LeBron Left Hanging….Warriors Tie Series 2-2

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Back to reality.

Suddenly, the Golden State Warriors are the team to beat again in the NBA Finals.

Like that, after the team with the NBA’s best record got off the mat and discovered its mojo during a 103-82 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night, Golden State has reclaimed home-court advantage.

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 103, CAVALIERS 82

And yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers, even with LeBron James, blew a huge opportunity to blow the series wide open when they had the Warriors right in the raucous place they wanted them.

Now it’s possible the Cavs will just plain blow the series.

This is what can happen in a long, grueling series that can go seven games. Momentum shifts.

It shifted again in a big way at Quicken Loans Arena, when the undermanned Cavaliers finally played like a tired, battered team that had reached a limit while the Warriors came back life to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Where was the Matthew Dellavedova magic? Give the man his coffee.

What more can King James create? Let’s hope there are no more collisions with cameramen.

Was it really the plan to ride the back of Timofey Mozgov? Not with LeBron, who averaged 41 points through three games, limited to 20 points in Game 4. Mozgov, bless him, led all scorers with 28.

No matter. With each team winning a game on the other’s floor, the series is headed back to Oakland tied, 2-2, and far from over.

The Warriors — with comeback games from the likes of Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, and a better start reflected by their highest-scoring first quarter of the series — needed to respond in the worst or, uh, best way. No team has ever rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to win an NBA title.

Yet the Warriors have indeed rallied from a 2-1 deficit this season in the playoffs. That they came back against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals gave them a measure of belief that they could do it again.

Still, it’s way to early to celebrate.

If there’s one thing these NBA playoffs have taught us, it’s that momentum doesn’t necessarily carry over from game to game.

NBA Finals Game 4

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From late Tuesday night at a downtown Cleveland steakhouse to their practice Wednesday, the Golden State Warriors players and coaches who trail LeBron James and the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in the NBA Finals kept spreading that motivational message.

The anger grew, as did the impatience. They can’t wait to take the floor again in Game 4 on Thursday, to show the basketball world why their 67-win regular season wasn’t a fluke and why they have no interest in the infamy that will surely come if they fall short.

And Klay Thompson, of all people, is more than willing to lead the way.

Of all the Warriors, the All-Star shooting guard and fellow Splash Brother to MVP Stephen Curry is the last one you’d expect to become a vocal leader. The 25-year-old is notorious for his stoic nature, for the easygoing way in which he rolls through life. Yet when the group of more than 100 Warriors-related folks met at Morton’s for the gathering that went until 2 a.m. for some, Thompson’s head had never left Quicken Loans Arena.

“It was good to see family and stuff, but you still could see that we just didn’t feel good last night,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “It just felt (expletive). I’m just so pissed. Aaaah! It just doesn’t feel good man. That’s why I can’t wait to get out there.”

As headline-material goes, Thompson’s has come closest to qualifying as a prediction. After the Cavs’ 96-91 win in Game 3 in which they led by as many 20 points, he declared that, “If we get our offense back, we’re going to win this series.” But it wasn’t a moment of brashness as much as it was a cold-hard fact, one that he expounded on a day later.

“We’re just going to play with a type of hunger (Thursday) that hopefully you haven’t seen this series, man,” he said. “The hunger we played with when we were down 20, and that urgency, that’s what we need to do from the get-go. We can’t play at their pace, we’ve got to force the tempo, to be the aggressors. We’ve got to impose our will, to have everyone make a big impact as far as helping out Steph because people are saying, ‘He’s missing shots, blah blah blah. But it’s not all him. They’re trying to do everything they can to take him out of the game, so we’ve got to help him. Everybody else has to step up.”

Yet it starts with the aggression, that desperation that the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant was talking about when he sent an on-point tweet that went viral after Tuesday’s game. The Cavs are playing like their lives on the line, while the Warriors have too often looked like a team that expects this to be the first of many Finals trips in the years to come.

Mariners Drop to a Medicore (27-33)

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Giovanny Urshela hit his first major league home run, Shaun Marcum and his bullpen combined on a two-hitter and the Cleveland Indians beat the Seattle Mariners 6-0 on Thursday.

