they’re a handful. With Sidney Crosby playing splendidly and Evgeni Malkin eerily quiet, the Pens are the favorite. But the Sharks boast some big weapons too in Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, who needs to put up instead of whining over “cheating” on face-offs. They also boast Mr. Shark, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Two players I’d love to see win a Cup. Of course, Thornton is trying to shed the soft label by finally winning. He had two assists in San Jose’s 3-2 comeback win the other night.

23.Can Martin Jones continue to stop the Pens as they swarm him? Which defenseman will make an impact? Kris Letang or Brent Burns. All good questions with Game 4 coming up.

24.If Novak Djokovic can win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open completing a calendar year grand slam for the first time on the men’s side since legendary Rod Laver, how does SI deny him Sportsman of the Year? It shouldn’t matter that he’s not American. He’s the most dominant athlete in sports today.

25.I sure miss the days when Marv Albert called the NBA Finals on NBC.

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NBA Finals Game 1: Warriors’ Strength in Numbers dismantle Cavaliers in 104-89 win

Shaun Livingston finishes one of his 20 points off the bench highlighting a Warriors' 104-89 Game 1 win over the Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. AP Photo credit to Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images Agreement

Shaun Livingston finishes one of his 20 points off the bench highlighting a Warriors’ 104-89 Game 1 win over the Cavaliers at Oracle Arena. AP Photo credit to Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images Agreement

Game 1 is in the books at Oracle Arena. The NBA Finals rematch started in odd fashion with the Warriors prevailing over the Cavaliers 104-89. Unlike most of their victories the past two years, this one can be attributed to the Bench Mob. On a night where Splash Brothers’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were held to a combined 20 points on 8-of-27 shooting, it was the play of Golden State’s bench that was the big difference in their 15-point home win.

How huge were they? By himself, backup point guard Shaun Livingston outscored the entire Cavs bench 20-10. The combination of Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa combined for 43 of the Warriors’ 45 off the bench. Basically, Golden State’s biggest edge came to fruition in Game 1. They had a 35-point advantage over a thin Cavs’ bench.

No Cavalier scored more than three. Even three-point specialist Channing Frye was useless scoring only a basket in seven minutes. Iman Shumpert had three as did ageless former Net Richard Jefferson. Matthew Dellavedova scored the other two. He made more impact with a foul on Iguodala reaching in from behind, accidentally swiping last year’s Finals MVP below the belt. The foul came late in the third quarter causing a reaction from Iguodala, who got in Dellavedova’s face. No blows were exchanged with Shumpert breaking it up. For over five minutes, the clueless officiating crew gathered around and couldn’t decide what the call was. It was just a common foul on Dellavedova, resulting in Iguodala splitting a pair of free throws.

Whatever momentum the Cavs had from a strong third quarter died in the final minute. After methodically cutting a 14-point deficit down to one before even taking their first lead since the opening minute, they allowed the Warriors to regain the momentum. They closed the quarter strong taking a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.

The final period was all about the Strength In Numbers. A reference to the Warriors’ bench. Their depth came through in a big way delivering a 8-0 run to extend to a 14-point lead. In particular, the combo of Livingston and Barbosa destroyed the Cavs. On an array of driving buckets from Barbosa and some strong finishes from the lanky Livingston, who used his size to gain an edge, they turned a close game into a laugher. Along with Iguodala, who terrorized LeBron James on defense, they proved to be too much.

Cleveland coach Tyrone Lue was forced to bring James back in after just a couple of minutes off to start the quarter. It didn’t matter. The Warriors didn’t need either Curry or Thompson to win this game. On a night where they were ineffective thanks to tenacious defense from the Cavs led by James and Irving, their teammates had their back. Seven Warriors scored in double digits. That included Harrison Barnes, who made some big shots from the outside including a 17-footer off the dribble to put his team up three. Even Andrew Bogut got involved scoring 10. Seriously.

Draymond Green was more effective than at any point against the Thunder. He paced the Golden State starters with 16 points along with 11 rebounds and seven assists. The versatile forward had his way impacting the game on both sides of the floor. There was no hesitation from Green, who knocked down a couple of treys and sank all four of his free throws. As a team, the Warriors only went to the line 10 times making nine. The Cavs went 18-for-20 highlighted by Irving going 11-for-12.

