CLEVELAND: There were moments on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena in which Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver resembled Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
If you watched Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, which the Cavaliers won 111-102 over the Boston Celtics, then you saw Korver playing defense and swatting shots like those retired big men did during their NBA careers.
If you didn’t see the game, find a highlight package because Korver, who is 37, recorded three blocked shots on Celtics high-flying guard Jaylen Brown, who is 21.
“Jose [Calderon] said something to me about shaking the finger [like Mutombo use to after blocks],” Korver said with a smile after the Cavs evened the best-of-seven series that will shift back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Korver finished Monday with 14 points, four rebounds and three blocks. He made 2-of-2 2-point shots, 2-of-5 3-pointers, 4-of-4 free throws and consistently challenged Brown.
“He’s a tough matchup for me,” Korver said of Brown. “He’s a young guy, super athletic. I’m just trying to play him smart and trying to take away his angles and was fortunate to get a couple there.”
Korver’s first block came with 1:54 to go in the first quarter and led to a 3-pointer by George Hill nine seconds later.
Korver’s second rejection occurred with 11:20 remaining in the second quarter and, five seconds later, Korver made three free throws after being fouled in the act of shooting a shot from long range.
“I’ve loved Kyle ever since we made the trade to get him here,” said LeBron James, who finished with 44 points, five rebounds and three assists in 42 minutes. “I have no idea how Griff [former Cavs general manager David Griffin] was able to pull that off still to this day. He’s just a true professional.
“There’s not many of us ’03 [draft] class guys still around. I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic, and you see [Korver] every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age. I think it’s just always keeping his body in the right position.”
Korver’s final block took place with 4:54 left in the second quarter when he poked a Brown shot out of bounds.
“Kyle was great for us,” Cavs center Tristan Thompson said. “I think in the post with Jaylen Brown, that’s a tough coverage. Jaylen Brown has worked on his game in the post when he has a mismatch. He’s got some good moves down there. Kyle walled him up, stayed strong and then jumped him, changed his shots. Kyle was huge for us tonight in the second quarter defensively, getting us going. It’s a full team effort, and we’re going to need everyone to step up and be huge for us in Game 5.”
Korver, who played 25 minutes Monday, added another memorable play toward the end of the third quarter with the Cavs up 89-74 when he sprinted down the court and dove on the floor for a loose ball that Celtics guard Terry Rozier poked out of bounds.
“That’s a guy that’s all about winning, and whatever it takes to win,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “You very rarely see a 36-year-old running full speed against Marcus Smart, against Rozier and diving for the loose ball and laying it all on the line. Kyle is just a pro’s pro, man. He does everything right.
“Every night he gives it 100-percent effort. … The veteran guys that we’ve had that have come through here — like Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and James Jones — they know what it takes and understand what it takes to win.”
Lue then was told that Kover actually is 37 years old.
“He’s 37 now?” Lue said. “God dang. We’re playing him too many minutes. We need him, though. We need him.”
Lue’s comments drew laughter from media members. Korver chuckled as he reflected on the dive onto the floor as he ran alongside Rozier, Smart and Marcus Morris.
“I was trying,” Korver said. “I’m going to be hurting [Tuesday]. My back is a little sore, my elbow is a little sore, but this is fun basketball. It’s the playoffs. We’re at home. The crowd was rocking and it just kind of takes over you sometimes. So, yeah, whatever it takes.
“I thought a lot of guys stepped up [Monday]. I thought Larry [Nance Jr.] was great. When Kevin [Love] got in a little foul trouble I thought Larry came in and gave us a huge spark.”
James also marveled at how Korver defended Brown.
“He’s guarding Jaylen Brown, one of the most athletic wings we have in our league,” James said. “He’s 21 years old. Jaylen can fall on the ground 10 times and probably spring up and just as likely never feel it. I don’t remember Kyle falling too much like that. I’ve got to keep his body as fresh as possible.
“But, listen, he’s doing whatever it takes to try to help us win, with the blocks, with the strips. Obviously his shot-making is very key for our team as well, but it’s just the intangibles he’s doing for us defensively that has put him in a position to be on the floor.”
Korver said the Cavs team which played the first two games in Boston “wasn’t us” as he thought about the two double-digit losses that preceded two double-digit wins in Cleveland.
“That was really poor, poor basketball on our end, so we’ve come home and we’ve taken care of business,” Korver said. “We got to win one there, though, if we want to win the series, and I think hopefully we can take a lot of what we’ve done here the last couple games where we’ve had better movement, better body movement, better ball movement, screens, passing and our defense has been a lot more aggressive.”
