Wednesday, June 21, 2017

J-Speaks: The Evolution of the Triple-Double

In Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals, won by the Warriors 132-113 on June 4, perennial All-Stars, and former MVPs LeBron James of then defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry of the World Champion Golden State Warriors became just the second pair of opposing players to post a triple-double in NBA Playoff history, with Curry posting his first in the postseason with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and James had his eighth triple-double in The Finals, which tied Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson with 38 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists on Wednesday night. He set a new Finals record in the Cavs 137-116 win in Game 4 back on June 9 with his nine triple-double of 31 points, 10 boards and 11 assists. This past regular, an NBA record 119 triple-doubles were posted, with 42 of them, a new NBA record for a single season authored by MVP candidate and perennial All-Star guard Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Second to him was perennial All-Star floor general and fellow MVP candidate James Harden of the Houston Rockets with 22. Following the two former Thunder teammates was James, with 13 triple-doubles. Basketball fans and fans who like eye catching stats saw the full spectrum of that with the number of triple-doubles that occurred in the NBA.  The evolution of this amazing stat and how the players of today seem to put up triple-doubles at a high rate. They have one player to thank for that though, “The Big-O.”
Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who is the all-time leader with 181 is the player who essentially was the father of the triple-double, being the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double with averages of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists back in the 1961-62 season for the then Cincinnati Royals. He also during that season set the then single-season record of triple-doubles that NBA campaign with 41, which was top by the Westbrook this past season.
He said to’s Shaun Powell in an interview in April that during this time he did not know what a triple-double was.
“Just playing trying to win,” he said. “We had a team that wasn’t the greatest of team’s. So, they called on you to do a lot of different things.”
Those amazing things that he was asked to do, scoring, rebounding, and getting assist was how Robertson averaged a triple-double his first five seasons in the NBA, which for most fans is an incredible stat. To Robertson though, it did not matter if he had a great game statistically if a victory did not follow.
Victories were hard to come back then for Mr. Robertson and the Royals, especially against teams that had the likes of the late great Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, and Walt Bellamy. Centers that were some of the best rebounders in NBA history, who were always around the basket area to defend.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to have a free pivot, where you could go in there anytime you want to.”
“Magic” Johnson, who is second all-time with 138 triple-double said a few years back that, “What Oscar did with the triple-double, that will never happen ever again. Never in the history of the game.”
Current Milwaukee Bucks’ head coach and NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 Jason Kidd, who ranked third all-time with 107 triple-doubles concurred by saying, “I think that’s one of those records that will never be broken.”
Then along came Westbrook this season, who averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 assists and 10.4 rebounds this regular season. In the Thunder’s five-game setback to the Houston Rockets in the first-round of the playoffs back in April, Westbrook averaged 37.4 points, 10.8 assists and 11.6 boards.
To put Westbrook’s historic season into perspective, he was the first player since the “Big O” to average a triple-double late into a season during the 2016-17 campaign. In just this past regular season, the former UCLA Bruin moved past James and Hall of Famers Larry Bird and the late Wilt Chamberlin on the all-time triple-double list.
Westbrook authored one spectacular triple-double after another and he did it in a way where his teammates, the opposition, and the fans in Oklahoma City to road crowds all felt his presence.
“He’s one of the most unique players that we’ve seen in our league. Not because of his ball handling. Not because of his shooting ability, but because of his motor. Because of his engine and his will to keep pushing,” Hall of Famer and two-time champion with the Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas, who posted five triple-doubles in his career said.
That relentless energy and determination to led the Thunder to wins as the top dog with Kevin Durant now with the Warriors is why Westbrook had triple-doubles where he had 30-plus points; 40-plus points and three where he scored 50-plus, which is the most in NBA history and they all came this past regular season. 
While Westbrook posted his triple-doubles through a relentless, high octane, non-stop Thunder storm, no pun intended, Harden’s were put up with precision.
When new head coach moved Harden to the lead guard spot to start the season, he showed every single skill he had in his arsenal. That helped him go from a far cry not making one of the All-NBA teams a season ago to making the All-NBA First-Team this past season.
That change resulted in career-highs of 29.1 points, an NBA leading 11.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds and 22 triple-doubles this past regular season, which was second to Westbrook.
Two of them came when Harden scored 50-plus points, with the best of the two was authored on New Year’s Eve 2016 versus the New York Knicks where he had a career-high of 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists in the Rockets’ 129-122 win. He was a remarkable 14 for 26, including 9 for 16 from three-point range and 16 for 18 from the free throw line.
What made this somewhat back-and-forth of garnering triple-doubles between Westbrook and Harden incredibly special is that they each missed just one game during the regular season. In a season where several high-profile players sat out to so-called rest, Harden and Westbrook took the court night-in and night-out and gave those that saw them in the stands their money’s worth.
While many of us may revel in the amazing stats that Westbrook and Harden put up during the regular season, there was a time when the great Michael Jordan could have accomplished what they did.
A few months before what became known as “The Shot,” MJ hit in Game 5 of the first-round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs that ended the season for the Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Brad Daugherty led Cleveland Cavaliers, Jordan was at a major crossroad. While he was the reigning MVP, No. 23 had yet to get passed the Semifinals of the postseason. A big-time scorer that did not have the ability to lead his team to the mountain top.
On Mar. 8, 1989, Jordan was unable to play against the Boston Celtics to do an illness, the Bulls were routed, trailing by 29 points going into the fourth quarter and the C’s were without eventual Hall of Famer Larry Bird. It was the Bulls third straight defeat and prompted then head coach and now EPSN color analyst Doug Collins to make a bold lineup change. That move was making Michael Jordan the Bulls’ point guard in place of then starting floor general Sam Vincent.
The move worked, beginning with a 17-point win versus the Seattle Supersonics as Jordan tallied 18 points and 15 assists. Two nights later, the Bulls romped the Indiana Pacers 122-90, with Jordan recording his first triple-double as a point guard with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists.
After a small slump where they dropped two of three games, the Bulls put together a winning run that got them back on course, which featured one of the best triple-double streaks in NBA history, garnering double-digits in points, rebounds and assists in seven straight games. It was the longest such streak since Chamberlin’s nine straight games with a triple-double in 1968.
Westbrook matched that streak of Jordan’s with seven straight triple-doubles from Nov. 25, 2016 to Dec. 9, 2016.
From Mar. 21 of that season through Apr. 4, the Bulls won eight of nine contest that put them 18 games over .500 and into the No. 5 spot in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Bulls scored at least 100 points in all nine games, with a couple of victories in the closing seconds.
