Warriors

Cavs stun Durant, Warriors in epic Christmas Day rematch

Cavs stun Durant, Warriors in epic Christmas Day rematch

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- With another clutch shot, Kyrie Irving took the Warriors on a trip down memory lane.

Irving dropped a short, turnaround jumper over Klay Thompson with 3.4 seconds left as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied just the way they did in June's NBA Finals to defeat Golden State 109-108 on Sunday in a marquee Christmas matchup that more than lived up to the hype.

Down by 14 early in the fourth quarter, the Cavs chipped away and then put the ball in the hands of Irving, whose step-back 3-pointer over Stephen Curry on June 19 helped seal Game 7 and gave Cleveland its first major pro sports championship since 1964.

This time, Irving went deep in the lane before spinning and making his shot over Thompson, one of the league's best defenders.

"The kid is special," LeBron James said of his teammate. "It was never in doubt."

Golden State had one last chance but Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 36 points in his first game in the league's hottest rivalry, lost his balance coming off a screen and couldn't get off a shot as time expired.

Durant felt he was fouled by Richard Jefferson.

"I was trying to make a move," he said. "I didn't fall on my own."

James scored 31 points with a season-high 13 rebounds, Irving added 25 points and Kevin Love 20 for the Cavs, who were down 3-1 in the Finals before storming back to stun a Warriors team that won 73 games during the regular season, but came up one victory short of winning their second straight title.

Thompson added 24, Draymond Green 16 and Curry 15 - on 4 of 11 shooting - for the Warriors, who had their winning streak stopped at seven and fell to 9-1 against Eastern Conference teams.

The biggest present under the tree for basketball fans this holiday was filled with drama, intensity and more than a few moments that sparked reminders of last season's brilliant Finals.

'"It lived up to what everyone wanted it to," James said.

Irving drained a 3 from the wing that looked a lot like the one he made on June 19, but his bucket over Thompson had a higher degree of difficulty.

"That's a really hard shot," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "I thought Klay played tremendous defense. You don't do anything different."

The Warriors set up a game-winning chance for Durant, but he stumbled with pressure applied by Jefferson and fell to the floor and watched helplessly as Cleveland's fans roared and Cavs coach Tyronn Lue clapped and screamed.

"We all think we're fouled on every play in every single game," Jefferson said. "That's why I say I know the referees have a very hard job. I switched to his body. He looked like he lost his balance. He was trying to regain his balance and as soon as I saw him start to stumble, I ran off."

The teams will meet again Jan. 16 and then not again unless they make it back to the Finals - a "three-quel" that would be the first in league history.

To remind their guests of what happened in June, the Cavs left a door propped open just down the hallway from Golden State's locker room where a large photo of James' game-changing, career-defining block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 was on display.

The picture had been doctored with a Cavs championship ring taped over James' left index finger.

If there was any doubt that this game meant more than the other 81 to both squads and fan bases, Green took care of that in the opening minutes.

After being called for his second personal foul, Green stormed off the floor, cursing with every step on his way to the bench. Green, whose suspension from Game 5 of the Finals helped swing the series to Cleveland, was slapped with a technical and several of his teammates came over to calm him down before things got worse.

GRUMPY OLD MAN

Jefferson still has some hops at 36.

His dunk over Thompson in the fourth quarter sparked a 14-3 run by the Cavs. Following the play, Jefferson, who missed his first eight shots, was called for a technical for winking at Durant.

"I was a little bit surprised by it, but I think they were trying to rein it in," said Jefferson, who was ejected from a game earlier this week.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Golden State fell to 11-15 on Christmas Day, 3-11 on the road. ... Curry's shooting a career-low 40 percent on 3-pointers, but Kerr is confident he'll find his touch. "The great thing about Steph is he doesn't worry about it too much," Kerr said. "He's got the confidence of M.J. (Michael Jordan). Very few players I've ever seen can miss 10 shots in a row and then make the next one like it's nothing. Steph's done it his whole career."

Cavaliers: James (301) became the third player to surpass 300 points on the holiday, joining Kobe Bryant (395) and Oscar Robertson (377). ... Cleveland has won 10 of 11. ... Irving added 10 assists. .... James brought the crowd to its feet by blazing across the lane to swat a layup by Zaza Pachulia in the first half.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Host Toronto on Wednesday to begin a stretch of five straight and nine of 10 at Oracle Arena.

Cavaliers: Visit Detroit on Monday, when James could rest after playing 41 minutes.

Ask Kerith Mailbag: Thoughts on Warriors' 3-point D, free agency talk and more

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NBC Sports Bay Area

Ask Kerith Mailbag: Thoughts on Warriors' 3-point D, free agency talk and more

Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, takes you inside the two-time defending NBA champions as only she can each Friday with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter using the hashtag #askkerith

Tip-off

Hi everyone! I read a great interview with Draymond Green, and I want to make sure you saw it. When the reporter, Sam Alipour, shared this story, he said he believes Draymond is the most misunderstood person in the NBA.

