Sunday, May 28, 2017

J-Speaks: NBA Finals Preview: Cavs versus Warriors Round Three

This Thursday, NBA history will be made as the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers meet up with the back-to-back Western Conference champions, the Golden State Warriors for an NBA record third consecutive season in The Finals. This matchup will feature two teams that have been far above each opponent they faced in their respective conferences. Two teams that feature former MVPs, perennial All-Stars and dynamic players that will have their place in Springfield, OH. Above all, two teams that have used the adversity they faced during the season and the postseason to get them to the point where they stand just four more wins away from the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.
How dominant have the Cavs and Warriors been? The Warriors enter The Finals an unblemished 12-0, being the first team in league history to enter the final round of the NBA postseason without a setback in 12 chances. The defending champions enter their tilt with the Warriors at 12-1, with their only setback in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the No. 1 Seeded Boston Celtics.
To put into perspective how dominant the respectable the Cavs and Warriors have been in 25 combine postseason contests, they have outscored teams by 373 points and their scoring margin is a +14.9, which is the best all-time by two teams in NBA history entering The Finals. The two teams have combined to go 13-0 on the road and in the Warriors series clinchers at the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs, they won by an average margin of 21.7 points and they scored an average of 126.0 points in those contests. In their three visits to TD Garden in Boston, MA, the Cavs never trailed in Game 1, 2 or 5, win all three games by an average of 30 points and they averaged 127.3 points per game.
In the Cavs 135-102 win in Game 5 last Thursday night, they set an NBA record with their 13th straight series closing chance. The win also improved the Cavs record to 36-5 against the East in the postseason since 2015.
While four-time MVP LeBron James has been at the head of the Cavs onslaught this postseason, scoring 30-plus points in 11 of the team’s 13 postseason games, it has been the continued maturation of All-Star lead guard Kyrie Irving, who averaged 25.8 points per contest in the Conference Finals on 62.2 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three-point range and the emergence of Kevin Love, who averaged 22.6 points, 12.4 rebounds on 53.5 percent from three-point range in the Conference Finals that has made the Cavs a juggernaut in the postseason.
What has also been a major plus has been the play of the role players, center Tristan Thompson with his rebounding and relentless energy defensively; J.R. Smith’s shot making and defense on the oppositions best player on the wing and the consistent contributions off the bench from the likes of Deron Williams, who had 14 points on 5 for 6 shooting in the Game 5 clincher; the veteran savvy of Richard Jefferson; Channing Frye and Kyle Korver’s ability to light a match from three-point range and the defensive energy and fire from Iman Shumpert.
On the Warriors side of things, their offensive attack has been carried by reigning back-to-back MVP and All-Star Stephen Curry, who has averaged 28.6 points per game, 5.5 boards, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals, on 50.2 percent from the field and 43.1 from three-point range this postseason and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, who all-around game has carried over from the regular season to the postseason with averages of 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists on an incredible 55.6 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three-point territory.
Both were at their best in the Western Conference Finals versus the mighty five-time champion Spurs. Durant averaged 28.0 points, 7.3 boards, 3.8 assists and 1.8 blocks on 60.3 percent from the floor and 40.9 from three-point range. He had double-doubles to finish the series with 33 points and 10 boards in the Warriors’ 120-108 win in Game 3 on May 20 and 29 and 12 in the 129-115 in Game 4 two days later. After garnering 40 and 29 points in the first two games of the series, Curry finished in style with 36 points, six assists and five boards on 14 for 24 from the floor in Game 4, to average 31.5 points, six boards, 4.8 assists on 56.4 percent from the floor and 46.7 from long range in the Conference Finals.
As good as the two MVPs have been, the Warriors are nowhere near what they were able to accomplish without the efforts of their version of the swiss army knife in Draymond Green, who has averaged 13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 blocks during the postseason. What is more impressive has been his shooting from the floor in the playoffs, where he has made 50 percent of his field goal attempts and 47.2 percent of his tries from the three-point arc.
At the start of this season, one other major question about the Warriors besides how the four All-Stars Curry, Durant, Green and sharp shooter Klay Thompson were all going to have to share the offensive load is could they get major contributions from role players Ian Clark, ZaZa Pachulia, Patrick McCaw, David West, Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee?
The Warriors and head coach Steve Kerr have gotten that and then some from the Warriors’ reserves throughout the regular season and postseason.
In Game 2 of their first-round series against the Trail Blazers without Durant because of a calf injury, McCaw, West, McGee, Iguodala, James Michael McAdoo, West and Clark combined for 58 points, and 28 rebounds in the 110-81 win on Apr. 19, to take a 2-0 series lead.
McCaw, McGee, Iguodala, West and Clark followed that up in Game 3 at the Moda Center in Portland, OR combining for 52 points and 23 boards in the 119-113 victory three days later, to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Thompson, who has had a rough shooting postseason scored 24 points, while Curry led the way with 34 points and eight assists.
While the dominance by both the Cavaliers and Warriors to reach The Finals has been exciting to see, it has been something that has ruffled the feathers of a lot of viewers.
Those who watch long for the days of when the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics meet up in The Finals, particularly their three matchups in the 1980s when they faced some form of resistant’s in meeting up with each other for the title. That has not been the case this postseason for the Cavs and Warriors this postseason.
The counter to that is these two teams worked their way to becoming great during their postseason runs to be again within four wins of winning a title.
Back on Jan. 2, the Cavaliers won versus the New Orleans Pelicans 90-82 to improve their record to 26-7 on the season, the best record in the East at that point. They finished just one game over .500 the rest of the season going 25-24; losing the No. 1 Seed to the previously mentioned Celtics and their defense was a major problem as teams seemingly scored on them with no problem.