Lue said the message is to “have the same approach going into Boston.”
“I think playing with more speed and more pace, pushing the basketball,” Lue said. “I think taking care of the basketball is the most important, especially on the road.”
Added Celtics coach Brad Stevens: “It’s the best two out of three to go to the NBA Finals. Doesn’t get better than that.”
Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers evened the series 2-2 with a 111-102 victory over the Boston Celtics Monday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Game 5 is Wednesday night at TD Garden.
1. LeBron James scored 44 points, his sixth 40-point game of the playoffs, which is the most in the NBA in a single postseason since Allen Iverson had six in 2001. Now James is going after Jerry West (eight in 1965) and Michael Jordan (seven in 1989), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
2. The Cavs improved to 5-1 when James hits the 40-point threshold.
3. The Cavs had a 50-38 edge in points in the paint and James scored 26 there, tied for second-most in his career in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Celtics hit 19 for 40 in the paint and missed 15 layups/dunks, according to the same site.
4. James and Tristan Thompson looked for mismatches, James frequently going after 6-foot-1, 195-pound guard Terry Rozier on switches.
5. “Rozier is a tough fighter, tough competitor,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “But if you try to get switches, I guess he’s the one you want to try to go up with Kevin and Bron because the other four guys are the same size. They’re strong. They’re physical. We’ve got to just get to it and then we’ve got to make the right plays out of it.”
6. Lue had to be prodded to talk about it that much for fear of giving away some nugget of strategy. James also offered little.
7. “This league is all predicated on trying to find mismatches,” James said. “We’ve been very successful the last two games with doing that. Boston was very successful the first two games with doing that.”
8. Rozier explained what the Cavs were doing differently.
9. “Instead of having three guys on the opposite side, they always have someone at the basket so we’re in scramble mode. We just got to have better communication on the back side,” Rozier said.
10. While it seemed to be a key to the outcome, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said James “is going to go after whoever he wants to go after.”
11. “One the things that sometimes we all get consumed with is the points he scores on that switch. If it’s eight but it keeps you from rotating and you can still guard the 3-point line, then sometimes you just have to pick your poison,” Stevens said. “It’s obviously been more effective to switch than not, but at times you have to make that up and change that up, just by the numbers.
12. “He’s the best in the game at evaluating the court and figuring out what he wants and where he wants it. The thing about it is that you just have to battle. You just have to make it as hard as possible, because he’s going to find a matchup that he ultimately wants. You have to not let the other guys go off, which we did again a little bit, and then make sure you make it as tough on him as possible.”
13. The other guys that hurt the Celtics were J.R. Smith, who scored nine of his 13 points in the first half, George Hill, who scored six of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, Tristan Thompson, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots, and Kyle Korver.
14. Korver, 37, did it all for the Cavs with 14 points (4 of 7 field goals, 2 of 5 3-pointers), four rebounds and three blocked shots, all off Jaylen Brown. Korver spent the night on Brown, the 21-year-old guard who is the Celtics’ leading scorer in the series (20.3 points per game).
15. “He’s a tough matchup for me,” Korver said of Brown. “He’s a young guy, super athletic. I’m just trying to play him smart and trying to take away his angles and was fortunate to get a couple there.”
16. Tristan Thompson praised Korver for the way he handled Brown’s savvy moves.
17. “In the post with Jaylen Brown, that’s a tough coverage,” Thompson said. “Jaylen Brown has worked on his game in the post when he has a mismatch. He’s got some good moves down there. Kyle walled him up, stayed strong and then jumped him, changed his shots. Kyle was huge for us tonight in the second quarter defensively, getting us going.”
18. But Korver’s best play came in the final minute of the third quarter with the Cavs up by 15. The Cavs were trying to retain possession off a jump ball between George Hill and Aron Baynes.
19. “We were trying to steal the tip, it was me and Bron on the backside,” Korver said. “It backfired on us in Game 1 because we were both on the other side and they tipped it to Jaylen Brown and he went and scored a basket. But they were tipping back and I think Bron saw me going. I was going, but I wasn’t going that far. I was just going to go try to steal the tip and he hit it all the way back. So I just took off after it. I felt Terry (Rozier) run right past me. I was like, ‘Aw, I’ve got to dive for this thing.’
20. “I felt so incredibly old and slow when I dove after that ball, but the heart was in the right spot.”