I asked Draymond if he feels misunderstood. He replied, “Yeah. That’s OK.”

I followed up, wondering what people get wrong about him. Draymond said: “I’ll never tell them. I’ll let them figure it out one day. One day, they may, or they may not. But they don’t know me.”

It doesn’t bother you?

“Not one bit.”

He paused, and continued.

“It’s actually pretty fun.”

Game on!

@chuckmcdaniels asks, “Hey there.. do you have any concerns about other teams making so many threes against the #Warriors in their pre-season games so far? Or, is it just pre-season and they'll do better when the games really count? #askKerith”

Speaking in general about the defense, Steve Kerr isn’t thrilled about what he saw in the preseason. Coaches always want good defense, whether the games count or not. Good defense is an indicator of good habits, which is a season-long commitment to foster success.

That said? I’m not concerned with the 3-point defense heading into the regular season. I know it’s eye-popping to see JaVale McGee swish a three over his old teammates, but I don’t think it’s time to sound an alarm. The regular-season sharpness should be better. The Warriors went 1-4 in the preseason. but these games were more about seeing player combinations, assessing conditioning, building confidence, etc.

Last season when Jarron Collins and I would talk at half time, 3-point defense was something that would sometimes come up. In 2017-2018, the Warriors ranked 10th in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage, at 35.7 percent. The Warriors will keep an eye on how many threes opponents are sinking because occasionally it’s a trouble spot, but let’s see what happens the rest of this month as the Warriors settle in to the regular season.

Our first example was the season opener against the Thunder, who went 10 of 37 for 27 percent.

@ImShyLabz says, “Hi Kerith! I’m just wondering when is the ceremony for the championship ring for the warriors? I might missed it? Or it’s not yet done? Thanks #askkerith”

The championship ring ceremony happened on opening night! Did you see what the rings looked like? Check this out:

@lvpelt says, “I took my mom to her first game last year, and she was enamored by the height of zaza. who's the tallest on the team now? she's gunna want to know. #askKerith thanks !”

First of all, I’m thrilled Zaza found a new home, playing this season with the Detroit Pistons. I see Zaza’s name in the comments on Instagram when he’s joking with Klay Thompson or Jordan Bell. It’ll be a fun night when the Warriors play the Pistons on Dec. 1.

Damian Jones takes over as the tallest Warrior at 7 feet. DeMarcus Cousins comes in at 6-11, followed by Jonas Jerebko at 6-10. Kevin Durant is listed at 6-9, but ... c’mon.

From PaulBassoon on Instagram: What are the chances the team really is having distraction issues with the free agency talk around KD and Klay. Are there any concerns that Damian Jones just might not have what it takes at the center position? My two biggest concerns.

I don’t think free agency will be a distraction. Every season, things change. New pieces add and subtract. Each season has its own flavor, even if the big names on the roster remain the same.

The Warriors are focused on this moment in time. Winning a championship always is difficult, no matter what happened in previous seasons. The group goal this year is another trophy. Individual things are secondary.

KD’s situation is more unclear than Klay’s, because Klay repeatedly has said his preference is to remain a Warrior for life. KD’s comments are more nebulous, in the theme of “exploring all options.” It’s smart to explore all options! There’s an expiration date on being an NBA player, so guys will consider every situation that makes sense for their career goals and legacy.

KD might not know what he wants to do yet. I will say this: A healthy organization in a fun location with business interests that appeal to KD off the court will be hard to leave. It will take something special.

As for Damian Jones, the Warriors have invested so much in his growth. He’s ready. The word you’re going to hear the most when coaches or teammates talk about DJ is “opportunity.” This is his time, and the Warriors want him to rise to the occasion. Maybe it’s a good thing there’s a center-by-committee situation so not everything is on his shoulders. He gets to share duties with Kevon Looney and Bell, which can take off some of the pressure while he rides the NBA learning curve.

DJ played 26 minutes in the season opener, going 6 of 7 for 12 points, plus three blocks. The downside? Just three rebounds.

From chriskjn on instagram: If you were to identify yourself as one of the Warriors, who would it be?

I appreciate Shaun Livingston’s story. He went through a devastating knee injury in 2007, one that forced him to relearn how to walk. Shaun rehabbed his way back, then bounced around the NBA. He was waived four times before he landed with the Warriors and became a champion. His story of perseverance is powerful.

I love Shaun’s “seen it all” perspective. He has a wise world-view that goes far beyond basketball, too. Every conversation with Shaun is thoughtful. As I think about the high and lows I’ve experienced, I want to keep perspective like Shaun. Take no moment for granted.

From stephsink on Instagram: Hi Kerith, congrats on your marriage. What is your favorite spot/city in the Bay Area, and what’s your favorite road trip city?

My husband proposed on Mount Tam, so that has the No. 1 spot in my heart. We love to hike together.

My favorite road cities are Chicago, Miami and New York. I used to live in NYC, and I try to hit up Paulie Gee’s for pizza whenever I visit. Order the Hellboy.