It did not get any better in the beginning stages of the first-round versus the No. 7 Seeded Indiana Pacers, who they narrowly beat 109-108 and 117-111 in the first two games. In Game 3, the Cavs were in serious trouble as they trailed 74-49 at intermission in Game 3. Then behind the effort of James, who the 17th triple-double of his playoff career with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists on 14 for 27 from the field, including 6 for 12 from three-point range, the Cavs registered the third largest comeback in NBA playoff history overcoming that 25-point halftime deficit to win 119-114 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. The Cavs gave up just 40 points in the second half in garnering their 11th straight postseason victory since the return of James to the Cavs in 2015.
From that point on, the Cavs finally had a defense approach that complimented the offense and they have been at the top of their game ever since.
It really showed in Game 3 of the East Semis at the No. 3 Seeded Toronto Raptors where the Cavs won 115-94 back on May 5, outscoring their opponent on their home floor 36-17 in the fourth quarter. The Cavs held the Raptors to just 43.7 percent from the field, including just 2 for 18 from three-point range and out-rebounded them 58-33.
In their Game 2 victory at the Celtics on May 19, the Cavs put together their most complete game of the postseason dominating the C’s at TD Garden 130-86, handing them their worst home playoff loss in their storied franchise history, which has seen them win 17 NBA titles.
They led 72-31 at intermission, which represented a new playoff record for a halftime deficit of 41 points, which came to fruition thanks to a buzzer beating fade away jumper by Smith. The led by 46 (103-57) after three quarters.
What was a franchise record for points in a postseason game, the Cavaliers shot 56.5 percent from the field; hit 19 for 39 three-pointers; registered 28 assists and 24 fast break points. Defensively, the Cavs held the Celtics to just 37.2 percent from the floor; 8 for 27 from three-point range; forced 21 turnovers, which turned into 23 points and recorded six block shots.  
The Cavs did take their foot off the gas in their Game 3 loss 111-108 on May 23, which was capped by a game-winning three-point by the Celtics’ Avery Bradley that danced on the rim and dropped and the series lead of the Cavs was cut to 2-1.
It was the Cavs first loss since Game 4 of the 2016 Finals against the Warriors, as they blew a 21-point lead in the third quarter, to end their 13-game playoff winning streak dating back to last season.
The Celtics got into a position to win the game because of the 27-point effort from guard Marcus Smart, who was 8 for 14 from the field, including 7 for 10 from three-point range as he started in place of two-time All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas due to a hip injury, which kept him out the second half of Game 2 and for the remainder of the series.  
James had one of the worst games of his career with just 11 points scored and he had more turnovers six than field goals with four, going an abysmal 4 for 13 from the field.
It waisted major efforts from Irving, who had a game-high of 29 points and seven assists on 10 for 15 shooting, including 4 for 6 from distance; Love, who had 28 points and 10 boards, hitting 7 for 13 from three-point range and Thompson, who had 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The Cavs and James bounced back in a major way as the Cavs won versus the Celtics 112-99 two days later to take a 3-1 lead, as they outscored the Celtics 65-42 in the second half, which included a 40-23 effort in the third quarter.
James who battled foul trouble for one of the rare times in his eventual Hall of Fame career, finished with 34 points, going 15 for 27 shooting. Irving though was the catalyst in this one scoring a playoff-career-high 42 points, with 19 of them coming after halftime, going 15 for 22 from the field, including 4 for 7 from three-point range. Love was the only other Cavalier to score in double-figures with 17 points and a playoff-career-high 17 rebounds.
After giving up 46.2 percent shooting and 18 triples in 40 tries in the loss in Game 3; the Cavs surrendered just 44.3 percent shooting to the C’s and held them to just 10 triples in 31 attempts; They outscored them on the fast break 16-4, after being held to just two in Game 3, and 58-34 in the paint after being dominated 36-24 two nights earlier.
They were just as good on both ends in the Game 5 clinching victory on Thursday night, hitting exactly 56.5 percent of their field goal attempts and the exact number of triples with 19. While the Celtics out-rebounded them 52-44, the Cavs registered 24 assists; had 20 fast break points and outscored them in the paint 50-38. Defensively the Celtics shot just 43.0 percent from the floor, while connecting on just 11 for 30 from three-point range.
For the Warriors, their brush with adversity came when Durant was lost for 19 games after suffering a knee injury in the 112-108 loss at the Washington Wizards back on Feb. 28.
At that time, the Warriors lost the guy that the Warriors ran their offense through and for a short period without him, the team struggled losing five of their next seven games, which included their first two-game losing streak in nearly two years.
They got back on track with a nail biting win versus the Philadelphia 76ers 106-104 on Mar. 14, which started a 14-game winning streak and 15 wins in their final 16 games to close the 2016-17 NBA campaign.
While the Warriors hot streak continued into the playoffs, they lost their head coach as Kerr has been sidelined in recent weeks because of recurring complications from back surgery he had two off-seasons back.
The team has played inspired ball in his absence and lead assistant Mike Brown has kept the ship moving.
Kerr was able to be with the team and even travel with them in the Conference Finals against the Spurs and his message at halftime of Game 1 back on May 14 where they trailed 62-42, motivated them to overcome as much as a 25-point deficit to garner a 113-111 win and they never looked back, as they outscored the Spurs 71-49 in the second half, including 39-28 in the third quarter.
The game and the series really turned when Spurs All-Star and reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard re-injured his left ankle after Pachulia of the Warriors challenged him on a corner jump shot where Leonard came down and proceeded to re-sprain that ankle and he was lost for the rest of the game and eventually the series.
Both teams have a lot at stake in their third straight matchup in The Finals.