21. Thanks to Korver, who raced downcourt towards the Cavs’ basket, the Cavs kept possession. Stevens mentioned the end of the first quarter, when the Cavs went on a 13-3 run, and the end of the third, when the Cavs outscored the Celtics 9-4, as the two points in the game that hurt the Celtics most.
22. The latter surge included an and-one by Larry Nance Jr. and a steal that led to two free throws from Nance on the next possession.
23. Revere High School product Nance is one of two Cavs whose roles were minor when the postseason began who are making themselves indispensable. The other is Tristan Thompson, who did not get in to Games 2, 3 and 5 against the Pacers in the first round, but started and played a crucial role in Game 7 with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Against the Celtics, Thompson has started the last three games.
24. On Monday, Thompson played the second most minutes (38:24) of any Cav, trailing only James (41:53). Thompson was so crucial for the Cavs defensively, Lue could have played him 48.
25. Thompson scored 13 points, hitting 6 of 10 field goals, with 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
26. “You have somebody like Tristan, you’ve been to three straight Finals and he doesn’t play, it’s tough. He could have given in, but he stayed the course,” Lue said. “He continued to work on his body, work on his game. Called his number in Game 7 (against Indiana) and he was ready to go, and the rest is history. He was great in the Toronto series. Tonight, just being physical, rebounding the basketball and doing a good job on Al (Horford). We need him to continue to do that.” Horford scored 15 points, but made 5 of 13 field goals.
27. Nance scored seven points in 101/2 minutes with three rebounds, an assist and two blocked shots.
28. Nance sat out two games in the semifinal sweep of Toronto as his playoff minutes dwindled, but Lue said Nance has earned his trust.
29. “Yes, I trust him. His verticality and blocked shots at the rim, his pick-and-roll ability and the ability to roll and create — if they pull in, we get threes; if they don’t, he gets lobs and dunks or the pass for finishes,” Lue said. “So just his effort, being able to rebound the basketball, bring it out on the dribble. He does a lot of things at the 5 position.”
30. Lue credits some of Nance’s playoff maturation to Thompson. Thompson is 27, Nance 25.
31. “If you watch during timeouts, Tristan is always talking to Larry telling him different things that he sees and what to do. I think it’s kind of like a big brother,” Lue said. “They’re around the same age, but Tristan has been there for him. Even when Tristan wasn’t playing, he was still there talking to Larry trying to get him through and what it takes and what you have to do. They have a great relationship, and those two working hand in hand has been good for us.
32. “The reason why he didn’t play was it was hard to play two centers off the bench. When Tristan is starting, Larry is getting his opportunity and he’s making the most of it.”
33. Thompson loved what he saw from Nance, especially in terms of energy.
34. “Things that might not show on the scoreboard, just in terms of him defensively when he’s switching on [Jayson] Tatum, forcing him to second-guess his moves,” Thompson said. “Marcus Smart, messing with him and getting strips. He was huge tonight.
35. “Me and Larry work out together before and after practice, built that relationship and chemistry. I’m happy for him. He’s a really good player. Whether he’s in the game or I’m in the game, we’re going to bring that energy, that toughness and athleticism.”
36. Nance’s contributions were even more important as Kevin Love was plagued by foul trouble and scored just nine points on 3 of 12 shooting. But he pulled down 11 rebounds, helping the Cavs to a 47-37 edge, and had three assists. In the fourth quarter, Love scored five points with six rebounds and played all 12 minutes, allowing James to rest to start the period.
37. “Tristan was huge. I think we’d really been cleaning up the glass. I tried to get myself going there in the fourth quarter at least because nothing was going on the offensive end for me, so just tried to clean up the glass and hold it down on that end,” Love said.
38. “It was tough. I only had three shots at halftime. I had five fouls with seven minutes to go in the third quarter. Just tough to get anything going tonight. But I thought a lot of guys stepped up. Obviously Bron was huge, Tristan Thompson huge. Lot of guys hit big shots. Kyle Korver again. G-Hill was big for us. All across the board guys stepping up.”
39. Thompson and Lue questioned the Cavs’ toughness after Game 2 as the Celtics took a 2-0 lead. Korver has seen the difference since.
40. “I just thought we played like a different team, to be honest,” Korver said. “Those first two games in Boston, that wasn’t us. That was really poor, poor basketball on our end. So, we’ve come home and we’ve taken care of business here. We got to win one there, though, if we want to win the series.