A 23-year-old from Colombia who made his big league debut Tuesday, Urshela grounded an RBI single past shortstop Brad Miller in a four-run third, the first batter after Tom Wilhelmsen relieved J.A. Happ (3-2). Cleveland saved the ball for Urshela, who then hit a solo homer off Vidal Nuno in the sixth.

That ball just cleared the 19-foot fence in left and rebounded onto the field, providing a second memento for Urshela, who smiled widely as he slapped hands with teammates in the dugout.

Urshela is 2 for 8 with three RBIs. He was called up from Triple-A Columbus when third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was sent down.

Marcum (3-1) retired his first nine batters and already led 5-0 before hitting Logan Morrison on the back of his right leg leading off the fourth. Mark Trumbo grounded a single just out of the reach of Urshela at third and shortstop Mike Aviles with out one in the fifth. Robinson Cano, hitting .214 since May 9 (25 for 117), doubled to right-center leading off the seventh. The Mariners’ final nine batters then made out.

Marcum struck out five and walked none. Zach McAllister and Cody Allen followed with perfect innings for Cleveland, which broke a three-game losing streak.

Seattle (27-33) has lost nine of its last 12 games and scored more than three runs just once in its last 15 games. Nelson Cruz, who leads the AL with 18 home runs, missed his second straight game because of back spasms

Warriors Fall ..Down 2-1

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LeBron James on Tuesday befuddled the media when he revealed that he is being fueled in the NBA Finals by a secret motivating factor. James declined to reveal the source of the motivation and was ambiguous when pressed by reporters.

Was the secret motivation revealed after he led his team to a Game 3 victory?

James appeared on ESPN’s postgame show and was interviewed by best friend and former teammate Dwyane Wade, who was serving as a guest analyst for the network. Wade brought up that James finished third in MVP voting while Steph Curry won the award, and he asked if that slight gave James the chip that he needed entering the NBA Finals. Though James tried to downplay it, it sure seemed like losing MVP bothered him.

“I don’t think I needed [the chip],” James said. “I had so much motivation coming into the season but I knew it was going to be a long process. I knew what I was giving up and what it was going to take for me to get our guys ready to be a part of this. I didn’t think that we were going to get to this point right now, but I was ready to lead if we got to this point.”

James then really got into the MVP part of the question.

“Every day that I step onto the basketball floor, I want to be the MVP … for my teammates, for whoever that is looking to me as a leader. I can’t say that I wasn’t upset finishing third because I know what I bring to the table. I know how much I work on my craft every single night. I can’t say I was happy finishing third, but I didn’t need that extra motivation to put myself in this position today.”

LeBron may have denied that he needed the MVP slight as a chip entering the Finals, but he did concede that it bothered him to finish third. I think that is more indicative of his true feelings than him saying he didn’t need the motivation. I also do not think it was a coincidence that Wade brought up this point specifically. You don’t think those two have talked about it in private? James just might not want to reveal the “chip” until after the series is over, but I’m guessing he is on a mission to prove to the media that he is the real MVP, not Curry.

Cavs Steal Game 2

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Cleveland wasn’t the only team missing a crucial component in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. While Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving was back in Ohio recovering from knee surgery, the Golden State Warriors have no idea where Stephen Curry’s shot went.

The reigning MVP missed 18 of 23 shots, including an air ball with 4.4 seconds left in overtime that sent the Warriors to a 95-93 loss Sunday night that left the finals tied at a game apiece.

“Shots I normally make, I knew as soon as they left my hand that they were off,” Curry said. “That doesn’t usually happen. I mean, mechanically I don’t know if there is an explanation for it, just didn’t have a rhythm and didn’t find one the whole game.”

BOX SCORE: CAVALIERS 95, WARRIORS 93

With Curry offering little help to fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, the Warriors head to Cleveland without home-court advantage and mired in what could be a tough series after many experts practically handed them the title when Irving was lost for the series after Game 1.

Thompson scored 34 points but the rest of the team shot just 34.5 percent as the Warriors lost for only the fourth time in 51 home games this season.

“Our offense was horrible,” forward Draymond Green said. “I think we did a really good job on defense. But we were really, really bad offensively. It’s hard to win when you can’t score and we struggled to score tonight.”

Curry was the biggest culprit as he was just 2 for 15 from 3-point range and failed to deliver in the closing seconds of overtime. With Cleveland leading 94-93, Curry shot the air ball over Matthew Dellavedova.

