LeBron, Kyrie shred Draymond-less Warriors in Cavs' Game 5 win


LeBron, Kyrie shred Draymond-less Warriors in Cavs' Game 5 win

OAKLAND --Draymond Green watched the Oakland Athletics clobber the Texas Rangers Monday night. He even got a standing ovation for emerging from a Coliseum bathroom. Under normal circumstances, pretty heady stuff indeed.

Instead, it was one of the many clues as to why the NBA Finals are returning to Cleveland for a sixth game instead of being a coronation for the suddenly vulnerable Golden State Warriors.

The Cleveland Cavaliers . . . well, okay, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, or of you prefer, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James . . . jackhammered this series back to Ohio by uber-dominating Game 5, which the Cavs won, 112-97. Each of them scored 41 points, shooting and hitting with an impunity normally associated with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but in all phases owning their space, their opponents, their teammates and the Oracle Arena haters’ brigade as well.

This was their night, cold and raw.

But in doing so, they also revealed that Golden State is not a metronome guided by pure shooting, stubborn defense and clever substituting. This was a matter of two men beating 11, which might well have been 12 had Green not been suspended for persistent sass and troublemaking on school ground.

After all, when two guys go for 82 (30-for-54 shooting, 9-for-15 from three), 19 rebounds and 13 assists, they’re going to leave a mark on anyone.

But the Warriors’ night was worse than that, almost geometrically worse.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Cavs stun Warriors in Game 5, force Game 6]

Center Andrew Bogut collapsed in an agonizing heap in the third quarter with what looked at first and second wince like a season-ending left knee injury after being hit by Cavalier J.R. Smith while blocking his shot. Thompson (37) and Curry (25) were largely abandoned offensively by their mates, who shot a collectively miserable 13 for 47. The curative powers of the 3-pointer were far more toxic than therapeutic, as the Warriors missed 18 of 21 from beyond the arc in the second half. Steve Kerr’s frantic substitutions and matchups seeking a combination or several that would catch hold that almost left them paralytic with confusion.

Oh, and Green’s absence was very well noticed and preyed upon by the Cavaliers. It will be mentioned between now and Thursday.

“Draymond wasn’t here, so we played without him,” Kerr said, avoiding the rhetorical thicket of having to talk about Green’s suspension. “We obviously knew he wasn’t here, so there’s no point in harping on that. We had to play better, and we didn’t.”

But everything else went south as well, especially the Green-infused defense that normally buoys them in difficult times.

“It’s too simple to say (that Green was the difference),” Kerr said with slowly rising acidity. “Those two guys (James and Irving) played terrific games, and shot the ball very well. I thought our defensive communication was lacking. We had some plays where we didn’t pick up in transition, and we had some cross-matches that we didn’t identify and they got free, especially Kyrie, and they made a lot of shots in transition where we simply weren’t there.

“They shot 53 percent and scored 112 points, so yeah, the defense was the issue for us. We had a good offensive first half, made some shots, had 61 points, and then we got kind of bogged down in the second. We tried a lot of things, and none of them seemed to work.”

No, they didn’t. Other than Andre Iguodala (15 and 11 in 41 minutes), the Warriors were largely inert in a game that was probably meant to be theirs, and they not only never established a lead worth mentioning, they could never close on the Cavs when they did.

In short, the Warriors were worked over, broken down and left for rubble and shards by two men in what can only be described as a severe case of trophy interruptus.

Not that doom is the blue plate special here. As Kerr said, “We go back to Cleveland and tee it up again, but I like our position a lot better than theirs.”

But competitive amends must be made across the board in Game 6, starting with Green. With Bogut out, quite possibly for the sixth and if-necessary games, Green will have to do more than merely apologize for the accumulation of high crimes and misdemeanors that rendered him civilian. He will be booed as James was, and he will have to respond in what is his version of kind. Not with a 41-point night, necessarily, but everything that makes him valuable – rebounding, shot-blocking, defending, third-option shooting, you name it.

Oh, and with a re-re-re-re-renewed commitment to staying out the eyes of the league office. He has found that he is now considered “that guy” by the league’s dean of students Kiki Vandeweghe, and now he has to regain his reputation as the Warriors’ vitally needed third game disruptor – rather than as the A’s Fan Of The Night.

Warriors could feel Kevin Durant's loss more on defense than offense

Warriors could feel Kevin Durant's loss more on defense than offense

Much has been made of the offensive firepower that has departed the Warriors since they lost to the Raptors in Game 6 of the 2018 NBA Finals. Kevin Durant has taken his talents to Brooklyn. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston -- two critical members of Golden State's dynasty -- are no longer with the team. Klay Thompson, coming off a torn ACL, is expected to miss a large chunk of next season.

And yet, those collective departures could potentially have a more drastic effect on the Warriors' defense.

Yes, for the last several years, the Dubs have been renowned for their explosive offense, but they've always been a good-to-great defensive team under Steve Kerr. A lot of that is due to players like Draymond Green, but there's reason to believe Golden State's defense could take a step or two back next season.

Using FiveThirtyEight's new DRAYMOND rating system, the Warriors have lost three of their six best defenders from last season according to Bleacher Report's Will Gottlieb -- and that doesn't include Thompson, who will be out a while.

In losing Durant, Iguodala and Livingston, FiveThirtyEight projects the Warriors will lose 1.2 points per 100 possessions of defensive value based on the team's cumulative scoring defense alone. It's worth noting, however, that in order to qualify for that metric, a player must have played at least 10,0000 possessions over the last six seasons combined. So, the Warriors' 2019-20 DRAYMOND rating doesn't factor in Golden State newcomer Glen Robinson III, nor any of the Warriors' 2019 draft picks.