41. “Hopefully we can take a lot of what we’ve done here the last couple games — we’ve had better movement, better body movement, better ball movement, screens, passing, our defense has been a lot more aggressive. So, we take that mentality to Boston and try to get Game 5.”
42. Lue’s message going back to TD Garden, where the Celtics are 9-0 in the playoffs, will be sticking with this physical style and eliminating turnovers. The Cavs lost 19 in Game 4, leading to 19 Celtics’ points as James committed seven and Love six.
43. That issue was seemingly cleaned up in the Raptors series, but the Cavs are averaging 14.75 turnovers per game against the Celtics and 12.8 in 15 postseason games.
44. James wasn’t making any predictions about Wednesday.
“We don’t know what we’re going to see in Game 5. Only the game gods know that,” James said. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. We know their fans are going to be very energetic. But we have to just have our same mindset we had when we came home for these two games. If our minds are there, we put ourselves in a position to be victorious.”
45. Hayden Grove of Cleveland.com spotted the cutest moment of the night in the post-game locker room. James was FaceTiming with daughter Zhuri when she asked to see Love. Someone handed Love the phone and Zhuri said, “Good game.” To that, Love responded, “Not me, that was your dad.”
Cleveland Cavaliers guard George Hill said his team needs to clean up some mistakes from Game 4 to help them in Boston on Wednesday for Game 5. The Cavs have tied the Eastern Finals 2-2 and head back to Boston.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James scored 44 points in the team’s 111-102 victory over the Boston Celtics to tie the NBA Eastern Finals at two games each. During the course of the action, he broke another post-season record, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most field goals in the post-season.
Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver gave his normal offensive effort with 14 points, but amped his defensive game up in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Finals, blocking three shots and forcing several turnovers as the Cavs beat the Boston Celtics 111-102. The series returns to Boston tied at 2-2.
CLEVELAND: The Eastern Conference Finals are even through four games.
Will a road team earn a victory?
The Boston Celtics protected their home court in the two games in Boston, and the Cavaliers followed suit in their two home games in Cleveland.
LeBron James played the role of leading scorer once again on Monday night as the Cavs beat the Celtics 111-102 at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.
The series shifts back to Beantown for Game 5 on Wednesday night.
“This feels great,” Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. said in a post-game interview on the court. “This was a must-win game. … This is now a three-game series.”
James scored 44 points in 42 minutes. He made 17-of-28 field-goal attempts and 9-of-13 free-throw attempts.
James also had five rebounds and three assists in front of a sellout crowd of 20,562 that included retired football players Joe Thomas and Maurice Clarett, Browns top draft picks Denzel Ward and Baker Mayfield, and musicians 2 Chainz and John Oates.
James, playing in his 232nd NBA playoff game, also passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,356) for most field goals made in playoff history. James will enter Game 5 on Wednesday in Boston with 2,368 playoff field goals, and he is also the all-time leader in playoff scoring with 6,668 points.
Kyle Korver (14 points), George Hill (13 points) and Tristan Thompson (13 points, 12 rebounds) also reached double figures for the Cavs. Kevin Love totaled nine points and 11 rebounds, J.R. Smith scored nine points and Nance Jr. had seven points.
The Celtics finished the evening with all five of their starters in double figures — Jaylen Brown (25 points), Jayson Tatum (17 points), Terry Rozier (16 points), Al Horford (15 points) and Marcus Morris (10 points).
The teams traded baskets in the opening five minutes before the Cavs went on a 10-0 run with a layup by Thompson, a 3-pointer by Smith and a layup, free throw and jumper by James to lead 19-10 with 4:54 left in the first quarter.
The Cavs’ advantage reached 34-18 at end of the first with James scoring 11 points and Smith making two 3-pointers in the quarter.
The first quarter featured scoring from eight different Cavalier players, and a highlight-reel play when Love tossed a length of the court two-hand chest pass to James who caught the ball over Smart and Brown and dropped in a layup.
Korver was active in the first minute of the second quarter, getting his second blocked shot of the game and made three free throws after being fouled while hoisting up a long-range shot. Korver’s three free throws gave the Cavs a 37-18 edge at 11:15.
The Celtics trimmed their deficit to single digits with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter with Rozier, Morris and Brown leading the charge, but the Cavs remained composed and took a 68-53 halftime lead with James and Korver making an assortment of shots. James and Korver led all scorers in the first half with 22 points and 14 points, respectively.
The Cavs struggled a bit in the third quarter and the fourth quarter, and the Celtics once again got to a manageable deficit with Tatum, Horford and Rozier playing key roles.