The Bulls’ good run for that two-week period was halted by their arch rivals the Detroit Pistons, who swept their home-and-home set behind the spectacular playmaking of Thomas and the sharp shooting off the bench by Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. 
Despite Jordan scoring 71 total points in the home-and-home set, the Pistons ended his triple-double streak and swept the regular season series 6-0.
“We’ve been on the verge of beating this team a few times, except for down the stretch. We make mental mistakes and errors and they capitalize on it,” Jordan said after one of the losses to the Pistons.
Jordan bounced back quickly recording triple-double the next three games in a row including an effort of 47 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a 109-105 win at the Pacers on Apr. 13, 1989. That gave Jordan 10 triple-doubles over an 11-game span that encompassed 21 days.
The Bulls did not garner victories in the fashion they did early on as the dropped eight of their last 10 games to close the season as Jordan recorded another triple-double on Apr. 21, 1989 against the then Washington Bullets of 34 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists.
In the 24 games as Bulls’ starting floor general, Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 10.7 assists and 9.2 rebounds, registering 12 triple-doubles.
While the Bulls went just 13-11 in that period, it showed the entire league and fans that watched how the great Michael Jordan can dominate a game besides scoring.
The Bulls as the No. 6 Seed beat the No. Seeded Cavs thanks to “The Shot” Jordan hit over Ehlo from the foul line in the final seconds of Game 5 of the First-Round series that sank the Cavaliers and planted his flag on one of the indelible moments in NBA history.
“I don’t know. We just try, and try, but it is just hard to stop that guy. I don’t know what to do,” Cavs All-Star center, Brad Daugherty said after the loss.
In the Semifinals, the Bulls took down the No. 2 Seeded New York Knicks in six games as Jordan averaged 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists over the final four games of the series.
“Michael Jordan is the greatest player. Going to go down as the greatest player, if not of all-time. Because he makes people better,” then Knicks head coach, now the head coach at the University of Louisville Rick Pitino said. “He’s phenomenal and we are not embarrassed to lose to the Chicago Bulls.”
Unfortunately, the Bulls magical playoff run came was ended by the eventual NBA champion “Bad Boy” Pistons in a very competitive six games of the Eastern Conference Finals, with each game being decided by single digits.
“We kind of stood in their way. We gave them a little competition. We gave them a little fight,” Jordan said. “I think we humbled them. I think we learned a lot. We gained a lot of experience by going against a team that may win it all.”
What that season showed was the evolution of Jordan, who went from being known as just a scorer to being an all-around player who can make plays in the clutch for himself as well as his teammates. He became the ultimate leader and that evolution would pay off in 1991 when the Bulls won their first of six titles in eight seasons with two three-peats. In their journey to their first title, the Bulls and Jordan swept the Pistons in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals 4-0 and in the final seconds of Game 4, the back-to-back defending champion Pistons walked off the floor and did not shake the hands of the Bulls.
Of all the amazing accomplishments of the great Michael Jordan, probably the most remarkable of all was that he was on the All-NBA Defensive First-Team nine times.
Traditionally the three main components that make up a triple-double are double-digits in points, rebounds, and assists. There have been times that a player has gotten a triple-double by having double-digits in either blocks or steals.
In a season where the biggest appeal to the league were the mindboggling offensive stats that were put up by Westbrook, Harden and James, Warriors forward Draymond Green to the less glamorous path to a triple-double with just four points scored, but garnered 12 rebounds, 10 assists, franchise record 10 steals and five blocks in his team’s 122-107 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 10. It was the first triple-double in NBA history with fewer than 10 points.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you can be in a defensive grove. Tonight, I felt like I was on point at that end of the floor,” Green said after one of the most blue-collar games played in league history.
Of all the triple-doubles in NBA history, Green’s effort was not just while scoring in single-digits, it was just the 10th all-time with double-digit steals. His 10 thefts on the night were also one shy of tying the all-time NBA record in one game.
To put into perspective how special this night was for Green, blocks and steals did not become an official stat in “The Association” until the 1973-74 campaign. If those two stats were official years earlier Hall of Famer and 11-time champion Bill Russell and Chamberlin would have had notch on their belts years earlier.
Those to achieve 11 steals as part of a triple-double were former American Basketball Association (ABA) and NBA All-Star Larry Kenon, who had 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 steals for the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 26, 1976 versus the Washington Bullets.
How good was Kenon? He owns the second highest scoring average in Spurs history 20.7 points per game, behind only Hall of Famer George “Ice Man” Gervin’s 26.3 points per game average.
Former New Jersey Net, now NBA studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet Chicago Kendall Kill, who had 15 points, 10 boards and 11 steals on Apr. 3, 1999 versus the Miami Heat;
Hall of Famer and 11-time All-Star Clyde Drexler used 11 steals twice as part of a triple-double tear, when he posted 26 points, 11 assists, and 10 steals on Jan. 10, 1986 versus the Denver Nuggets and 25 points, 10 boards and 10 steals on Nov. 1, 1996 versus the Sacramento Kings, and former Trail Blazer to post a triple-double with 10 steals, was ironically enough a guy Larry Steele, who got 10 of them in a game versus the Lakers.
Drexler is the only player in NBA history with two steals triple-doubles, posting them a decade a part, and in both cases nearly posted a quadruple-double and Steele is fifth on the Trail Blazers all-time steals list. He was also part of the franchises 1977 championship team that defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
Unknown to the average NBA fan, but well known in NBA circles, former guard Lafayette “Fat” Lever, whose is ranked No. 8 all-time in triple-doubles with 43 of them, and is 24th all-time in steals posted one on Mar. 3, 1985 for the Denver Nuggets in a loss at the Bulls with 13 points, 15 assists and 10 steals.
One of the best thieves in league history Alvin Robertson had one of the best all-around games in the history of the game. He recorded just one of four quadruple-double in the 71-year history of the National Basketball Association with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals on Feb. 18, 1986 versus the Suns, which happened on this blogger’s fifth birthday.
Former Phoenix Suns’ All-Star guard and the current Mayor of Sacramento, CA Kevin Johnson on Dec. 9, 1993 versus the Bullets had a triple-double with 17 points, 13 assists and 10 steals and the last triple-double in the league with 10 steals was former Atlanta Hawks’ lead guard and No. 11 all-time in steals Daron Oshay “Mookie” Blaylock, who registered 14 points, 11 assists and 10 steals on Apr. 14, 1998 versus the Sixers.    
While those players garnered their triple-doubles with steals, some of the best centers and forwards in the game got theirs by blocking shots.