James only took four free throws making three. Even with him one assist shy of a triple double, he didn’t dominate. At the end of the day, the stats will say otherwise with King James finishing with 23 points, 12 boards and nine assists. But he never took over, choosing to pass instead of score. He shot 9-of-21 even making two three’s in four attempts. But there were times where he was hesitant to take advantage of favorable match-ups. To an extent, his passiveness worked in the third with both Irving and Kevin Love making timely hoops. Even though he shot 7-of-22, Irving had a superb game pacing his team with 26. He played aggressive defense on Curry limiting him to 4-of-15 shooting and 3-of-8 from downtown.

Love had a strong third hitting a three and converting a three-point play. He also scored a go-ahead bucket on a offensive rebound. But he disappeared in the fourth. After recording most of his double double of 17 and a game high 13 boards in the first 36 minutes, he couldn’t get it going in crunch time. Instead, there were a couple of wild misses and a turnover. However, it’s hard to win when four of your five starters do the scoring. Tristan Thompson had a solid night finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

That was it. J.R. Smith didn’t even attempt a shot in the first half. Odd to say the least. He focused more on defending Thompson holding him to nine. But for Smith to only score three on 1-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc, that isn’t gonna get it done. He needs to show up. On a rare night where the Warriors only made nine three’s while clanging 18, the Cavs were 7-of-21 failing to take advantage.

If the Cavs are to have a chance, they need LeBron to dominate. He can’t always pass the ball. At some point, he has to score like he can. Play like the best player. Last year, his team was shorthanded. So, James had to carry the load. I’m not asking him to do the same thing. However, there are times where he must seize the moment. That’s what Michael Jordan did. If he wants to deliver a championship to Cleveland, he’s got to take over.

So, what will Game 2 bring? I seriously doubt Curry and Thompson are gonna be that off again. I also have to think both teams will make more three’s. LeBron should score more. But so should Curry and Thompson. As for the Warriors’ bench, they can’t dominate like that for Cleveland to win. We’ll see what adjustments they make. They have two days off to prepare for a Game 2 on Sunday night. Tip off is after 8 EST on ABC.

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A Finals Rematch

The NBA Finals gets going tomorrow night. It’s a Finals rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Last year, the Warriors came from nowhere to win the whole thing behind the play of the Splash Brothers. League MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led Golden State to their first NBA title since 1975. Forty years later behind rookie coach Steve Kerr playing at a frenetic pace emphasizing the long range shooting exploits of Curry, Thompson along with Draymond Green and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the Warriors rallied from a 2-1 deficit to beat LeBron James’ Cavs in six.

In some aspects, it wasn’t a fair fight. James was without sidekick Kyrie Irving, who missed the final five games due to a fractured left knee sustained in the Game 1 overtime loss. They were also minus Kevin Love, who missed the final three rounds due a shoulder dislocation. It forced James to carry the load. He was sensational averaging 35.8 points-per-game with 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. However, even with big contributions from Iman Shumpert, J.R. SmithTristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova, it wasn’t enough to offset the Warriors’ superior depth. That included Harrison Barnes, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli, David Lee, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights. Kerr was able to move an ineffective Andrew Bogut to the bench, shifting the versatile to Green at center for his “small lineup” which proved successful.

This time, the Cavs are healthy and rested entering the 14th Finals rematch in NBA history. The last one was 2013-14 when the San Antonio Spurs avenged a seven-game series loss by defeating the Miami Heat in five. The last team to repeat in such a scenario were the Chicago Bulls, who defeated the Utah Jazz in 1997 and 98 in compelling series.