For the Cavs, James, who is making his seventh straight appearance in The Finals, a record for a non-Celtic is trying to win his fourth title, while also trying to even his Finals record at 4-4. The team is trying to join the Chicago Bulls, Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat to win back-to-back titles.
The Warriors are trying to win their second title in the last three seasons and their fourth in franchise history. Durant, who left the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency back in the summer to join the Warriors and capture what has been missing on his resume, an NBA title.
This series will come down to three things. First, which team will dictate the tempo that they want to play at? Second, can Durant be that difference maker with his ability to score and shoot the ball that Harrison Barnes lacked in last year’s Finals, especially in Games 5, 6 and 7? Third, Can Thompson find his shooting stroke again, where he is scoring just 14.4 points in the postseason so far on 38.3 percent from the field?
Series with this much hype normally do not live up to the weight of expectations. However, the first two Finals matchups between the Cavs and Warriors were great series, with last season’s being decided in seven games. The hope is that the third matchups does the same and more. It all gets underway with Game 1 from Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.
Information and statistics are courtesy of 7/19/16 article, “How Many Teams Have Back-to-Back NBA Titles,” with comment by Tim Kenney; 5/26/17 7 p.m. ESPN Bottom Line news crawl; 5/26/17 article, “NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers meet for Round 3,” by Steve Aschburner;;;;;; and www.espn.copm/nba/player/_/id/6475/klay-thompson.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

J-Speaks: "King James" Achieves Historic Playoff Milestone

Back on Sunday night, four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion LeBron James had one of the worst games of his brilliant career where he had just 11 points on 4 for 13 shooting, six turnovers and no points in the fourth quarter as the Cavs lost Game 3 111-108 and saw their series lead cut to 2-1. What has made him great throughout his career, that will land him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot is his ability to bounce back and he did so with 34 points, 15 of those coming in the fourth quarter as the Cavs won Game 4 112-99 on Tuesday night to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. In the close out Game 5 at TD Garden in Boston, MA, “King James” not only led the Cavs back to The Finals for a third year in a row, he made some major NBA Playoff history where he surpassed who many consider the best to ever play on the hardwood.
At the 2:42 mark of the third quarter, James hit a three-pointer that increased the Cavs’ lead to 103-71, but it moved him pass Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan to become the all-time leading scorer in playoff history.
James finished the night with 35 points, on 13 for 18 from the field, including 4 for 8 from long range with eight boards, eight assists and three steals in 35 minutes as the Cavs won at the Celtics 135-102, winning the series 4-1 and advancing to The Finals to meet up with the back-to-back-to-back Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors, which will begin on Thursday, June 1.
That triple put James at 5,989 playoff points he has scored in his postseason career. To bring this accomplishment into full context, Jordan scored 5,987 points in his playoff career in 179 games, and shot 4,497 shots to reach that point. James has played 212 games in his playoff career and scored 5,995 points on 4,379 shots. To further illustrate what we all have had a chance to witness this postseason, James has scored 30-plus points in 10 of the 12 Cavs 12 playoff games. That is amazing for a guy that was not known for his scoring when he entered the NBA out of high school 13 years ago.
In fact, there have been many in NBA circles that have compared the three-time Finals MVP’s game to that of Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Earvin “Magic” Johnson because James feels he is at his best when he is getting the rest of his teammates involved over the course of an NBA game as well as scoring himself. It was seeing what Jordan did in his career that gave James the vision of what it means to be great, while also saying he will never be like him.
“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike. Just seeing what he was able to accomplish” James said during the postgame presser on Thursday night. “When you’re growing up and you seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a God. So, I’d never believed I could be Mike.”  
While he may never be Michael Jordan, no matter how many more rings he wins, James with what he has done in his career to this point has been nothing short of sensational and of all the records he has set in his career, this is the one that means the most to him, which he said prior to Thursday night’s contest.
“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said. “It has nothing to do with passing him in rings; passing him in points; passing him in MVPs. It’s my personal goal to keep me motivated. That’s all.”
With each milestone that James has achieved, he has always approached it with a humble outlook, a respect for being able to have his name in the same sentence as some of the greats to ever lace up their kicks on the professional hardwood, and having the love and respect from his teammates that get the opportunity to witness those milestones.
There was a moment at the end of the third quarter where the cameras caught All-Star starting lead guard of the Cavs Kyrie Irving, who followed up his playoff career-high 42-point performance with 24 points on Thursday night barking and in the ear of James, who had a towel over his head.
Irving, who averaged 25.8 points in the five games against the C’s, said to NBA on TNT pre-game and postgame host of “Inside the NBA,” presented by KIA Ernie Johnson that he was telling James to not take the moment of surpassing Jordan.
“That’s an iconic moment. What he did for the culture and honestly for the game of basketball is nothing short of legendary, and I want him to enjoy it,” he said. “He always shows great humility for all his accomplishments, but this is one he really wanted and as a team it was out job to bring him up to that, and I’m glad he’s accomplished it and as well getting back to The Finals.”
What made this night even more iconic is that James will be making his seventh straight trip to The Finals, which makes him the first non-Celtic to achieve that and he is just the second player in NBA history to do that, which ties him with Hall of Famer and lead guard on many of the Celtics title teams back in the day Bob Cousy.
For all that James has individually accomplished in his career, he has always been about the success of the team and when the team plays well, that gives him more satisfaction that any individual check mark on his career resume and this game was the best example of that.