Since the 1973-74 season, there have been 88 triple-doubles registered where a player had double-digits in block shots, and that list did not include Russell or Chamberlin.
The players who have done it frequently are the all-time leader in the NBA in blocks shots with 3,830 in Hall of Famer and two-time champion with the Houston Rockets Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, who recorded 10.
He is tied with fellow Hall of Famer who made shot blocking an art form and put an exclamation point on it with the wag of his right finger is four-time Defensive Player of the Year recipient Dikembe Mutombo, who is 541 rejections behind Olajuwon with 3,289.
Third on the list with nine of these is Hall of Famer, two-time champion, former Defensive Player of the Year, and the 1993-94 scoring champion David “The Admiral” Robinson, whose sixth all-time in blocks with 2,954 and won the league MVP in 1995.
Next on this list is Hall of Famer known as “The Captain,” in six-time champion; six-time league MVP and the all-time leading scorer with 38,837 points Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted seven 10 block triple-doubles.
Another former Laker Elmore Smith authored six 10-block shot triple-doubles, and once blocked 17 shots in a game for L.A.
Former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton, whose 3,064 career blocks are one spot behind Abdul-Jabbar’s 3,189, which is third all-time, authored six 10-block shot triple-doubles in his career, who against the Trail Blazers in 1985 had 20 boards and 14 blocks as part of his triple-double.
Former No. 2 overall pick by the Sixers in 1993 out of BYU recorded six 10-block shot triple-doubles. One of them came in 1998 against the Trail Blazers where he had 22 points, 22 boards and 13 blocks off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks.
There are two players who share the NBA record of blocking 15 shots in registering a triple-double. Hall of Famer and current NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal did it for the Orlando Magic when he had 24 points, 28 rebounds and 15 swats on Nov. 20, 1993 at the then New Jersey Nets. It was one of two triple-doubles he had in his 19-year career.
The other was the late 7’7” Sudanese-born center Manute Bol for the Bullets on Feb. 26, 1987 recorded his only triple-double with 10 points, 19 rebounds and 15 blocks versus the Pacers. Bol finished his 10-year NBA career with more blocks (2,086) than points (1,599).
The one thing that the giants of our game to those that got a headline for their unbelievable night they put together have in common is they put on a show; displayed that they can do a multitude of things on the court and stood out as one of the best on the hardwood. That best describes Fat Lever, who was Westbrook before Westbrook, minus the athleticism.
This is a guy who had a triple-double with 23 assists in a game against the Bulls in 1988 and against the Warriors in 1989. Lever had a near quadruple-double with 31 points, 16 rebounds, 20 assists in a game.
“It’s nice to be recognized, and I’m a low-key type of guy at times. But, whenever those statistics comes up, it’s bringing you back to reality to show some of your accomplishments,” the two-time All-Star who averaged 19. Points, 9.3 boards and 7.9 assists in the 1988-89 season said to NBATV’s Vince Cellini back in April. He jokingly added to that by saying, “As long as I stay in the top 10, I’ll be okay.”
Lever said that the triple-doubles that stand out the most are the ones he authored where his team was on the wrong end of the scoreboard, like the one he had at the Bulls, where on Jordan was not the only star on the Chicago Stadium floor that day.
“We lose the game and you look at the stats, I had no idea the stats were there, until you look back at them and see them now,” Lever said to Cellini about that game at the Bulls. “But during the game, never really thought about it. Your worried about winning and losing, especially winning at Chicago, and beating a Michael Jordan team. That’s all you wanted. The satisfaction of the triple-double was there, but it wasn’t like, ‘Hey. You win the game and get the triple-double on national tv.’ I think that’s more accomplishing.”
It is why that Lever also said to Cellini that a triple-double type player is one that must possess a winning attitude; winning mindset; a hardnose attitude that puts his team first.
Statistically, that is Westbrook in every sense. When he got a triple-double this past season, the Thunder were 33-9 this past season.  
There have been times however when players garnered a triple-double, but tarnished the moment and their reputation in the eyes of their opponent. For many role players, achieving a triple-double is something that is like a feather in their cap for that season, and sometimes that one real highlight for their career. There are times when it has occurred, it becomes a stain that rubs the opponent the wrong way.
In the Mar. 19, 1996 contest between the Pistons at the Magic, reserve guard Anthony Bowie was one rebound and one assist away from his first career triple-double.
The game was going to be in the win column for the Magic, who were up by 20 with less than 10 seconds remaining. In every instance like this you dribble out the clock and end the game. Bowie though grabbed the rebound with 02.7 left; called a timeout.
Then head coach and current Magic analyst for FOX Sports Florida Brian Hill had the kind of look on his face that said, “Why?”
Pistons head man, now color analyst for ESPN Doug Collins instructed his team to remain near their sideline for the remaining seconds.
The Magic inbounded the ball and Bowie passed it to forward David Vaughn who dunked it with 00.8 seconds left, giving Bowie the triple-double of 20 points, 10 boards and 10 assists. When went over to shake the hand of Collins, he shrugged him off and went into the locker room.
It was nowhere near what Ricky Davis, who had two stints with the Cavs did versus the Jazz on Mar. 16, 2003.
With the score 120-95 in favor of the Cavs with 06.1 seconds remaining, Davis caught the inbound pass from Jumaine Jones, drove to the basket and shot it. Rebounded his own miss and that gave him a triple-double. He paid for it later when DeShawn Stevenson fouled him with 02.0 seconds left. Jazz head coach for 22 seasons in Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, who was known as a player and as head coach who always preached and played the game with a level of respect for it like any other had a shocking look on his face that asked, “Why would you do that?”
“He shot at the wrong basket. He was trying to embarrass somebody by doing that. DeShawn fouled him. I would have fouled him too. I would have knocked him on his ass,” Sloan said.
One year later, then Hawks guard Bob Sura, a former Cav was trying to become the first player in seven years to rack up three straight triple-doubles.
Their Apr. 12, 2004 tilt versus the Nets, that they won 129-107, Sura was one rebound short of that accomplishment.
After catching a long inbound pass, Sura took a shot that hit the iron. He rebounded it, and appeared to register his third straight game with a triple-double. However, the NBA the following day reviewing the video, Sura’s field goal attempt as well as the rebound was stricken, thus ending Sura’s triple-double streak at two games.
Before resurrecting his career with the now World Champion Warriors this past season, center JaVale McGee on Mar. 11, 2011 with the now Washington Wizards at the Bulls authored a memorable triple-double.
A slam dunk, plus a foul gave the former UNLV star nine points, 12 boards and 12 blocks. He needed just one point for the triple-double.