After LeBron James made one of two foul shots, Curry threw a bad pass to Thompson and the Cavaliers left with the win.

“I doubt this will happen again, with the adjustments I’ll make once I’ll look at the film,” Curry said. “One game is not going to make me stop shooting or alter my confidence at all.”

Curry finished with 19 points and did make the tying layup with 7.2 seconds left in regulation but that wasn’t enough for Golden State.

Warriors Take Game 1 in O.T

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After an eight-day break, the NBA’s top teams and biggest stars put on quite a show.

Only one kept it up for 53 minutes.

And only one survived without a serious injury.

BOX SCORE: WARRIORS 108, CAVALIERS 100 (OT)

Stephen Curry had 26 points and eight assists, and the Golden State Warriors held off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a thrilling 108-100 overtime victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night.

“It was just a classic five minutes that we needed to get that win,” Curry said of the overtime.

In the finals for the first time in 40 years, the Warriors gave their long-suffering fans quite a treat. They rallied from an early 14-point deficit, absorbed a finals-best 44 points from James and shut down Cleveland in the extra session.

James shot 18 of 38 from the field and had eight rebounds and six assists in 46 minutes. But the four-time MVP missed a long jumper at the end of regulation, and Cleveland missed its first eight shots of overtime — and 12 straight going back to the fourth quarter.

“We got to do more around him,” Cavs coach David Blatt said.

Adding to the Cavs’ frustration, point guard Kyrie Irving limped to the locker room after aggravating his troublesome left knee in overtime. He did not return.

With Kevin Love already out, the Cavs obviously need Irving. He missed two games in the Eastern Conference finals because of knee and foot injuries and sounded unsure of his status for Game 2 on Sunday in Oakland.

“Obviously you can see in the tone of my voice I’m a little worried,” said Irving, who buried his head in his hands at his locker and left on crutches.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he hopes Irving is able to play the remainder of the series.

“I mean that,” Kerr said. “You probably don’t believe me, but I mean that.”

There were 13 lead changes and 11 ties in a game tightly contested across the board. There was little edge in shooting (Warriors 44.3 percent, Cavaliers 41.5 percent), rebounding (Warriors 48, Cavaliers 45) or assists (Warriors 24, Cavaliers 19).

The biggest difference might have been the benches. The Warriors’ reserves outscored the Cavs’ 34-9, with J.R. Smith the only Cleveland reserve to score — and he was 3 of 13 from the field.

In the end, it came down to the biggest stars making plays — or not.

James and Curry carried their clubs through the fourth quarter, trading scores and assists in a back-and-forth duel in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 — most wearing those blinding, golden yellow shirts. Both also had a chance to win the game in regulation.

Curry, the current MVP, beat Irving off the dribble and moved in for the go-ahead layup. Instead, Irving blocked Curry from behind, Smith came up with the rebound and the Cavs called a timeout with 24.1 seconds left.

James, trying to end Cleveland’s 51-year championship drought, dribbled down the clock and missed a contested jumper over Andre Iguodala just inside the left arc, and Iman Shumpert’s desperation shot nearly went in at the buzzer, sending a collective sigh through the crowd.

The Cavs never came so close again.

“I got to where I wanted to get, step back, made them before,” James said. “It’s a make or miss league, and we had our chances.”

Serena in French Open Finals

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Ill and sluggish, Serena Williams overcame a big deficit to reach the French Open final by beating 23rd-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 on Thursday.

With the temperature nearing 85 degrees (30 Celsius) on the hottest day of the tournament, Williams walked ever so slowly to changeovers, where even lowering herself to sit down seemed to be difficult. During those breaks, she pressed ice towels against her forehead and neck and guzzled water.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged during a mid-match TV interview that the top-ranked Williams has been sick recently.

 

Trailing by a set and a break at 3-2 in the second after 66 minutes, Williams completely turned things around to claim the final 10 games.

Now one victory from her third French Open championship and 20th major title overall, Williams faces 13th-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in Saturday’s final.

“I tried everything. I thought if I lose, I will lose with a fight,” Williams told the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd in French afterward. “I tried, I tried. I found the energy. I don’t know where, but I found it. And I won. I hope that on Saturday, I hope …”

Cutting herself off, she stepped away from the microphone, bent over and began coughing. She offered a quick wave, then collected her things and left. Off the court, she got a hug from Mouratoglou, who then helped her down the stairs toward the locker room.

