Cleveland Cavaliers

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

Once again, Danny Ainge proves he's not afraid to bet big on his own judgment

A few thoughts about the blockbuster Cleveland-Boston trade:

  • One thing I've always admired about Danny Ainge: He's got a lot of guts. He always has. He's totally unafraid. And in pulling the trigger on a trade with the team he's trying to beat in the NBA East, he's taking a gamble. In trading his team's best and most popular player he's making an even bigger gamble. And in taking on Kyrie Irving, well, he might be taking the biggest gamble of all. But he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks, he does what he thinks is right. It's the same as the trade he pulled off prior to the draft with the No. 1 pick. He thought Jayson Tatum was the best player in the draft and knew he didn't have to take him with the first pick, so he moved the pick. And he really didn't care what anybody else thought of the deal. The guy has had plenty of self-confidence and courage since the day he started playing basketball. I remember watching him as a high-school junior in the Oregon state basketball tournament and on the football field and marveling at how he laughed in the face of pressure. He seemed totally immune to it and probably still is.
  • In today's world, people running franchises who are willing to make a big gamble or controversial move without worrying about what fans or media will think about it are rare -- and usually worth their weight in gold.
  • Ainge has put a big burden on his coach, Brad Stevens. As well he should -- Stevens is one of the best in the business. But I think Stevens will need to be at the top of his game to find the kind of team chemistry the Celtics had last season. Irving, I've heard, is pretty tough to handle -- for his teammates and his coaches. Getting him to play the team game and keeping him out of calling his own number all the time might be a problem.
  • This deal has long-term ramifications that should not be ignored. Irving is four years younger than Thomas (who is dealing with a hip injury) and in better health. Most people in the league believe LeBron James is headed out of Cleveland after this season and Boston has positioned itself to be the next big thing in the East. Thomas has one year left on his contract and Irving has two years and a player option for a third. Ainge is making a move that's possibly good for this season but definitely good for the seasons after that.
  • Thomas is 5-9 and often listed at 185 pounds. He doesn't look as if he's within 20 pounds of that number, however. Irving is 6-3 and 193. Players as small as Thomas have a pretty rough ride in the NBA -- and I'm not so sure how long he can keep that slight frame healthy enough to carry the heavy load he carried last season. I certainly wouldn't invest in that body with a long-term max deal.
  • Kevin Love and Thomas played on the same AAU team in high school and I'm sure they will play well together. Cleveland will be OK next season if Thomas stays healthy. Of course, behind him is Derrick Rose, another player whose continued good health is no sure thing.
  • I don't know what to think of Irving and his desire to get away from James. But I have a feeling that PLAYING with LeBron is OK, it's just existing with him that's a problem. You hear stories about the entourage, about LeBron basically running the whole organization -- stuff that can't be easy on teammates.
  • The Celtics have reshaped their team coming off what was a very good season. That takes guts. But that's Danny Ainge.

 

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

OK, so tell me about Durant's "legacy" now

As much as I detest the word "legacy" when people are talking about pro athletes (basketball players have careers, they don't have a legacy. Things like that are reserved for the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy) I'm going to use it here.

Where are all those people who insisted that Kevin Durant would affect his "legacy" by jumping from Oklahoma City to Golden State and, as I heard so many times, "ride those guys' coat tails to a championship."

Well, as it turned out, Durant did the right thing. The Warriors would not have won without him. He was the MVP of the series. And he escaped having to play in a city YOU wouldn't live in to the Bay Area. And he escaped having to play with Russell Westbrook on a dysfunctional team and landed with a squad that was the most unselfish in the league.

When people look back on his career they're going to say he carried the Warriors to this championship -- not that they carried him to one.

And he did so while sacrificing pieces of his game for the sake of playing on a winning team. He would have scored more points and his stats would have looked much better had he stayed with the Thunder. But the NBA Finals stage allowed him to show just how talented he is -- leading many people to conclude he's the next big thing in the league.

As far as the Cavaliers are concerned, the Finals showed they have some work to do on that roster of theirs. Instead of stacking their bench with LeBron's buddies, they need to get some serious role players with talent. They need guys capable of contributing instead of just sitting and watching. In Game 5, the Warrior bench outscored the Cavalier bench 35-7, typical of the entire series.

The Warriors, too, had a big coaching edge. Golden State plays the prettiest game in basketball on offense and just about the best defense in the league. The Cavs take turns playing one-on-one with not enough defense.

The right team won. And Kevin Durant made the right move.

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

GOAT? Who knows... but there's never been another team like the Warriors

You can talk all day and all night about the greatest teams of all time. And you really can't come to any conclusions. Differing eras makes it too difficult.