In the last 3:43 seconds of the game, McGee missed a free throw; was short on a running one hander; air-balled a fade away jumper and mishandled a driving layup going to his left. Finally, he received a pass in the lane from then rookie lead guard John Wall, that at first was fumbled, but McGee got it and dunked it hard to garner the triple-double, and received a technical foul for doing a pullup on the rim after the dunk.
“Your down 20 and you get a triple-double. I am not impressed,” NBATV/NBA on TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale said during the highlights of the McGee’s triple-double of 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks in the Wizards 98-79 loss on that edition of “Gametime,” he did with Chris Webber and Rick Kamla.
The most pathetic attempt at a triple-double though was not by McGee, but by his one-time teammate Andray Blatche on Apr. 4, 2010 versus the Nets.
Sitting at 29 points, 13 assists and nine boards, Blatche with less than 30 seconds left and up by 10 points, Blatche attempted to get a rebound off a miss, but a foul was whistled on him.
A right corner three-pointer by Chris Douglas-Roberts of the Nets was an air ball that was rebounded by his teammate Cartier Martin that denied Blatche of the triple-double and he was not pleased at all.
McGee was fouled with 08.1 seconds left sending him to the foul line. McGee made the first and prior to the second attempt, Blatche in a selfish move was bargaining with the Nets’ Yi Jianlian to allow him to grab the rebound if McGee missed to get the triple-double.
McGee made both with 08.1 seconds left and after a made layup by current Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris, Blatche’s attempt at a triple-double was thwarted in the Wizards 109-99 win versus the Nets.
“My teammate robbed me man,” Blatche said to reporters in the locker room after the game. “My own teammate robbed me. I can’t even believe it. I’m shocked and appalled.”
If there is one difference from those that got triple-doubles back when Robertson, “Magic” Johnson, Lever and even Kidd were getting them compared to Westbrook, Harden, and James of today, those triple-doubles came with solid scoring nights of high teens and maybe mid-20s with some rare 30-plus, 40-plus point contest. Now, those kinds of triple-doubles are happening at a high clip now, especially with Westbrook and Harden this past year. On top of that, triple-doubles have become as Lever said to Cellini, “It’s sociable. It’s the talk of the town and I always say because analytics are numbers. And, right now we talk about in all aspects of the game.”  
What the phenomenon of the triple-double has done more than anything is allowed this generation of NBA fans to have a major look at some of the past greats like Robertson, “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Chamberlin, and Fat Lever and give us an appreciation for the evolution of what we are seeing today from the likes of Westbrook, Harden, James Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and how they are taking the art of getting a triple-double to a whole other level.
What can also be said about this feet that has taken the sports world by storm this past year is that while it may be common place for some, can be impossible for many others and in the pursuit of garnering one, many have been done masterfully and some have been done or attempted foolishly. There have been many masterpieces and others that have left as Cellini said in scattered pieces.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of the 4/4/17 3:30 p.m. NBATV special, “The Art of the Triple-Double,” hosted by Vince Cellini, with interview of Oscar Robertson done by Shaun Powell; 4/16/11 article “JaVale McGee and The Most Pathetic Triple-Double in NBA History,” by Andrew Sharp;;;;;;;;; and

Monday, June 19, 2017

J-Speaks: Cavs Defending Champs No More

Two Fridays ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers avoided an embarrassing sweep with a 137-116 victory over the defending back-to-back-to-back Western Conference champions the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. They put themselves in the same position they were a year ago trailing 3-1 to and won the series in seven games. Unlike last year though, guard Stephen Curry was healthy, Kevin Durant was not part of the equation and Draymond Green was on the floor for this Game 5. That made a major difference last Monday night.
Behind the 39 points, seven rebounds and five assists by Durant, who was named the Bill Russell Finals MVP for the series, the Warriors defeated the defending champs in Game 5 129-120 to win The Finals 4-1 and captured their fifth title in franchise history and their second in the last three seasons. Curry had a strong performance with 34 points, 10 assists, six boards and three steals. Green also had a double-double of 10 and 12 boards, and five assists.
In a losing effort, two-time Finals MVP LeBron James, who is now 3-5 in The Finals in his career had a game-high 41 points, going 19 for 30 from the field, to go along with 13 rebounds, eight assists and two steals in 47 minutes.
“I left everything on the floor every game. All five games,” James, who became the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double in The Finals with an effort of 33.6 points, 12 boards and 10 assists in the five-game setback said after the game.
“So, for me personally I have no reason to put my head down. I have no reason to look back at what I could have done, or what I should have done, or what I could have done better for the team. I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for five games in this Finals and you come up short.”
All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who had 40 points in Game 4 contributed 26 points and six assists, but shot just 9 for 22 from the field. J.R. Smith had a series-high 25 points, going 7 for 8 from three-point range and Tristan Thompson had 15 points and eight boards.  
Things turned in favor of the Warriors at the 10:14 mark of the second quarter when they used a 36-11 run to turn an eight-point deficit into a 17-point lead. In that stretch, James was just 1 for 2 from the field in that stretch, making a three-pointer and Irving was just 1 for 5 from the field with two turnovers and was 0 for 6 in the fourth quarter.
Five seasons back, James won his first title by leading the Miami Heat to a 4-1 series victory in Durant’s only other Finals appearance in 2012, when he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This time around it was Durant who came out on top and won his first title a decade after being selected No. 2 overall in the NBA draft behind Greg Oden and he did it in every conceivable way possible.
He drove left, right and down the middle in the open court and in half court sets; knocked down three-pointers, going 5 for 8 on the evening and 14 for 20 overall from the field. He hit a 17-footer over James in the early part of the fourth quarter and then assists on a triple by reserve Andre Iguodala on the next Warriors possession that gave them a cushion they would not give up.
In that game changing stretch of the second period, Durant scored 13 points when reserve forward Richard Jefferson of the Cavs was guarding him.
“They assembled a great team. We was able to get them last year and they went out and got one of the best players that this league has ever seen,” James said of the Warriors and their difference maker in Durant.
Coming into The Finals, the Cavs were 12-1 through the first three rounds and seemed to have things together after a regular season that saw them go 26-24 since Jan. 2, finishing as the No. 2 Seed in the East at 51-31.
One reason for that is the fact that they were completely whole during the regular season as All-Star forward Kevin Love missed 22 games because of knee surgery and that they added the likes of Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, and Derrick Williams late in the season.   