Can the Warriors do what James’ Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh couldn’t? They should be the more tired team after becoming only the 10th team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit, stunning the Oklahoma City Thunder in seven. It was mostly due to the heroic play of Thompson, whose 41 points including a playoff record 11 three-pointers led Golden State back in an emotional Game Six win at Oklahoma City. Curry came on in the fourth quarter to finish with 36. Game Seven was a tale of two halves. After the Thunder played a team oriented first half to lead by eight despite Curry’s circus shot that cut the lead to six at the half, they fell victim to a remarkable shooting display from the Splash Brothers. In a lopsided third quarter, the Warriors outscored the Thunder 29-12. Curry heated up from downtown twice burning Steven Adams in a switch mismatch that I don’t even think OKC coach Billy Donovan could explain. Curry’s 15 points in the fourth quarter were enough to finish the Thunder, who made one last run at it behind Kevin Durant (7-0 solo to get within four). But in a poor half where Russell Westbrook reverted to Westchuck, a ticky tac foul on Serge Ibaka resulted in three made Curry free throws erasing any doubt.

So, here we go again… going down the only road we’ve ever known… kidding here. A Whitesnake 80’s reference was too easy to pass up. The Cavs rolled through the first two rounds sweeping mismatched souls Detroit and Atlanta. The Eastern Conference Final was more competitive. Credit the back court duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for showing up in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto to push the Cavs. But when push came to shove, the Raptors were no match getting outscored by 66 the final two games. James, Irving and Love combined for 83 points, 27 rebounds, 19 assists and nine three’s in the Game Six 113-87 clincher at Toronto. For good measure, Smith drained five treys.

There are two big story lines central to this rematch. The first being the record setting Warriors, who bested the ’95-96 Bulls by winning 73 games in the regular season. After being pushed to the brink, can they complete one of the best seasons in NBA history? As other teams have found out, it’s tough to repeat. Even the great Spurs teams featuring Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili never repeated. They also had to contend with the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. The Spurs weren’t able to overcome the Thunder in 2012 or this year. The Warriors were despite getting exposed by OKC’s size.

The second story line is the obvious. In the second year of James’ return home, can he finally deliver a championship to the starved city of Cleveland? They’ve had so much heartbreak. From those 80’s Browns teams to the Indians blowing the ’97 World Series to the Marlins. To of course, the Cavs falling short in James first run, prompting him to take his talents to South Beach. The Heat made four consecutive Finals winning twice and losing twice. It’s James’ sixth consecutive Finals appearance. For his career, he’s 2-4 and 0-2 as a Cav. With a healthier and deeper team that also includes key addition Channing Frye plus serviceable dinosaur Richard Jefferson (seriously), are they finally good enough to deliver the first championship to Cleveland since the 1948 Indians?

What to expect? A more competitive series than last year. By that, I mean there shouldn’t be any blowouts. As explosive as the Warriors are, I would be shocked if they ran away with it. James has more help this time. Even if both Irving and Love can be taken off their games. Love’s reliance on the three is worth watching. When he doesn’t make them, will he still be involved enough on the block? Defense isn’t his strong suit. As for Irving, think a lesser talented Westbrook. He can be very streaky. When on, he can hit from anywhere. He’s a bad shot maker. But he also is quick and can get into the lane. Something he must do to take pressure off James. LeBron has enough responsibilities.

The Cavs like to pass the ball and set up the open teammate. Usually, it’s from long distance. They’ve played a similar style as the Warriors, using extra passes to set up the three. However, none of their shooters are as lethal as the dynamic duo of Curry and Thompson. Neither needs much room to make the impossible possible. Some of the shots they pull off defy logic. The Warriors have relied on them more this time. With Green having a bad series against the Thunder aside from cheap shots at Adams and Iguodala not scoring as much, it’ll be interesting to see if Golden State gets enough out of their supporting cast. That same cast was the difference last year.

I expect it to go at least six. Seven is a distinct possibility. With the 2-2-1-1-1 format in for a second straight year, that means more travel if there’s a Game 6 or 7. I believe the Cavs must prevail in six to win. They’d be hard pressed to win a seventh game at Oracle Arena. One of the loudest crowds in the NBA. Look what they did for the Warriors in their comeback against the Thunder. At times, OKC seemed shell shocked. I still can’t explain what happened to Westbrook. He picked a bad time to go south.

Game One tips off after 9 PM tomorrow night on ABC. Get ready for a great series.

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