But there has never been another team like this version of the Golden State Warriors.

Folks, time changes. And it has changed basketball in a very big way. You know that, of course, but it may be a bigger change than you think.

Yes, the Warriors shoot the three-point shot like nobody else -- in volume and accuracy. In Game 3, they made 16 of their 33 threes while Cleveland was hitting just 12 of 44. That's a huge edge.

And I must say, Steph Curry is just as unique as his team. I know Kevin Durant is getting most of the headlines from Wednesday's game -- as he should -- but we're already taking Curry for granted because he's been doing his amazing thing for a few years now.

It wasn't just that Curry made five of his nine three-point shots. It's that he made shots -- and continues to make shots -- from spots where other players don't dare shoot them. And he gets them off quickly, too. Curry's edge over most every other player in the NBA is that he's accumulating points three at a time on shots that nobody else makes with consistency. If he gets a glimmer of daylight from about 25 feet and in, he can be deadly. I don't remember any other player in the history of the game as proficient as he is at shooting in volume from distance.

And above that, he's a perpetual motion machine. He had 13 rebounds Wednesday because he's so active. He gets to the ball, whether in the air or on the floor. In his own way, he's as difficult to defend as any of the game's legendary players.

And yes, the Warriors also have other shooters. Klay Thompson and Durant are terrific. But what makes these guys special is that they move the ball and move bodies. They play an unselfish, equal-opportunity offense that doesn't allow the defense to lock in on anybody. In contrast to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland plays too much one-on-one. It's really not sustainable -- even as good as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are at it -- over the long haul against a team moving the ball the way the Warriors do.

Wednesday, 72.5 percent of Golden State's made field goals were assisted. For Cleveland, it was just 42.5. EVERY SINGLE SHOT by Thompson, Draymond Green, David West and Shaun Livingston came off an assist. That's crazy.

And of course, when a lot of people are evaluating this series at some point, they're going to point fingers at the Cavaliers' "supporting cast" and conclude Cleveland didn't get enough production out of it. I think it's easy to say that, but my observation over many years of watching this game is that when one or two players are as ball dominant as James and Irving are, other players simply don't get a good feel for the game. What you end up with is players who are so eager to actually get a shot they burp up a bad one (J.R. Smith) or become more reluctant to shoot (Kevin Love). It's a natural response when you aren't getting consistent touches.

Basketball is changing at warp speed and the Warriors are leading the way. Shooting from distance is of paramount importance these days. You simply cannot afford to get outscored by a big number from behind the three-point line. It's so difficult to overcome that. And you've got to move the ball and play unselfishly to get open three-point shots.

And to beat the Warriors, you're going to need a great team. And there is only one great team out there right now and it's the Warriors. And they are so much different than any of the other great teams in history that it's hard to say where they fit.

A few other thoughts about Game 3:

  • I'm still not understanding why James didn't get out past the three-point line on Durant on that critical shot late in the game. That shot was too important to allow it to be wide open.
  • I'm also bewildered as to why the NBA allows these games to degenerate into a wrestling match. So many obvious fouls are being ignored that if you actually get called for a foul -- or a travel or a double dribble -- you're just flat-out unlucky. It's a joke.
  • People are saying that Green isn't playing his best during this series but he does so many things for his team. Wednesday night he led all players in contested shots with 15, had the best plus/minus of anybody with 14 and had a team-high seven assists to go with a team-high five screen-assists. That doesn't sound like a bad game to me.
  • The only team capable of beating the Warriors is the Warriors. If they don't move, or move the ball, or take a night off on defense, they can be had. But that's the only way.

 

 

Cavs down 0-2, will the NBA decide games need to be officiated differently?

Cavs down 0-2, will the NBA decide games need to be officiated differently?

Last season, with the Golden State Warriors on the verge of a second consecutive NBA Finals win, the officiating of the series suddenly changed. Cleveland began holding and bumping Steph Curry as he attempted to move without the ball. The game got more ugly.

And not a lot of fouls were called.

I've seen this kind of thing before and it's about time to start bringing out the usual NBA Conspiracy Theories.

In the old days, the story was often told that David Stern would just send an officiating team of "fixers" out to manipulate the outcome of games in order to ensure a longer Finals (more games = more money for the league).  And, it was often said, the league had a desire for the large-market teams to win. And I have to admit I actually suspected some hanky-panky in those days regarding certain games.

But Stern is gone and Adam Silver is now in charge.

So I'm just asking, can we look forward to some radical change in how the rest of the Finals games are going to be called? Will the Cavs be able to wrestle the Warriors into submission?