Those additions along with Love, Iman Shumpert in the Cavs biggest game of the season were abysmal scoring a combined to score just 13 points on 4 for 17 from the field. Sharp shooting forward Channing Frye, who had some solid moments in the first three rounds of the postseason did not play, coaches decision.
The so-called others for the Warriors like Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, rookie Patrick McCaw and David West combined for 35 points on 15 for 26 shooting, with Igoudala, the 2015 Finals MVP scoring 20 of those points going 9 for 14 with four rebounds and three assists.
The biggest reason for the Cavs slippage at the start of the new year was the fact that their defense took a major step backwards, especially after the All-Star break. There were times that teams were scoring at will against the Cavs and that really showed in The Finals.
In Game 5 the Warriors scored over 30 points in three of the four quarters, with 33 points in the first; 38 in the second and 31 in the fourth. Despite shooting 53.4 percent from the floor; outscoring the Warriors 62-52 in the paint and 25-18 in fast break points, the Cavs allowed the Warriors to shoot 51.1 percent and to go 14 for 38 from three-point range. The Warriors had 27 assists and just 13 turnovers; went 23 for 28 from the free throw line, while the Cavs were just 15 for 23 and turned 15 Cavs miscues into 23 points.
“The biggest thing of this season is we weren’t able to get healthy and when we finally got healthy, playoffs was right around the corner and right around the corner we showed what we were capable of doing when we got a full unit,” James said.
“It would’ve been great to see us at a full unit throughout the whole season to see can continue to build the comradery, and build the chemistry out on the floor so you don’t have to wait until April to see what you are capable of doing.”
Case in point is what happened with the Warriors this season. Before Durant sustained a knee injury that put him down for 19 games, the team was 50-10 and looked every bit like a serious title contender.
When he went down the stars of the Warriors Curry, Klay Thompson and Green raised their level of play as well as the supporting cast of Iguodala, JaVale McGee, Livingston, McCaw, West and Matt Barnes, living up to their slogan over the past three seasons “Strength in Numbers,” and resulting in 15 wins in their last 16 games to close the regular season and a 16-1 record in the postseason.
While he is easily one of the greatest small forwards to ever play on the professional hardwood; one of the best players to ever play in the NBA and a first ballot Hall of Famer when he decides to retire, James as mentioned earlier is 3-5 in The Finals in his career and his 18-27 record in The Finals is tied with Hall of Famer and six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the third most Finals losses in NBA history.
He is the first former MVP to have lost five times in the NBA’s championship round. Abdul-Jabbar went 6-4 in The Finals; Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson went 6-4 in his 10 Finals appearances and the late great Wilt Chamberlin was 2-4 in The Finals.
In the case of James’ eight Finals appearances, his teams were rarely favored. If you exclude the 2011 setback by the Heat to the Dallas Mavericks in six games, each time that James whether with the Cavs or Heat, his opponent put the better team on the court.
No one understands that better then Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, who was the head coach of the Cavs in James’ first Finals appearance where the Cavs were swept 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
There are a lot of players in the league that would kill to have the opportunities to be on the cusp of a championship as many times as James has. If anything, we should be celebrating the fact that James has made it to seven straight Finals. Not everybody can do what the great Michael Jordan did going 6-0 in The Finals and winning Finals MVP each time. He can at least say that he won more than once in The Finals, unlike “The Logo,” Jerry West who was 1-9 in The Finals.
To put the greatness of James in the last three Finals against the Warriors, he has averaged 32.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 1.8 steals. Coming into Game 5 of The Finals last Monday night, James in his last four elimination games dating back to the 2016 Finals had averaged 35.0 points11.3 rebounds and 10 assists, garnering two triple-doubles. Irving had averaged 32.5 points in those four games on 53 percent from the field and going 16 for 29 from three-point range.
James though has a chance to rectify that record, hopefully next year and in years to come if the management of the Cavs can continue to improve the team and will have to be the case if they ever want to be the Warriors, who have the makings of a dynasty.
In the eyes of Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue, the gap between the Cavs and Warriors is not that big.
“They beat us, but I don’t see a big gap,” he said. “I thought we played well. Got better each game, but against good teams, you can’t give away games like Game 3 at home and expect to win in a hostile environment.”
That is why without making one roster move, if the Cavs take the regular season more seriously next season, they will give themselves a much better chance of beating the Warriors. This team with the talent that they had should have had more than 51 wins. Particularly in the second half of this past season, the Cavs level on concentration can be best described as mediocre, and that is how you have what happened in Game 3 at home where the Warriors used an 11-0 run to close the game and lost at home to fall behind 3-0. It is how you sustain two blowout losses on the Warriors home court in Games 1 and 2. It is how you get outscored as mentioned 36-11 in the second quarter of Game 5 and go from an eight-point lead to a 17-point deficit.
If they had made any kind of commitment to the defensive end, things might have been different and while they might not have had the number of wins the Warriors had during the regular season, 67, things might have been different.
If they can acquire a Paul George from the Indiana Pacers or something of that nature, that would make things interesting, but the question is will it make a difference against the Warriors?
With what the Cavs have currently, they could make it back to The Finals, but there are no guarantees of anything, especially after next season where James is set to become a free agent.
There is without question that a sense of urgency to put a roster together to reach The Finals and win it again will be there for the Cavs. The question is will it be enough to beat the Warriors again, who as James said has all the makings of a team that can win more titles in the years to come.
“Teams and franchises are going to trying to figure out ways that they can put personnel together. The right group of guys together to be able to hopefully compete against this team [Warriors],” he said.
“Their assembled as good as you could assemble and I’ve played against some really, really good teams that was assembled perfectly and their right up there. So, we will see?”
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 6/12/17 9 p.m. contest of Game 5 of the NBA Finals Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors on ABC with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke; 6/13/17 12 a.m. edition NBA Live at The Finals Postgame with Matt Winer, Steve Smith, Brent Barry, Grant Hill, and David Aldridge; 6/13/17 9:30 a.m. edition of Fox Sports 1’s “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed,” with Joy Taylor, Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless; 6/13/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN, presented by La Quinta Inns & Suites with Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter;;;; and

Friday, June 16, 2017

J-Speaks: Warriors Beat Cavs For Second Title in Three Seasons

Last week ago, the Golden State Warriors were on the verge of making history and winning another title versus the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The celebration was put on hold by the Cavs who won Game 5 137-116 to cut the Warriors lead to 3-1, just like a season ago when the Cavs won the final three games to capture their first title in franchise history. While the Game 5 scene was the same with the Warriors on their home floor of Oracle Arena, they had a healthy Stephen Curry, Draymond Green was on the floor and not suspended and they had Kevin Durant. Along with the help of the 2015 Finals MVP and a resolve that has been with the Warriors all season, they found a way to complete their season of redemption on Monday night.