Next comes Williams’ 24th Grand Slam final, and Safarova’s first. The left-handed Safarova eliminated defending champion Maria Sharapova in the fourth round, then held on to defeat 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 7-5 in the semifinals.

Williams won despite dropping the first set for the fourth time in six matches at Roland Garros. She’d never fashioned that many comebacks at a single Grand Slam tournament over her long, successful career.

When this one was over, finally over, Williams leaned forward and rested her head on her hands atop the handle of her upside-down racket.

Warriors -Cavs Preview

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry. Resident king and upcoming prince respectively, these two superstars bring two of the sport’s most popular faces to the billing for this year’s NBA Finals.

As they should. James is deep into his efforts at proving himself as the greatest to ever take the court. Curry, for his part, is well on his way to establishing himself as the history’s best in at least one category: Shooting, a task he is so good at that he’s changing the way we imagine the game.

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Both of these guys are incredible, and there’s little you can do to stop either. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each have an impressive collection of defenders to throw at these men to slow them down at times, but in the end, they’ll get theirs. 

It’s what happens elsewhere that could very well decide this season’s championship. Namely, in the front court. The Warriors have already dispatched some outstanding specimens down low in their journey to this point, including Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Dwight Howard. Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov are not as accomplished or as starry as those men, but they just might bring Golden State their trickiest challenge yet in the paint.

Thompson has had an inspired postseason run. One so good, in fact, that it’s given a lot of speculators pause about Kevin Love’s future with the team. While Love is a deserved All-Star and talented enough to build an efficient offense around, Thompson has all but proved himself as the more harmonious, useful complement to James. His daylong pursuit on the glass has been positively Rodmanesque, as has his constantly annoying presence as a defender. Thompson’s been doing all the things James has less energy for as he reaches his thirties, filling in as the perfect custodian he’s never had since Love went down for the year with a shoulder injury.

Golden State’s Draymond Green, Thompson’s likely matchup, has been on fire for even longer. Emboldened since he got the starting nod in last season’s playoffs, Green has been a blaze of tongue-wagging swagger who has given this 67-win team the hype and hustle needed to propel them to the creme of the league. If Green wasn’t going to be so busy with Thompson, he’d get more minutes guarding LeBron. A close second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, Green has proved to be a utility belt of extreme value.

Neither Green nor Thompson will see what we historically expect from big men on title contenders: post-ups. The same goes for the teams’ starting centers in the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut and the Cavs’ Mozgov. While Thompson and Green will be counted on to do a lot of defensive switching and operate all the way out to the perimeter on defense, Bogut and Mozgov will probably have orders to try staying at the rim to protect that precious real estate as much as possible.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that these teams’ small forwards, James and Harrison Barnes, will end up with more back-to-the-basket action than any of big men in the series. In the modern NBA, being big doesn’t mean what it used to. The Warriors’ showed a shrewd understanding of defensive strategy in the Western Conference finals when they swarmed Dwight Howard every time he got an old-fashioned post moment, and they got a lot of turnovers out of him for it.

Although Green is the only starting big on either team with much shooting range (although he hasn’t had it in these playoffs, making just 27 percent of his shots from beyond the arc), all of them are fitting into what the NBA will expect from most bigs in the future. Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, a prospective No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft, is seen by many as a swan-song figure for the block, standing as maybe the last down-low scorer worthy of building offense around for some time.

What both the Cavs’ and Warriors’ big men will do is take advantage of, and fit into, the pace and space provided by the dynamism in their backcourts and on the wings. Cleveland has a more cohesive, potent collection of perimeter creators than anyone the Warriors have seen yet—even it’s really only because of LeBron—and as such they afford Thompson and Mozgov a lot of extra license all over the floor. Both of them have capitalized on that so far in these playoffs, and it’s been an integral part of their success.

Packing the paint on post-ups won’t work for Golden State as it did against the Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, because the Cavs wont be pausing the ball down there. Instead, both of Cleveland’s big men are doing great things off the ball and helping accelerate James’ game to galactic heights. Golden State has shown they can make many adjustments. And surely they’ve got another tough one on their plate in these Finals.