James on this night became just the second player in postseason history at the Celtics to have 35-plus points, with eight boards and eight assists was Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in Game 5 of the 1963 Eastern Divisional Finals with 36 points 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the Cincinnati Royals in a 125-120 loss on Apr. 6th of that year. His team scored 135 points, setting a new franchise history, which was five points better than the 130 they scored in their 44-point victory at the Celtics in Game 2 back on May 17, which was also their 13th straight win in the postseason, dating back to last year’s Finals. Their 41-point lead (72-31) at intermission of that contest set a new NBA playoff-record, and they led by as many as 50 in the contest. In the opening half of Game 5, the Cavaliers set a new franchise record scoring 75 points, as they led 75-57 after the first 24 minutes, which began with a franchise record 43 points in the first quarter. It was the third time in the series that the defending champions scored 40 points or more in a quarter.
The Cavs with their close out win in Boston remained perfect on the road with their seventh consecutive victory and improved them to an NBA best 21-7 away from Quicken Loans Arena dating back to 2015. Against their own conference in the postseason, the Cavs improved their record to 36-5.
After the Game 3 loss on Sunday where he played poorly, there was a lot of question was what happened to LeBron James, who had more turnovers with six than field goals made with four. The next two games showed why he is the best in the game now and one of the best of all-time and he surpassed who many fans and analysts consider to be the best to ever play in the NBA. Along the way, he has taken it all in with a humble approach; the focus being on team success and winning championships, while taking each moment in and having as Irving said to Johnson during the Eastern Conference Trophy presentation about the one word to describe the Cleveland Cavaliers the last three seasons gratitude.
“I think we’re eternally grateful all the time we’re around each other,” he said. “We spend almost every day with each other. We sacrifice everything and it’s always worth it. We understand that the journey doesn’t stop here and were not satisfied and we go back to the promise land, which is The Finals.”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 5/25/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN presented by La Quinta Inns & Suites with Rachel Nichols, Scottie Pippen, Paul Pierce and Tracy McGrady; 5/25/17 8:30 p.m. Game 5 of Eastern Conference Finals on TNT presented by Samsung Gear S3 with Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Kristen Ledlow and David Aldridge; 5/25/17 11 p.m. edition of “Inside the NBA” on TNT, presented by KIA with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal; 5/26/17 7 a.m. edition of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” with Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Amy Robach, Michael Strahan and Ginger Zee;; and

Saturday, May 13, 2017

J-Speaks: Resilient Wizards

If there is one word to describe the Washington Wizards this season, it is resilient. They overcame a 2-8 start to this season to finish with 49 wins and won the Southeast Division, their first division title since the 1978-79 campaign. They won Game 5 at home and closed out their first-round opponent the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 on their home court. They routed their Semifinal opponent in Games 3 and 4 after losing Games 1 and 2 in Boston, MA. They were dismantled in Game 5, but bounced back thanks to their dynamic backcourt and the help of a first timer in the postseason.
After a 1 for 9 first half from the field in Game 6 on Friday night, scoring just three points in the opening half, and missed 11 of his first 12 shots, All-Star lead guard for the Wizards John Wall scored 23 points in the second, including the eventual game-winning three-pointer that gave his team a 92-91 win in the nation’s capital to tie the series at 3-3 and force a winner take all Game 7 on Monday night. It will be the first Game 7 for the Wizards since their winner take all tilt with the San Antonio Spurs of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 18, 1979. It was also the last time the boys from D.C. were in the battling for the right to go to the NBA Finals.
“The last play was for me to get to the corner and Brad come open, but he didn’t’ get an opportunity to get open and I didn’t’ want to get a five-second violation” Wall, who was just 9 for 25 from the floor on the night, with eight assists said to the press after the win.
“So, I just came and got the ball from Otto [Porter, Jr.]. Just looked the defender in the eye and took a shot I work on and it went in.”
When the game-winning triple by Celtics’ All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who had 27 points on the night was off the mark at the final buzzer, Wall, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft stood atop the scorer’s table, and popped his No. 2 jersey while yelling and celebrating with the 20,173 in attendance at the Verizon Center, as the Wizards on their first elimination game at home in their last eight chances.
That moment Wall said after the game was how much love he had for the District of Columbia, his teammates and how much fight and stick-to-itiveness the Wizards had to not let their season end like it in Game 6 of the 2014 Semis versus the Indiana Pacers and to the previously mentioned Hawks in 2015.
“I ain’t going home. Don’t come to my city wearing all black talking about it’s a funeral,” Wall, who had 10 of his 23 second-half points in the fourth period said to Salters about the Celtics coming to the game wearing all black, like what the Wizards did in a game in the regular season against the C’s.
Wall also said in the press room that, “A lot of people doubted us in this series after we was down 2-0. A lot of guys doubted us about winning this game at home. The last two years I was in the playoffs, we lost a Game 6 here and we just had a lot of heart and I wanted the city to know that we love them for all the support they give us. Without their amazing fan supporting, we wouldn’t had won this game and all we ask for is one more game and we got it.”
“We worked too hard for this and all we asked for is a Game 7 50-50 and that’s all we asked for. We do this for these fans without them we wouldn’t had won this game.” 
Beal, who was averaging 19.4 points, a little under a career-high of 23.1 points he averaged during the regular season, had a series best and game-high 33 points on the night. The former Florida Gator had shot just 43.2 percent from the field leading up to Game 6, but turned that around with a stellar 15 for 26 from the floor.
What made the Wizards victory even phenomenal is the fact that 59 of the team’s 92 points came from Wall and Beal, including a combined 23 of their team’s 26 points in the fourth quarter. The only other Wizards to score in double-figures was playoff neophyte Markieff Morris, who had a much needed 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
To bring how important Morris’ contribution was into fuller context, Porter, Jr., the Wizards other starting forward and Kelly Oubre, Jr off the bench went scoreless. Bogan Bogdanovic was just 2 for 6 on the night off the bench, including 0 for 3 from three-point range in 17 minutes. Starting center Marcin Gortat, who battled foul trouble the entire evening had 13 rebounds, but scored just four points in 25 minutes.