Durant put an end to his spectacular first season in the Bay Area by bringing home that coveted title that he joined the back-to-back-to-back Western Conference champions last July scoring a game-high and Finals high 39 points with six boards and five assists, earning the 2017 Bill Russell Most Valuable Player [MVP] of the Finals as the Warriors won Game 5 over the Cavaliers and four-time MVP LeBron James 129-120 to win the series 4-1 and securing their fifth title in franchise history and their second in the last three seasons.
The Warriors became the first Bay Area team to clinch a championship at home since the Oakland Athletics defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1974 World Series.
“I couldn’t sleep for two days. I was anxious. I was jittery. I just wanted to lay it all out there. I put in work, I just had to trust in it,” Durant, who was 14 for 20 from the field, including 5 for 8 from three-point range and 6 for 6 from the charity stripe, said to ESPN/ABC’s Doris Burke after the victory. “We were really good tonight.”
Durant also had a good night making some NBA history of his own joining Hall of Famers Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was a rookie in the 1980 Finals and the late Moses Malone in 1983 Finals to win Finals MVP in their first season with a new franchise. He also joined Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, the late Wilt Chamberlin to win at least four scoring titles and an NBA title in league history. Only soon to be Hall of Famer Allen Iverson in 2001 had more points in a five-game in The Finals than the 176 points Durant had scored in the 2017 NBA Finals and his scoring. His 70 percent from the floor in Game 5 on Monday night is the best in a title-clinching victory in Finals history, with a minimum of 20 field goal attempts.
This was also redemption in a small way for Durant, who five seasons back with the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to James when he was with the Miami Heat 4-1 and he captured the first of his three titles. Both Durant and James embraced each other with a hug as the clock wound down.
“You got to tip your hat to Cleveland man. They kept at us all night. LeBron and Kyrie. I’ve never seen anything like those two before, but we prevailed. We’re champions and it’s amazing to do it on our home floor,” Durant, who averaged 35.2 points in the five games on 56 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three-point range said to Burke.
Durant also followed that up by saying that James, who averaged a triple-double in The Finals of 33.6 points, 12.0 boards and 10.0 assists.
“He’s the only one that I’ve looked at and said, ‘He’s the only guy that can look me eye-to-eye,’ and I knew it was going to be a battle. I just tried to challenge him. To average a triple-double. Can’t stop the guy, but we battled and I told him we tied up now, and we tried to do this thing again, but I’m going to celebrate this one tonight.”
Following that, Durant received a huge embrace from his mother Wanda and then proceeded to celebrate with Curry giving him a few fives and a huge hug from the Warriors All-Star floor general and reigning back-to-back MVP.
Prior to a postgame interview with ESPN/ABC’s Doris Burke, Durant mom said to him, “You did it. You did it your way baby. You did it. You hear me? You hear me? No matter what anybody say, you did it. I’m proud of you son.”
It was the same kind of emotion, only on the said side back in the 2012 Finals when Durant and Mrs. Wanda embraced after the Thunder lost as mentioned to James and the Heat 4-1.
He mentioned to Burke that she has seen him from a young age putting in the hard work behind the scenes. The tough losses he has suffered from then to his pro career along with the rest of his family and him winning his first title was a representation of them and where he grew up in the Washington, DC area.
He did not reach this mountain top alone though as Curry, who in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals had just 17 points on 6 for 19 shooting had 34 points on the evening on 10 for 20 from the field, 12 for 15 from the free throw line with 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals. When the game concluded, he ran up the stairs of what was already set up of the championship podium with one of his two daughters in his arm celebrating his second championship with all in attendance at Oracle Arena and put to rest some of the criticism he had faced about not being able to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage.
Durant and Curry became just the fourth pair of teammates to score 30-plus each in a title-clinching victory in league history and the first since Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did for the Chicago Bulls in ironically, a 108-101 victory in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals at the Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum on June 12, 1991. Pippen had 32 points in that contest along with 13 boards, seven assists and five steals, while Jordan had 30 points, 10 assists and five steals.  
“We learned from everything we’ve been through and our perspective, being blessed to play on this stage three years in a row, is all God,” Curry who averaged 26.8 points, eight boards and 9.4 assists on 39 percent from three-point range in The Finals said to Burke.
While hearing chants of MVP from the audience, Curry also said of winning this title that, “It’s for these fans. It’s for our organization. Our families. To be back here, bring old Larry back home, I’m just excited to be part of this group, accomplish something special and want to do it again.”
Andre Iguodala, who was instrumental for the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, where he won the Finals MVP had 20 points off the bench on 9 for 14 from the field in 38 huge minutes.
Green, who was suspended for Game 5 of last season’s Finals had a strong all-around performance with 10 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals and he soaked in his second title with his young son in his arms.
“You learn from your mistakes and obviously we had a letdown last year. I had a letdown last year, but like I told everybody before, if Kevin Durant was the consolation prize to lose, thanks for that loss and we champs this year,” Green, who averaged 11.0 points, 10.2 boards and 4.6 assists in The Finals said to Burke.
On the team redeeming themselves after blowing a 3-1 series lead a season ago, Green said, “It’s amazing. We’ve talked about the entire year let’s get back what we deserve. We want to be champions again. So, I feel great and I’m ready to go pop some champagne.”
For the past three seasons where they have won an NBA record during that span 207 games in the regular season, the Warriors moto has been “Strength in Numbers.” That the team is great when they do it together. That not one person from the players, the front office of Bob Meyers, Owner, and CEO Joe Lacob and Co-Executive Chairman Peter Guber to the coaching staff is bigger than the team.
That mantra really started as assistant coach Mike Brown said to NBATV’s David Aldridge during the champagne celebration in the Warriors’ locker room began when head coach Steve Kerr asked Igoudala who could start for the other 29 other teams in the league to come off the bench. He said yes with no hesitation and fulfilled his role unlike any other.
“Once that happened, there’s not a single person on this coaching staff. In management. On this roster that can say anything about any move that Steve makes and that’s what the foundation is with this organization.” Brown, who was the Cavs’ head coach from 2005-10, 2013-14 said. “It’s the next man up and everybody is sacrificing for the betterment of the team.”
That is how this team not only survived put thrived when Durant was out for 19 games and they went 15-4, including winning 13 games in a row.
“It’s a team sport and you want to achieve the highest honor in a team sport, which is winning a championship and to do it with these guys is amazing, and in front of these fans. You guys were great tonight. We needed it. We’re champs now,” Durant said to Burke after being named Finals MVP.”