Well, I'd guess not. I'm not sure Cleveland is close enough to Golden State that officials could actually do much to help.

The Warriors are good. REAL good. I've seen a lot of teams come and go and I think this is certainly at least among the best. This team is in that conversation. And just like the Trail Blazers, the Cavs need help to beat them. I said from the start the only way Portland could beat the Warriors is to play its best game and have the Dubs play their worst.

And it's not much different with the Cavaliers.

Three things to monitor during the NBA Finals

Three things to monitor during the NBA Finals

The NBA Finals (finally) start tonight in Oakland and here are three things to keep an eye on during the series, three things that could decide the Finals rubber match between these two superteams:

  • How will this series be officiated? Last year the Cavaliers were able to get very physical with Steph Curry -- holding him, bumping him and keeping him from the constant movement that helps him get free. If that happens in this series, not only with Curry but the other players who make the Golden State motion offense the best in the league, the Warriors are going to have trouble.
  • Can the Warriors bring down Cleveland's three-point field-goal percentage? The Cavaliers are making an impressive 43.5 percent of their threes and if that continues it's going to keep Cleveland in this series. And that percentage is not based on a small sample size. The Cavs have made 45 more three-point shots than the Warriors have in the playoffs. And people wonder why LeBron James is playing so well this postseason? He's got help in the form of shooters who have spread the floor, allowing him to get to the basket easier than ever. People talk a lot about Kyrie Irving but Kevin Love is critical for this team. So far, he's averaging 17.2 points per game in 32 minutes, with 10.4 rebounds per game and a 47.5 shooting percentage from three-point range. If those numbers hold firm in the Finals, the Cavaliers have a real shot.
  • How much coaching is Steve Kerr going to do in the Finals? I have tremendous respect for what he's done for that team and I think the Warriors can only reach their maximum potential with Kerr on the sidelines. Mike Brown is probably a very capable replacement but he's a replacement -- and substitute teachers are never as good as the real thing. Kerr has created a team that is superior on offense and very good on defense and it would be a shame if he couldn't be there to guide it to the end of the season. And it could also be detrimental to the Warriors' chance of capturing the championship.

Who do I think will win? Golden State. This is one of the league's all-time great teams and if Kevin Durant doesn't crack under the pressure of the Finals the Warriors should win. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as many people figure. Cleveland is the one team that can match Golden State's three-point production and that's a big key in the modern game. And to beat Golden State, you better score a whole lot of points.

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

At last, the Blazers chalk up a significant win this season

There was so much to like in the Trail Blazers' 102-86 romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night in Moda Center. Let me touch on just a few of them:

  • First, it's important to note that Portland fans had to work very hard to get to the game and a good many of them made it. I was very surprised how full the arena was on a night of such dicey travel. The attendees were rewarded with their team's best game of the season. I wasn't surprised the NBA so obviously forced the teams to play on an iffy night -- it's been NBA policy to do that for decades, even when the home team is not in favor of it. Especially when a one-night delay of the game would probably force some sort of issue between the league's TV partners, ESPN and TNT.
  • The Trail Blazer defense was intense and connected. I loved the way it collapsed and covered in the basket area (the Cavs had just 24 paint points and went a woeful 12-39 in the paint) when necessary. That takes coordination and effort -- and it was there all night.
  • At the same time, the Blazers were still able to contest three-point shots. Cleveland made just 30 percent of its attempts from three-point range.
  • The Cavaliers were not real interested on defense in the first quarter and Portland got off to a very good start on offense. But in the second period Cleveland began to tighten up its defense and went to another level. What I liked about that is that the Trail Blazers kept at it, through some rough possessions, and had an eight-point halftime advantage.
  • There were so many contributions from so many players but if you're a Trail Blazer fan you have to be excited about the ongoing confidence and emergence of Allen Crabbe. He has been almost unworldly over the last few games and the squad has needed another consistent shooter from long range.
  • Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu were terrors on defense, as usual. There can be no denying how important their presence on the court is to the Blazer defense.
  • Evan Turner had a tough shooting night but had 11 assists and eight rebounds while taking some turns at defending LeBron James. My sense has been that Turner fears no man. He took on James and gave as much as he took in a physical battle. His rough edge is very important to this team.
  • CJ McCollum continued his hot play on offense -- he's in a zone right now. A very hot zone. And four blocked shots? He's engaged at the defensive end.
  • Terry Stotts had his team very well prepared, which is saying a lot considering the Blazers' busy travel day on a back-to-back game.
  • There was a different vibe Wednesday night. The Trail Blazers looked much more like last year's confident bunch than they have all season.
  • What can we expect moving forward? I'd like to think Tuesday night's game, when the Lakers' DeAngelo Russell "poked the bear" -- confronted Damian Lillard and woke him and his teammates up -- was a turning point and that the Wednesday night triumph over the Cavs was Exhibit A of a major sea change for Portland. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The Trail Blazers have buried themselves in the conference standings and climbing out of what is still an 18-23 hole won't be easy.