From Charles_ykunyu on Instagram: Hello from Montreal Canada!!! I’ve been a Warriors fan for more than 6 years and I really like your style. You are my favourite reporter. Can I have a signature of both you and Steph or KD???

Thanks, Charles! Your question reminds me of requests I get from fans during the season. I’m sorry, but I cannot get fans autographs, tickets, shoes, basketballs or anything else. I have to keep a professional boundary. I do my best to write back to messages, though.

From vikas.sharma3008 on Instagram: Is Doris Burke your aunt?

Doris Burke is not my mom, aunt, sister or cousin. We are not related. It makes me smile that this is the most frequent question I’ve gotten in my years covering basketball.

I love Doris. She’s the GOAT and a Hall of Famer.

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

Kevon Looney's lifestyle change has allowed him to reach a new level

Kevon Looney's lifestyle change has allowed him to reach a new level

SALT LAKE CITY -- There was a time, not long ago, when folks around the NBA wondered if Kevon Looney's unforgiving hips could make it in the league. And the feeling among many Warriors fans was, well, that’s OK.

The Warriors drafted Looney nine days after winning their first championship in 40 years. They had Stephen Curry, their first MVP since moving to the West Coast in 1962. They had Steve Kerr, a coach in whom they could believe. They had Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, none older than 25. The future looked bright.

If Looney, selected with the team’s No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, didn’t work out, no problem. The Warriors, playing the high risk/reward game, were open about his challenges, conceding from the start that he was a risk due to damaged hips that might not withstand the rigors of the NBA.

Two years and two surgeries later, in 2017-18, Looney was a solid contributor as the team won its third championship in four seasons. He started at center in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

This season, as the Warriors chase their third consecutive championship, Looney clearly has a future in the NBA, probably with the team that drafted him.

“He’s just gained more confidence,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “He’s more talkative; he’ll speak up in meetings. He knows he belongs. That’s really a key time in every player’s career, when you might make it the first couple years but you don’t really feel like you belong. He knows. He knows he belongs now. He’s going to have a long career, and a very productive one.”

Looney’s journey is about sheer perseverance and the highest levels of discipline. He always felt he could make it, so even in the darkest hours, when those surgically repaired hips were keeping him in the gym by day and awake at night, he never stopped believing.

“I know how far I’ve come,” he said. “It was frustrating coming back from the injuries. It was my first time going through something like that.”

Looney, 22, looked good last year. He still had a hitch in his gait, but he generally got where he needed to be. Through this training camp and the season opener on Tuesday night, he looks even better. The hitch is slight and he’s noticeably quicker.

The summer of 2017 was the first time he actually worked on his game, instead of going through rehab. The summertime is when most players seek to grow their games. After two seasons simply trying to get back to where he was, this was most encouraging.

But this past summer, spending endless hours in Los Angeles honing his game - even playing some one-on-one with teammate Kevin Durant -- is when Looney reached another level. It showed when the Warriors gathered in September.

“I’m excited about the growth I see in Loon,” Durant says.

“He had a great summer,’ Kerr says. “He looks great. For the second summer in a row, he’s put his body in position to perform at a high level. He’s been our best big in camp, and he had a fantastic first game.”

Looney played 18 minutes Tuesday night, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He was a team-best plus-23.

The single most significant factor in Looney’s progress was his devotion to conditioning. Seeing the results noted fitness trainer Amoila Cesar achieved with former Lakers forward Julius Randle, Looney reached out to Cesar in 2017, followed the regimen and came away with a new and far more sculpted physique.

A component of that is Looney developing a newfound dedication to diet, something that had been stressed earlier by veteran teammate Andre Iguodala, the team’s resident health nut.

“I wasn’t in shape my first two years,” Looney said. “I lifted hard, but I didn’t always eat right. I used to eat fast food a lot. I had to cut out fast food, cut back on most all fried foods, especially catfish and hot wings.

“Andre was telling me about this for two years, and I didn’t take it seriously until I had to.”

Looney dived into foods he once avoided. Kale. Spinach. Broccoli. Cauliflower. He rarely reaches for bread and even more rarely allows himself the guilty pleasure of his beloved flaming hot Doritos.

He doesn’t go to the dietary extremes to which Iguodala subjects himself -- no red meat, for example -- but Looney is reaping the benefits of a cleaner diet.

“I see something like that for Loon, and it’s got to be his routine -- but for the rest of his life,” Iguodala said. “I’m just trying to help him out.

“You don’t have to eat like me. But you have to be conscious of what you’re eating. You have to know yourself, know your body and know your DNA makeup. All of that plays a role into how long your career will be. You’ve got to have that in the back of your mind.”

When you sculpt your body well enough to go from the fringes of the NBA to a bright new future, it becomes easier to walk past the snack aisle at the grocery store.

The surgeries and lifestyle changes have erased all doubts about Looney having an NBA career. He’s past the can-he-make-it stage. He’s entering the how-good-can-he-be phase.

Which, at such young age, is a wonderful place to be.