Durant also said that he was at piece at making the decision back in the summer to leave the only franchise he had played for in Oklahoma City for the team that kept them from reaching The Finals a season ago. That he was happy to join a team, a community and a fan base that was great across the board. He also in that moment took time to acknowledge his mother Wanda saying, “We did it. I told you when I was eight years old. We did it.”
When head coach Steve Kerr was unable to coach from Game 3 of the opening round versus the Portland Trail Blazers to the second game of The Finals due to complications from back surgery he had two summers back, the Warriors did not lose a game, thanks to the focus of the players and the leadership of Brown who kept the team on course in Kerr’s absence and before the presentation of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, coach Kerr and Brown shared an embrace.
“I got the best job in the world. These guys are so gifted, and so committed to each other, and so unselfish,” Kerr, who joined Hall of Famers Russell, John Kundla, and Phil Jackson as the only coaches in league history to win two championships in their first three seasons said to Burke during the trophy presentations.  
“And I love the players. Love the coaches. Bob Meyers has been such a great friend to me these last couple of years. Peter, Joe, amazing organization, and I want to say a special thank you to Mike Brown and my whole coaching staff for keeping this ship sailing smoothly when I was out. Fun to be part of this.”
One of the greatest strengths of coach Kerr, who now has won seven titles in his time in the NBA five of them as a player with the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs is his sense of humor. He said to Burke of trying to fit Durant’s talents into the team, “We had very little talent, it was mostly coaching.” He followed that up by saying, “It wasn’t really that hard.”
His other great strength is having faith in his coaching staff and having them be a huge part in getting the players ready each game and when Brown was in Kerr’s place when he was shelved, that was put on display.
For much of this postseason, All-Star guard Klay Thompson had been struggling offensively, with averages of just 15.0 points on 39.7 percent from the field, but hit a healthy 38.7 from three-point range. It did not deter his ability to guard the likes of James, Kyrie Irving, and J.R. Smith that the other end of the court. While he scored just 11 points on 4 for 13 shooting in Game 5, he did hit 3 triples in seven tries, and while Irving had 26 points and six assists in 41 minutes, Thompson held him to 0 for 6 shooting in the fourth period and he was just 9 for 22 overall from the field.
“I got the best team behind me. So, it’s easy to pressure your man and play defense when you got these guys behind you blocking shots and helping you,” Thompson, who averaged 16.4 points in the Finals, hitting just 43 percent from the field, but 43 percent from the three-point arc said to Burke.
Thompson, who tied his father Mychal Thompson for most titles in their family with two also said about being more efficient with his game offensively throughout this season that it, “It’s no adjustment when you got guys like Kevin Durant I mean look at it. We went 16-1. That’s what he does for our team, along with the other guys we picked up. It’s just a collective effort. It wasn’t much of an adjustment and it’s easy to adjust when you’re winning. That’s what it’s all about.”
No one understands that better than new additions whether from the off-season or midseason than starting center ZaZa Pachulia, Matt Barnes, David West, JaVale McGee, and rookie Patrick McCaw, who all got their first title and all played major roles throughout the season in achieving that goal.
With what the Golden State Warriors have done this season puts them in a position of becoming the newest dynasty in the NBA, led by the most dynamic “Core Four” since the late 1990s, early 2000s New York Yankees of future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera that led the Yankees to five titles in 14 seasons together. This new version of the “Core Four,” who are all under 30 years of age has a chance to reach those heights of greatness.
It’s led by a head coach in Steve Kerr, whose ability to connect with his players and his competitive spirit won them over and wanted to win for him and the coaching staff that kept the ship afloat in his absence. Klay Thompson, humble shooting guard who possess not only one of the best strokes in the league, but can guard some of the best perimeter players in the game very well. Draymond Green, who went from being a second-round pick in the draft a few seasons ago and whose versatility on both ends has made his team a matchup nightmare for his opponents and used his emotion and fiery intensity for the betterment of the team this time around and helped his team redeem itself from its collapse in The Finals a season ago. The reigning back-to-back MVP in Stephen Curry, whose selflessness in welcoming a former MVP to form one of the most unguardable twosomes in NBA history, whose skills are only matched by his leadership and sacrifice. Finally, the newest Warrior champion Kevin Durant, whose decision of changing teams via free agency brought a lot of criticism from fans and many in the NBA circle, fit in right away; played the best all-around basketball capped it off with a spectacular finish in the 2017 NBA Finals that ended in a title.
The back-to-back-to-back Western Conference Champion Warriors were fueled by last year’s mentioned collapse in last season’s Finals that consisted of chase down block shot for the ages by LeBron James and a game-winning triple by Kyrie Irving in Game 7 of the Finals that ended with a 93-92 win. They finished this postseason with a 16-1 record, joining the 2001 Lakers, who went 15-1 and the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 12-1 as the only teams to suffer just one loss in their postseason runs. Their margin of victory of 13.5 this postseason the third best in a single postseason in NBA history.
The Warriors have the makings of dynasty and if it is anything like the Lakers of the 1950s that won five titles in six seasons, five titles in nine seasons in the 1980s or in the 2000s with five titles in 11 seasons; the Celtics with 11 titles in 13 seasons in the 1960s and the aforementioned Bulls with six titles in eight seasons in the 1990s, we as fans are in for more title parades like the one they had in downtown Oakland, CA on Thursday and opposing coaches are in for a lot of gray hairs in trying to slow this train down the next few years.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 6/12/17 9 p.m. Game 5 of 2017 NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors on ABC with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Doris Burke; 6/13/17 12 a.m. NBATV Live at the Finals Postgame with Matt Winer, Steve Smith, Brent Barry, Grant Hill, and David Aldridge; 6/13/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump,” on ESPN, presented by La Quinta Inns & Suites with Rachel Nichols, Amin Elhassan, Rasheed Wallace and Vince Carter; 6/13/17 news crawl on ESPN during 5 p.m.;;;; and  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

J-Speaks: Cavs Survive and Set Scoring and Three-Point Records

This past Wednesday night, the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers were minutes away from pulling within one game of tying the 2017 NBA Finals. Then, their opponent the Golden State Warriors hit them with an 11-0 run to close the game, gave them 118-113 victory and a 3-0 lead in The Finals, and pulled them to within one win of capturing their second title in the last three seasons. The Cavs though were in a similar pickle last season, trailing 3-1 and won the final three games of the series to capture the city’s first pro sports championship in 52 years a season ago. They started what they hope is something similar on Friday night and leading their record setting performance was their dynamic point guard and the two-time Finals MVP.