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

Blazers end the first half on a high note with rout of LeBron James and Cleveland

The Trail Blazers ended their first half on a high note with perhaps their best outing of the season, a thorough and dominant 102-86 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Behind the shooting of Allen Crabbe and an explosive second half from CJ McCollum, and with the help of an active and swarming defense, the Blazers beat the defending champions to run their record to 18-23, one game better than last season at the halfway mark.

McCollum scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half and became the first Trail Blazers player since Clyde Drexler in 1987 to score 25 or more points in seven consecutive games. The franchise record is 11 by Geoff Petrie. 

Crabbe, meanwhile, hit 9-of-10 shots and scored 24 points, two games after he established a career-high with 30 points against Detroit, and coach Terry Stotts recorded his 200th win in Portland. 

But perhaps more than anything, the Blazers' win was fueled by its defense, which held Cleveland to 34.1 percent shooting, one night after Portland held the Lakers to 29 percent shooting in the second half of a win in Los Angeles. Evan Turner keyed the defense by often holding his ground against repeated post ups by James, who was held to 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists on 5-of-12 shooting. Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless also played a part in defending James and the entire Blazers roster was a step faster and had a greater sense of urgency than the Cavaliers (28-10), who lost their second straight.

Both teams were coming off brutal travel schedules that were effected by an unexpected snowstorm that hit Portland on Tuesday night. Cleveland played at Utah on Tuesday and didn't land in Portland until 5:15 a.m. on Wednesday. Portland played in Los Angeles and spent the night in Seattle after flying to Sea-Tac Airport. The team flew to Portland and arrived at 1 p.m., then bused to the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland before heading to the arena at 4 p.m.

It was the sixth time Portland has held its opponent to less than 100 points in its last 11 games. In the season's first 30 games, the Blazers accomplished that feat five times. 

Next up: Orlando at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (KGW)

Trail Blazers drubbed again as Kevin Love has NBA record performance in Cleveland

Trail Blazers drubbed again as Kevin Love has NBA record performance in Cleveland

CLEVELAND -- The Trail Blazers' defensive nightmare continues.

Cleveland forward Kevin Love scored an NBA record 34 points in the first quarter -- which included eight three-pointers -- and the Cavaliers stained the Blazers' record book with gaudy numbers Wednesday in a 137-125 rout at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Blazers (8-9) entered the game with the NBA's second worst defensive rating, just one-tenth below Sacramento, and proceeded to give up a franchise-tying 46 points in the first quarter and a season high in points for the second time during this trip. In addition to Love, LeBron James had a field day, recording his second triple-double of the season: 31 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. 

Damian Lillard, who vowed before the game to take his game "to another level" had 40 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds as the Blazers lost of the fifth time in the last six games. Four of those loses have included deficits of 20 or more points. 

Love, the Lake Oswego native, finished with 40 points and his 34-point outburst was three off Klay Thompson's NBA record for points in any quarter, which Thompson set two seasons ago in the third quarter against Sacramento. He finished 12-of-20 from the field, 8-of-12 from three-point range and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. 

Love made his first seven shots, including his first six three-pointers, as the Cavs raced to a 26-13 lead just more than four minutes into the game. 

Cleveland (11-2) were playing on four days rest while Portland was coming in the back end of a back-to-back and finishing a five-game swing during which they went 1-4. 

After all the smoke cleared from Love and Cleveland's hot shooting, the Blazers found themselves within striking distance after CJ McCollum made a driving layin with 9:26 left in the second quarter, pulling the Blazers within 51-42. But with Love on the bench, the rest of the Cavaliers remained hot, as Channing Frye hit four three-pointers, JR Smith two and Kyrie Irving two. 

All told, the Cavaliers hit 16 three-pointers in the first half (in 22 attempts), the 16 the most by opponent in Blazers history, surpassing the 14 made by Golden State last March and the 14 made by New York in 2012. Cleveland finished with 21 three-pointers, the most the Blazers have ever allowed. 

The Blazers started Evan Turner in the second half in place of Ed Davis, and a 12-2 run to open the half was enough concern for Cleveland to call a timeout. The Blazers eventually got within 94-83 in the third quarter, but each flurry was met by a surge from James, who recorded his second triple-double early in the fourth quarter. It was his 44th career triple-double. 