“Love him. Love coaching him,” Wizards’ head coach Scott Brooks said of his starting power forward. “I like his toughness. He just competes. He doesn’t say a whole lot. You have to pull teeth to get a good morning out of him. He just a good guy. He plays hard and he gives great minutes. He’s one of the big reasons we’ve had a successful season. He’s one of the big reasons we’re going to Game 7.”
The Wizards on the evening shot just 43 percent from the field; were an abysmal 5 for 24 from three-point range and just 13 for 21 from the charity stripe.
If that wasn’t enough, the Wizards trailed 69-66 entering the final period and they were down late 87-82.
What gave them a chance to force Game 7, thanks to Wall’s heroics is that they out-rebounded the C’s 59-47; registered seven blocks; only committed 12 turnovers and outscored them in the paint 48-26. They also held the Celtics to 40.5 percent from the floor on the evening and to just 11 for 35 from three-point range.
“They came in and played hard,” Beal, who scored 13 points in the fourth quarter said after the game of the Celtics effort on Friday night. “They did a good job of competing, but we had the will to win. We did whatever it took. We stayed the course of the game with the last two, three minutes. We stayed locked in, regardless if we were up five, down seven, down five, however much we were down, we did a good job of just locking in and we both [him and Wall] made some big plays down the stretch. That’s something we’ve wanted to get past this point for a long time. We didn’t want to go home on our home floor. We just wanted to give ourselves another chance and we got that, so we got to take full advantage of it.”
It also helped that Wall despite the rough start made 8 of his final 13 shots including the previously mentioned game-winning triple with 3.7 seconds left.
“I’m a guy that I don’t care. I’m not going out without a fight. If I go 0 for 30, I’m willing to lose like that,” Wall, whose Wizards became the first team in the 2017 NBA Playoffs to win a home postseason game when facing elimination said to Salters. Teams in this position entering Friday night were 0 and 10.
Wall also said about where he was back in August and about those in attendance to see his finest hour as a pro that, “I got too much heart. I put in too much work. Double knee surgery. Look at this couldn’t ask for more.”
Besides the game-winner he hit, Wall also put his team in position defensively to win the game as well.
He said to Salters that he remembered that the last time the Wizards lost to the Celtics at home in the regular season was via an over the top pass to forward Jae Crowder that ended up in a game-winning layup.
On the Celtics final possession, they tried that same play to Kelly Olynyk with 3.5 seconds remaining, but Oubre, Jr. used the Celtics foul to give.
Before the Celtics final opportunity, Wall instructed Gortat to go from guarding the inbound pass to protecting the paint.
The result was a fall away three-point attempt by All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who had 27 points on the night, but his game-winning attempt clanged on the rim and did not drop.
In those two plays showed the growth of Wall and the Wizards from two seasons back where back in the 2014 and 2015 playoffs lost in six games to the Indiana Pacers and the Hawks at home. Now they will play in their first Game 7 since the 1979.
The hope is that the Wizards will have a better showing then they did in Game 5, where they run off the TD Garden court in Boston, MA on Wednesday night 123-101. If they win at TD Garden on Monday night, it will the first time either this regular season or the postseason that the road team will garner a victory in 10 games this season.
If the Wizards have any chance of reaching their first Eastern Conference Finals in 38 years, they off course need Wall and Beal to show out like the dynamic back court they have shown they can be at times, but the rest of the supporting cast in Gortat, Oubre, Jr., Porter, Jr., Bogdanovic and Morris need to match what the Celtics’ Crowder, Avery Bradley, who had 27 points on the night, Olynyk, Terry Rozier, Amir Johnson and Marcus Smart will bring on both ends.
In Games 1 and 2, the Wizards got off to great starts, even led by double-digits in both games, but their inability to maintain that high level of play and as Brooks said during the presser on Friday night, his team forgets to do the little things like defend consistently, fight for 50-50 lose ball or give up second chance opportunities. Those are the kind of things that the Wizards must do if they expect to win Game 7.
“It’s my life. This is what I asked for,” Wall said to Salters. “To fight hard down 2-0. To win. All we got is one more game left to go to the Conference Finals. I couldn’t ask for more.”
That one game for the right to meet the defending NBA champion and well rested Cleveland Cavaliers and four-time MVP and three-time Finals MVP LeBron James will on Monday night at 8 p.m. from TD Garden in Boston, MA on TNT.

Friday, May 12, 2017

J-Speaks: Spurs Rise Again

When the 2017 NBA Playoffs began, one question of many was who was going to stand in the way of Round Three between the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers of the Eastern Conference and the defending Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors of the Western Conference? That one team is the San Antonio Spurs, who showed the fortitude and excellence on both ends of the court that helped them win five titles in franchise history.
After suffering their worst loss in the Gregg Popovich era when they dropped Game 1 of the West Semifinals 126-99 to the Houston Rockets, the Spurs battled back to win Game 2 121-96 two days later, which was then followed up with a 103-92 win in Game 3 on their state rivals home court one week ago.
The Rockets garnered a 125-104 victory in Game 4 to tie the series 2-2, but the Spurs battled the Rockets to a 110-107 overtime win in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. In the victory though, they lost their star player and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard to an ankle sprain and All-Star lead guard Tony Parker, who had season-ending surgery on his left quadriceps tendon, which took place last Friday.
Going into Game 6 on Thursday night, many believed that the Rockets chances of sending the series back to San Antonio for Game 7 looked very nice. Then the game began and the Spurs took it to the Rockets and garnered a 114-75 win at Toyota Center on Thursday night to win the series 4-2 and they will meet the No. 1 Seeded Warriors in the Western Conference Finals on Sunday afternoon in Oakland, CA.