Led by the 40 points of All-Star lead guard Kyrie Irving and the second triple-double of this championship series by LeBron James of 31 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, the defending champions staved off elimination and beat the Warriors 137-116 to cut the series lead to 3-1 on Friday night.
“We have championship DNA,” James, whose ninth triple-double of his Finals career moved him past Hall of Famer and five-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers Earvin “Magic” Johnson for the most all-time said after the game.
“We showed that tonight. We just kept our composure. We shared the ball, we moved the ball and defensively we were physical. It’s one game.”
James also moved passed the great Michael Jordan (1,176) into third place on the all-time Finals scoring list at 1,206. Only Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,317) and Mr. Logo himself, Jerry West (1,679) have scored more in their Finals careers than “King James,” who also passed “His Airness (1,463)” for the most free-throws made in NBA postseason history with 1,467. Back in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals last month, James passed MJ to become the all-time leading scorer in postseason history, where he not has totaled 6,122 points.
The Cavs, who led from start to finish won this contest by giving the back-to-back-to-back Western Conference champions a taste of their own medicine.
Coming into Game 4 on Friday night, the Cavs were shooting just 24 percent on uncontested three-point shots in the Finals, compared to 51 percent in the first three rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they went 12-1.
They hit a Finals record 24 three-pointers in 45 tries, with seven of those triples coming in the first quarter, on the way to setting a NBA Finals record with 49 points, and they set an NBA Finals record with 86 points in the first half. They had 27 assists compared to the Warriors 26. They shot 52.9 percent from the floor on the night and held the Golden State to 44.8 percent from the floor as well as 11 for 39 from three-point range.
“We knew this team was beatable. We knew we could play better and this is the result you get when we play at our best,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said after the game.  
Three of the biggest reasons the Warriors won the first three games of the 2017 Finals 3-0 was the fact that Kevin Durant has been unstoppable; the “Splash Brothers” of reigning back-to-back league MVP Stephen Curry and his fellow All-Star running mate Klay Thompson have been hitting triples left and right and the supporting cast of the Warriors has been scoring better than “the others” of the Cavs.
Despite his worst shooting perform of his Finals career going just 9 for 22 from the field, including 2 for 9 from three-point range Durant led the Warriors with 35 points on the night, going 15 for 16 from the free throw line, but Thompson and Curry were held to a combined 27 points on 8 for 24 from the field, including 6 for 19 from distance.
While All-Star forward and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green had a strong game of 16 points and 14 rebounds, but shot 6 for 16 from the field, the Warriors supporting cast of ZaZa Pachulia, Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston combined for just 24 points.
“They played with their backs against the wall. They had a free swing at it and it was one of those nights where we just didn’t have anything clicking,” Curry said after the game. “Not going to overreact to one. Obviously, I can play better and want to play better and will play better.”
The Cavs’ “others,” consisting of All-Star forward Kevin Love, who has been up and down in these Finals had 23 points, going 7 for 14 from the floor, including 6 for 8 from three-point range. Starting center Tristan Thompson, who has been missing in action production wise, had just five points, but pulled down 10 boards, including four on the offensive glass. Starting shooting guard JR Smith, who had yet to score in double-figures in The Finals had his second strong game in a row with 15 points, going 5 for 9 from distance and veteran Richard Jefferson had eight points off the bench.
Perhaps the most underlining reason the Cavs really showed out on Friday night and defend their title at least for two more days is the fact that James’ teammates were upset by some comments that Green, the Warriors’ emotional leader made about how they were going to celebrate another title on the Cavs home floor like they did two years ago winning Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I didn’t hear it, but some of the other guys heard it and told me that they wanted to celebrate on our floor once again and they wanted to spray champagne in our locker rooms,” James said. “So, I just told guys, I didn’t stress anything besides just live in the moment.”
There was no better example of that then in a very chippy third quarter when a loose ball scramble concluded with two technical fouls being handed out; an acquaintance of James was escorted out of the arena by security, and after being called for fouling Love, it appeared that Green was called for his second technical foul, which means an automatic ejection from the game. As security came onto the floor to usher him off to the Warriors’ dressing room, the public addresser of “The Q” announced that a technical foul that was assessed to Green in the opening 24 minutes, was given to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. If that was not enough Pachulia was involved in another pile up of Warriors and Cavs players, and he delivered a couple of swipes to the groin area of Cavs’ swingman Iman Shumpert as the game officials John Goble, Mike Callahan and Marc Davis tried to restore order to the contest. Both Pachulia and Shumpert were assessed technical fouls.
The most exciting play that was basketball related and not WWF related that happened in the third period was when James was coming down the floor, faked Thompson right out of his shoes; threw a lob to the basket, caught and threw it down with two hands, reminiscent of what Hall of Famer and NBA analyst on NBA: The Jump weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN Tracy McGrady did in the 2002 NBA All-Star Game, although, he dunked it with one hand.
“I got caught in the air. So that’s the only thing I could think of. I didn’t want to travel. Just threw it off the glass and it went and got it,” James said about the play.  
While the Warriors dreams of becoming the first team to go undefeated in postseason is gone, their hopes of winning a title are not as we head for Game 5 back at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA on Monday night.
A win on their home floor would give them as mentioned earlier, their second Larry O’Brien Trophy in the last three seasons and their long quest for redemption after blowing a 3-1 series lead a season ago would be complete. Durant would have the one thing missing from his stellar career resume, a title, which he came to Golden State for back last summer.
Winning that title will not be easy though as the Cavs have momentum and history on their side. They won two of the three remaining games of last season’s Finals on Golden State’s floor, including the Game 7.
The difference from last season to what might take place Monday night, Curry is healthy, unlike last year’s Finals; Green will be on the floor for this close out game unlike last season when he was suspended and the Warriors have Durant this go around. On top of that, of the 126 teams that have had a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven in postseason history has ever lost.
No team in Finals history had never lost when trailing 3-1 and the Cavs overcame that and most of that team will be playing in Oakland on Monday night at 9 p.m. on ABC.
“We want to try to put ourselves in position to play another game and we did that tonight and hopefully we can do that it Monday night,” James said.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of 6/9/17 3 p.m. edition of “NBA: The Jump” on ESPN with Rachel Nichols, Mike Miller, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, and Zach Lowe; 6/10/17 11 p.m. edition WABC “Eyewitness News,” with Sandra Bookman, Joe Torres, Jeff Smith with Weather and Anthony Johnson with Sports;;; and