Mason Plumlee made 9-of-10 shots for the Blazers and finished with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists. Turner added 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting. 

Next up: New Orleans at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (CSN)

 

A little less hysterical look at the Cavaliers' win over Warriors

A little less hysterical look at the Cavaliers' win over Warriors

It seemed like the entire world of sports went a little bonkers Sunday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers finally finished off the seemingly endless NBA season. Just a few comments on what went down in Oracle Arena:

  • Before handing over the Larry O'Brien Trophy, Commissioner Adam Silver -- doing this for the first time -- just couldn't restrain his goofy enthusiasm. Like so many people these days, he seemed to think history started about a year ago. "You just witnessed one of the greatest games in NBA history," he said. Note that he didn't say Finals history. Or Game 7 history. He said "in NBA history." And that, Mr. Commissioner, isn't even close. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by listing a bunch of games but if you've watched the league for more than a few minutes, you can remember a whole lot of games that were more dramatic or featured better play than this one.
  • I must say, too, I'm already up to here with "long-suffering Cleveland sports fan." Yes, I know -- it's been a long time since that NFL title in 1964 with no "Big Four" championship in between. But you did win four NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era and you at least get to watch major-league baseball and pro football forever. And you have beautiful venues for all of your sports teams. In Portland we haven't won an NBA title since 1977 and don't even have any other Big Four team to watch. But we do have a national treasure planted near the Moda Center. So there is that.
  • LeBron James spent a lot of time after the game he couldn't wait to get back to Cleveland to celebrate with his people. But then, of course, he chartered a plane and took the team to Las Vegas for a late-night celebration (pictures here).
  • I give James a lot of credit -- his post-game Michael Jordan impersonation (down on all fours crying) was pretty good, if not too creative.
  • LeBron James used "I" more than "We" much more often than most sports heroes do after winning a championship.
  • On and on and on we hear about LeBron's "legacy." And the legacy of other players. Folks, presidents have legacies. Great humanitarians have legacies. Athletes give us memories, not legacies. Other than Muhammad Ali, who did leave a legacy.
  • That said, people are very unfair to LeBron when they hold it against him that he lost so many times in the Finals. Many of LeBron's teams have been potential lottery teams without him. Yeah, Michael Jordan has all those rings. So does Bill Russell. But those guys played alongside a lot of all-stars. Frequently, LeBron has had to carry undermanned teams. Give him credit for that and don't always "count the rings" -- that is patently unfair. Absurd, actually.
  • Golden State had multiple chances to put the Cavaliers away, starting in Game 5 -- before Andrew Bogut was injured. But Draymond Green was suspended, the Warriors struggled and it seemed to knock Golden State off its game for the rest of the series.
  • I hope all the isolation plays we saw in that series don't spark a return to such things in the NBA. It's not pretty basketball.
  • Same with the physical nature of the Finals. Go ahead and try to grab and hold Curry during the regular season and see where that gets you -- on the bench in foul trouble. But in this series the NBA reverted back to the tired old custom of "playoff fouls" being different than regular-season fouls. Hate that.
  • A team that thrived on threes for most of the last two seasons just couldn't hit them when needed. And Curry's late-game, behind-the-back pass that sailed out of bounds on a critical possession showed a lack of understanding of the time and situation. It was very careless.
  • Kevin Love had a very nice Game 7, including that one-on-one stop of Curry late in the game. Good for him -- I thought he was being set up to be the goat of the series had Cleveland not won. But Sunday night he got what he came to Cleveland to get -- a championship ring. And now I hope he moves on to someplace where he can again showcase the skills that made him an all-star.
  • Man, that season seemed to last forever, didn't it?

Warriors faced with triumph or long summer after Game 7

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USATI

Warriors faced with triumph or long summer after Game 7

The Warriors go home hoping it is their postseason salvation. The playoffs on the road, after all, were more treacherous than they ever could have imagined.

Oracle Arena won’t be much better for the Warriors, though, unless they turn up their tenacity.

Grit and resolve once again were lacking in a 115-101 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors were outrebounded and outshot. They were outscored in the paint and on the fast break. They failed to compete at the hyper-intense level exhibited by the Cavs.

They were too often caught flat-footed or otherwise unready as Cleveland, led by LeBron James, started fast and rarely let up to force Game 7 on Sunday in Oakland.

“It’s not explainable -- inexcusable,” Klay Thompson said of a first quarter in which the Warriors fell behind 31-11.

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