As such, it's possible the dropoff might not be as severe as FiveThirtyEight projects, assuming those newcomers prove to be solid defensive players. Then again, it could also go the other way if they prove to be poor defenders. One must also consider the possibility that the seven veterans that are included in Golden State's 2019-20 DRAYMOND projection outperform their individual projections.

For instance, Draymond Green's career DRAYMOND rating of plus-3.2 points per 100 possessions is considerably better than his 2018-19 DRAYMOND rating of plus-1.76. The 2019-20 projection assumes Green will perform at an identical defensive level, even though it's reasonable to assume he'll outperform it, based on both track record and necessity.

[Why Doug Gottlieb is very wrong about Draymond's place in NBA]

If the Warriors are going to get back to the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season, it will require certain individuals to step up defensively. Green will lead the charge, no doubt, and should enter next season as one of the front-runners for Defensive Player of the Year. But it's got to be a group effort, or else replacing Durant, Iguodala and Livingston's combined 35.7 points per game won't be the biggest of Golden State's problems.

Why NBA owners aren't worried about massive free agent contracts

Why NBA owners aren't worried about massive free agent contracts

A recent conversation with a first-ballot baseball Hall of Famer sent me to the research lab.

I’d reached out to him, along with several others, soliciting reaction to the NBA’s free-agency feast earlier this month. Knowing some fans were displeased with the clout being exercised by players and the massive contracts being signed, I wanted to hear his thoughts.

Despite having much smaller rosters, NBA owners spent more money on free agents in one week than either the NFL and MLB did in an entire offseason.

“They can afford it,” Reggie Jackson said of NBA owners. “Even with the players having what some people think is too much control, they can afford it. It’s the NBA franchises that are increasing the most in value – more than baseball and even football.”

I was skeptical. Jackson, 73, is a baseball legend still on the Yankees’ payroll. Sure, he hosts a general sports-talk show on SiriusXM and has various business interests outside baseball.

Fact check: Reggie is right.

The value of an NBA team is rising higher and faster than those in the NFL, which reaps the benefits of the fattest contract in sports. MLB, well, it’s getting smoked in this investment race.

The Warriors, purchased for $450 million in 2010, are now worth $3.5 billion, according to Forbes’ annual analysis. In math terms, that’s nearly 800-percent growth in less than 10 years. The Celtics, bought for $360 million in 2002, are valued at $2.8 billion. Slower growth than the Warriors, but still roughly 800-percent growth.

Three months before the NBA approved the sale of the Warriors to a group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, the NFL approved the sale of the Rams to Stan Kroenke. He paid $750 million. The Rams, who have since moved to Los Angeles, are now valued at $3.1 million, according to Forbes. Good growth. But not NBA good.

Two months before Kroenke bought the Rams, a group of Texas businessmen paid $593 million for the MLB Rangers. Nine years later, Forbes sets the Rangers’ value at $1.7 billion.

The NBA is the hottest property in American sports. Owners and players know it. Some say they saw it coming. The massive amounts of money, that is.

That’s why, unlike MLB team owners, whose tight-fisted winter has players in a simmering rage, NBA owners didn’t blink at drawing up more than a dozen nine-figure contracts. There was little to no negotiation in those instances.

That’s why, unlike the NFL, where owners forever have their loafers on the necks of players, NBA owners are willing to live with the burgeoning bargaining power of the labor force. NBA free agent Kawhi Leonard told the Clippers he’d sign with them under certain conditions, such as finding a way to also add Paul George, who was not a free agent.

The Clippers traded for George. They gave plenty, but now have two All-Stars in their primes.

Athletes in other leagues can only dream of having such power.

“That’s a change for the league,” Warriors president/general manager Bob Myers told NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “Maybe LeBron started that. But this notion of teams pivoting quickly, that’s new. And fans love that stuff.

“It’s fine that it’s a players’ league. That’s how it should be. They’re taking control of their direction and I guess that’s good. They’re seeking shorter deals. They’re moving in certain directions and they’re doing it fast.”

Between June 30 and July 8, NBA teams committed to spending more than $3.4 billion – nearly all guaranteed, with the exception of a few contracts containing incentives. The Warriors, knowing Klay Thompson will miss most of next season, signed him to a five-year deal worth $190 million. The Brooklyn Nets, aware that Kevin Durant almost certainly will miss all of next season, didn’t flinch at signing him to a four-year deal worth $164 million.

NFL teams, by contrast, spent roughly $2.8 billion in the offseason, with maybe half of it guaranteed. Most players never see all the non-guaranteed money.

MLB spent $1.76 billion over the winter, nearly half of it going to two players: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

One of the reasons I sought out Jackson was because he’s a former Oakland A’s players representative. He worked with Marvin Miller, the late legendary executive director of the MLB Players Association. Miller negotiated MLB’s first collective bargaining agreement. Through Miller’s analysis and conviction, player compensation and benefits took a giant leap forward.

“He should be in the Hall of Fame,” Jackson said of Miller. “But the owners keep him out.”

Michele Roberts is the current executive director of the NBA Players Association, accepting the job in 2014 and unanimously approved last summer for another four-year term. Some players that don’t meet the elite standards required for maximum contracts may grumble, but most seem to understand the hierarchy.

In Toronto for The Finals, Roberts was standing in a hallway between the locker room and the court when Thompson, exiting the visiting team’s locker room, saw Roberts out of the corner of his eye and stopped in his tracks. He went over to share a hug and some brief conversation.

[RELATED: Why Durant picked the Nets]

Five weeks and a torn ACL later, Thompson was signing a $190 million contract.

Warriors ownership didn’t hesitate to offer it, perhaps because they know they can afford it.