“Everybody picked it up. Four, five, to six guys all had good games. It wasn’t one guy scoring 40,” Popovich, whose garnered his 166th playoff win as Spurs head coach, third all-time said after the game.
“You look at D.J. [Dejounte Murray], he came in, he assisted. He played D [defense]. Scored for us. The big guys [LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon] were great. Patty [Mills] controlled everything really well and the perimeter guys Jon [Jonathon Simmons], Danny [Green] and Manu [Ginobili], everybody contributed. It was a real team effort.”
If you have watched the Spurs over the past few seasons during the regular season, coach Popovich on many occasions has sat some key personnel like Parker, Manu Ginobili, All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills, All-Star and future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Leonard and has given the likes of Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons, rookie Davis Bertans, Dewayne Dedmon and veteran David Lee a chance to play major minutes. These are opportunities to develop the rest of the cast so that if the team is in a pinch during the postseason and they need others to step up to the forefront, they are ready to do so like in the final five games of their prior series and we see the results.
Two other aspects that the Spurs have in their favor is a system that is predicated on ball and player movement, find the mismatch at the offensive end and consistent focus and attention to detail at the defensive end.
In the Game 1 loss versus the Rockets, who led by as many as 39 points, the Rockets were 22 for 50 from three-point range, setting not just a franchise record in their playoff history and making the second most in NBA postseason history. They had 36 points in the paint, to the Spurs 32; registered 30 assists on 40 made field goals and had 27 fast break points.  
Defensively, the Rockets held the Spurs to 36.9 percent from the field; converted 15 turnovers, 10 of which were steals into 19 points and had five block shots.
While MVP candidate James Harden had a stellar game with 20 points, 14 assists and four steals, forward Trevor Ariza led the way with 23 points, going 5 for 10 from three-point land. Center Clint Capela had a playoff career-high of 20 points, to go along with 13 boards and two blocks, connecting on 8 of 10 from the floor. Ryan Anderson had 14 points and six boards, hitting 4 for 10 from distance. Sixth Man of the Year candidates Lou Williams and Eric Gordon had 13 and 11 points respectably off the bench.
In Game 4, the Rockets went 19 for 43 from three-point range and held the Spurs to just 7 for 23; had 28 assists; turned 14 Spurs miscues, seven of which were steals into 17 points and stayed close on the boards, being out-rebounded by just three 53-50.
Harden had a stellar performance with 28 points, 12 assists, five boards and two steals on 10 for 18 shooting, including hitting four triples. Gordon had 22 points off the bench on 8 for 13 from the field, including 6 for 9 from distance. Ariza had 16 points, six boards, five assists and two steals. Williams off the bench and Anderson each had 13 points and starting guard Patrick Beverly, on a night he learned about the passing of his grandfather Rheese Morris before the game had 10 points and six boards.
In the Spurs victories in Games 2, 3 and 5, the Spurs found a way to control the Rockets, outscoring them 33-13 in the fourth quarter of Game 2. In that contest, the Spurs held the Rockets to just 11 for 34 shooting from three-point range; out-rebounded them 54-39, including 16-9 on the offensive glass; outscored them on the fast break 20-13 and outscored them in the paint 54-44.
In the Spurs 103-92 win in Game 3, the Spurs dominated the Rockets on the glass again to the tune of 64-45; held them to just 12 for 39 from three-point range and held them to just nine fast break points.
While Harden had 43 points on the evening, Ariza and Capela were the only other Rockets to score in double figures with 17 and 12 respectably.
While the Rockets pulled out a victory in Game 4 on Sunday, they lost Capela’s understudy in Nene, who was injured late in the first period. He missed the remainder of the game and left the Toyota Center to undergo an MRI at a nearby hospital.
That loss was felt in Game 5, that the Spurs pulled out as mentioned earlier 110-107 in overtime. While the Spurs out-rebounded the Rockets by just five 52-47, they doubled them on the offensive glass 18-9; dominated them in paint, outscoring them 56-42 and turned 16 Rockets miscues into 18 points.  
Leonard led the way with 22 points, 15 boards, two steals and two blocks, but injured his ankle late in the middle part of the third quarter when he stepped on Harden’s foot while trying to get back in transition.
In his stead, Green and the rest of the Spurs stepped up and won the game. Green had seven of his 16 points in the extra stanza, including the three-point play that put the Spurs on top with 30.1 seconds left in overtime.
Despite having a triple-double of 33 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, Harden’s three-pointer to send the game into a second overtime was blocked from behind by Ginobili.
Leading up to that moment, the MVP candidate had just four points on 1 for 6 shooting and four turnovers in the final five minutes of regulation and the extra frame. It did not help that as the game went on, he had to guard either Gasol or Aldridge when the Rockets went small as the game went on.
The close out game on Thursday night was a masterpiece by the five-time champion Spurs, who played again without Leonard.
Aldridge, who has had a much-maligned postseason entering the Semis, the Texas native followed up his 18-point, 14 rebound performance in the Game 5 win with a stellar 34 points and 12 boards on 16 for 26 from the field.
“Kawhi’s a great player, but we have guys that are ready to play and the organization works these guys out every day,” Aldridge said after the game. “Every young guy on the team puts in extra time to be ready to play. Just having guys ready to play. Having those guys work hard all year, it makes it a little bit easier for us for sure.”
Aldridge’s fellow front court mate in veteran Pau Gasol also had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five assists and three blocks.
Guard Jonathon Simmons had 18 points; Patty Mills, who started again in place of the injured All-Star guard Tony Parker, who had surgery last week to repair a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his left leg had 14 points and seven assists; Danny Green had 10 points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks; rookie guard Dejounte Murray had a double-double off the bench with 11 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with five assists and two steals. Kyle Anderson also had a solid game with seven points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.
The Spurs shot 53.1 percent from the field and held the Rockets to 28.6 percent from the floor. The Rockets went just 13 for 40 from three-point range; were out-rebounded 69-44; committed 14 turnovers that Spurs turned into 22 points and were outscored in the paint 62-18. The Spurs registered 32 assists and committed just eight turnovers, and recorded nine blocks.
“It’s a great moment. Today, we are very satisfied with the way we played,” Ginobili, who averaged 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in the series said to NBATV’s/NBA on TNT’s Allie LaForce after the win. “We thought we had a chance even without Tony and Kawhi because we we’re going to move the ball and attack in a different way and we were going to be more unpredictable, but for sure we didn’t expect a 40-point lead.
Harden, who averaged 28.5 points this postseason, had just 10 points on 2 for 11 shooting and both of his field goals were three-pointers, as he went just 2 for 9 from distance.
Ariza and Capela were the only other Rockets to score in double figures with 20 and 15 respectably. Anderson, who came off the bench was held scoreless. Gordon had just six points on 2 for 9 from the field and both of his makes were from three-point range. Williams was held to six points himself on just 3 for 7 shooting.
While the Spurs are facing an uphill battle against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, which begin Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC, it would be a major mistake to think they will be steamrolled, even without Parker.
While the Warriors might have the star power with All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson and former MVPs in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and maybe they have the better team, but the Spurs have experience, an unwavering confidence and a system that will always give them a chance.
Round Three between the Cavs and Warriors has a good chance of taking place, which is what most American wants, but it will not happen without a fight, at least on the Spurs end of things.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 5/5/17 story “Spurs’ Tony Parker Has Ruptured Quadriceps Tendon.” 5/12/17 9 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Vince Cellini, Dennis Scott and Sam Mitchell, with report from Allie LaForce;; and

Monday, May 8, 2017

J-Speaks: 2015 WNBA MVP Returns Close to Home

It is very rare in any sport that the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of their league for that season rarely change addresses. Over the past year, three former pro basketball MVPs have done so in 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose who was traded to the New York Knicks this past summer and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder to sign with the defending Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors. The third was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Chicago Sky, who went from being the Rookie of the Year that season to the leading scorer and league MVP two years ago, and in February was traded to the Washington Mystics, where made her new team an instant contender and had a chance to do something that many pro athletes get to do. Play the game that they love just in their back yard.
In just four seasons of playing in the WNBA, the 27-year-old Wilmington, DE native and graduate of the University of Delaware Elena Delle Donne went from being a high draft pick into a bonified superstar and an Olympic Gold Medalist, as she helped the United States Women’s National team capture Gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
On Sunday, the three-time WNBA All-Star will begin a new chapter in her WNBA journey as a member of the Washington Mystics, who acquired her back in February in exchange for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft that took place back in April.
The journey to being one of the shining faces of women’s basketball was unlike any other for Delle Donne.
After gaining national recognition at the high school level as she led Ursuline Academy to three consecutive Delaware State titles and being ranked as the No. 1 overall high school recruit, according to, as well as a McDonald’s All-American, Delle Donne received a basketball scholarship to attend the women’s basketball powerhouse of the University of Connecticut.
In the early part of 2008 though, the 2007 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American dropped out of UConn’s summer school program after just 48 hours in Storrs, CT. Delle Donne said that she was not ready to be separated from her family, that she has said on many occasions that she is very close to, especially her older sister Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy, and is blind and deaf.
Delle Donne’s older brother, Gene would say in a 2012 story by ESPN on his younger sister, “Her relationship with Lizzie is huge. It’s so close. It’s a big reason why she is such a homebody who came from UConn, because she craves to be around Lizzie and to experience Lizzie grabbing her and sniffing her and just spend quality time with her.”
In moments like this when she feels overwhelmed, Delle Donne has said she would take a break from basketball to get things back in order, which she did prior to her team’s 2007-08 campaign.
On August 16, 2008, Delle Donne announced that she would not accept UConn’s scholarship due to burnout and instead enrolled at the University of Delaware, joining the Blue Hens’ Volleyball team as a walk-on.
In her one season, playing middle hitter for the UD, the Blue Hens went 19-16, going 9-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference. They won the conference tournament and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but lost to the Oregon Ducks in the opening round.
Delle Donne came back to her first love basketball as she joined the Blue Hens basketball team as a redshirt freshmen in the 2009-10 season. That season she averaged 26.7 points per contest, the third highest of all Division I women’s basketball players. She had a 54-point performance in a defeat to James Madison on Feb. 18, 2010, which was the highest single-game point total by a Division I woman basketball player that campaign. That helped her earn the CAA Rookie of the Week honors six times that season.
While the team had a solid start the next season, Delle Donne was not herself on the court unlike her first season and she began to develop flu-like symptoms. In a game against the Penn State Lady Nittany Lions, she asked to be taken out of the game, which was a first for her. After many tests by doctors, Delle Donne was diagnosed with Lyme disease, an incurable chronic infection disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type.
Delle Donne struggled the rest of that season, but helped her team reach the finals of the CAA tournament and they garnered an invitation to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
She had a similar flare-up forced her to return to the U.S. and not play ball in China this winter.
“It’s pretty scary, but for me I can tell there’s certain days where I can really push myself and then there’s other days where I really need to tone it back and maybe go get a massaged, or maybe just take off that day, or take a long nap.” Delle Donne said to NBATV about how she deals with Lyme diseases. “There’s a lot that goes into it, but I feel like I gotten a grasp on it.”
She showed that in her junior season, leading the nation in scoring with an average of 28.1 and Delle Donne’s excellence drew many fans to Blue Hens games, with an attendance rise of 250 percent from the prior season.
Delle Donne eclipsed the 2,000-point mark for her collegiate career with a 42-point performance in a win over Hofstra University on Feb. 16, 2012.
The Blue Hens were CAA champions that season and qualified for the 2012 NCAA Women’s Tournament. Delle Donne had 39 of her team’s first 56 points in their opening round victory over the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. She had 34 points against the Kansas Lady Jayhawks, but they lost.
While she again fought against Lyme disease again in her senior season, missing four games, Delle Donne led the Blue Hens in scoring 22 times during the 2012-13 regular season, and in rebounding 12 times, while scoring over 30 points five times.
In her return to the court on Dec. 12, 2012 against Maryland, Delle Donne led the way with 19 points and six boards in the 69-53 loss. The contest at Bob Carpenter Center, the home of the Blue Hens had an attendance of 5,089 people, the largest crowd to ever see a women’s basketball game in that arena.
After a 27-3 regular season, Delle Donne, and the No. 6 Seeded Blue Hens in the 2013 NCAA Tournament garnered victories over No. 11 West Virginia and No. 3 North Carolina, before falling to No. 2 University of Kentucky, despite 33 points from their star.
After a stellar collegiate career, Delle Donne was selected No. 2 overall by the previously mentioned Chicago Sky in 2013.
In their first seven seasons of existence, the Sky never made the WNBA playoffs. Delle Donne led them to their first appearance as they went 24-10 that season and lost to future Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever.
While they had a less than stellar regular season the next year going 15-19, the Sky made it all the way to the WNBA Finals, but they were swept by Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury 3-0.
In Delle Donne’s MVP season two years ago, the Sky went 21-13, garnering their second most wins in franchise history, but lost to the Fever again in the Conference Semifinals 2-1.
They reached the playoff again for the fourth consecutive season a year ago, but lost again in the Semifinals to All-Star Candace Parker and the eventual WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks 3-1.
While she was yet to lead her team to a title, Delle Donne earned her first Gold medal helping the previously mentioned Women’s National team capture Gold for the sixth consecutive time as they defeated Spain 101-72 on Aug. 20, 2016.
Whether it is on or off the hardwood, the journey of Delle Donne has had a lot of ups, a couple of downs, and some unplanned pivots. Another one of those pivots consist of her wood work design business “Delle Donne Designs,” with her now fiancée Amanda Clifton.
The start of this venture by Delle Donne and her fiancée came from the need for a simple coffee table. Delle Donne said that a friend of hers had been making a lot of wall art and that caught her eye and she thought those designs would make a nice coffee table.
A night of work resulted in a coffee table that Della Donne put on her Instagram page “de11edonne” that said, “Another #DIY project in the books! #coffeetable go ahead and put your orders in with@mgainey89 this is our best one yet @mandaclif @thewrigleydelledonne.” That post received 4,702 likes.
Clifton said they were selling so much stuff that they were unable to keep up with the demand because the business just consisted of the two of them and one other person.
“It was a learning process for us. We are by no means professional wood workers,” Clifton said.
Delle Donne concurred with that by saying that she is there for, “comic relief and to hold things tightly.”
The business venture of Delle Donne and Clifton was as spontaneous as them announcing to the world that they are a couple, which developed after Delle Donne agreed to do a photospread for “Vogue” magazine titled “Meet the Basketball Star Who’s Poised to Take the Olympic Games by Storm,” by Daphne Beal, that came out on Aug. 4, 2016.
“My family. My friends. They have known for years, but it was time to just let the fans in on it and just be open about it, and it’s been so much better ever since.” Delle Donne said. “I hope at some point in time it doesn’t have to happen for people who are gay. Just like people who are straight.”
Perhaps the best word to describe Delle Donne is courageous. For a long time, telling the world that you are different, especially when you are in the public eye like Delle Donne can be risky, but for her, it is who she is and it is how she lives.
So, it is no surprise that she is the Ambassador for The Special Olympics and she know first-hand the importance of seeing the special qualities that one who does not have the ability to do things that we all take for granted, like walking on your own power; being able to feed yourself; talking with your friends or exercising.
Delle Donne said that Lizzie has taught her that you do not always have to speak to someone to get an understanding of that person. That seeing someone’s body language, being able to read off that and seeing that person may not have it on that day or that getting after them a little bit will bring the best of that person.
“Just kind of being able to watch Lizzie, and figure her out, I’m able to do that with other people,” Delle Donne said.
One thing that a lot of the greats in pro sports have over some of their average counterparts is the ability to have a feel of what to do at certain times in the day or in their life at that moment. Delle Donne is the best example of that. Whether it was leaving powerhouse UConn for Delaware; to turn over the plans for her and Amanda’s wedding this November to an online planner called “The Knot” or choosing her current professional trainer of three years Dina.
The decision to choose Dina to keep per in tip-top shape came on a day when Delle Donne was bored, she went and watched an exercise class that her mother was doing where Dina was coaching the class. Delle Donne said that Dina taught the class with such an intensity, and that everyone in the class was following her lead that she had to be a part of that. The two meet and Delle Donne asked if Dina had ever trained a professional athlete? Dina said no, but said let’s do this thing together and the two have been training ever since.
There are very few athletes that get the opportunity to return home that made them who they are. Elena Delle Donne is the latest with that opportunity. That journey to greatness has been done in a way that has been inspiring, motivating, exciting and wonderful. That journey has also consisted of her having to overcome the hurdle of Lyme disease and has included an unbreakable closeness to her Wilmington, DE community, her father, mother, older brother and sister, who has especially shown her that courage comes in all shapes and sizes.
That courage, strength and motivation will hopefully bring her the one accolade that is missing from her resume, a WNBA title. That journey begins on Sunday afternoon when she and the Washington Mystics host the San Antonio Stars this Sunday afternoon.