Tatum compiled an 11-point third quarter, but the Cavs took an 89-76 lead into the fourth quarter. The Cavs put together a 7-2 run in the final two minutes of the third quarter with Nance making a layup and three free throws and James converting a layup.
Brown posted a 15-point fourth quarter, but the Cavs stayed out in front with James making the biggest impact. The 6-foot-8 standout made a layup to make it 104-93, a 3-pointer to make it 109-95 and a fadeaway jumper to make it 111-98.
CLEVELAND: There was no avoiding the feeling that surrounded Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The feeling that whoever claimed Monday’s battle between the Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics is headed to the NBA Finals.
It is a matter of confidence and momentum. A matter of the Celtics’ 1-6 road record getting into their heads. A matter of the Cavs’ Tyronn Lue outcoaching the Celtics’ Brad Stevens as Lue discovered the right lineup and rotations.
After the Cavs claimed a 111-102 victory Monday night in Quicken Loans Arena to even the series 2-2 going into Wednesday’s Game 5 in Boston, all the pressure falls on the Celtics.
The young and for the most part untested Celtics.
While Boston’s average age of 25.68 years is fifth-youngest in the playoffs, the lone starter from last year’s East finals team is center Al Horford. Three others who helped carry the Celtics a year ago — Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley — were traded in the offseason.
Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum had never started a playoff game until April 15.
Yes, the Celtics are 37-0 in series when they’ve led 2-0. Yes, they still have home-court advantage and are 9-0 in TD Garden this postseason.
But the Cavs have been there before. They’ve overcome a 2-0 deficit twice in franchise history — in the 2007 East finals against Detroit and in the 2016 Finals against Golden State. Both of those teams had LeBron James.
Now the Celtics not only have to fend off doubt, but they also have to win two out of three against James, whose eighth consecutive trip to the Finals is on the line. James has played the last two games like he wants to add to his legacy, wants his ninth career Finals appearance.
James was masterful again Monday, when he poured in 44 points and passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the league’s all-time leader in playoff field goals made.
On a night when Kevin Love was plagued by foul trouble and shot just 3-of-12 from the field, James took matters into his own hands at times. The Cavs also hurt themselves with 19 turnovers (seven by James and six by Love) that led to 19 Celtics points and went 21-of-29 from the free-throw line.
But in the second half when the Celtics seemed on the verge of taking command, the Cavs came up with the big baskets they needed, whether from James or Larry Nance Jr. or George Hill or Love or Tristan Thompson.
Largely overlooked has been Lue’s edge over Stevens, who has the word “genius” attached to his name more often than not. He carries no such smugness, with one member of the media jokingly using the “G” word to Stevens during the pregame news conference. The fact that the focus of the series when it comes to the coaches is on Stevens has to rankle Lue.
Stevens is undoubtedly one of the league’s brightest stars, but he has not won a championship. Lue directed the Cavs to the title in 2016 when he didn’t even want the job after David Blatt was fired.
The series changed in Game 2 when Lue elected to start Tristan Thompson at center, even though the Cavs lost by 13. They discovered the key.
Lue realized they had to use their size and muscle to start pounding the Celtics. The Cavs — the second-oldest team (28.33) in the playoffs behind the Houston Rockets (28.76) — started playing like the big, bad veterans they are. They got clingy, making the Celtics feel them as Lue had urged.
Lue becomes more involved in the defense during the postseason. But his adjustments seem to improve as a series progresses. Stevens may be the master of the moment, but Lue sees the bigger picture, analyzes the situation and changes the matchups.
Stevens isn’t afraid to take chances and usually sees them pay off, like sticking with Marcus Morris on Monday when he got in foul trouble. Stevens has directed a team that was written off after season-ending injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward and made them believe. He helped the Celtics use the national perception that no one thought they had a chance in the playoffs to give them strength. He built a balanced team.
But ultimately, the Celtics missed the cold-blooded, deadeye Irving, just as the Cavs have all season.
Game 4 brought an uneasy feeling for fans for much of the game as the Cavs’ turnovers kept the Celtics within striking distance. But afterward came affirmation that the Cavs had solved the series’ puzzle and James is all in with it.
It’s certainly not over as the Celtics return to TD Garden, where they went 27-14 during the regular season. But with Lue’s plan and James fully engaged, winning one out of two there doesn’t seem so daunting.
ROCKY RIVER: Myles Garrett wants to maximize his opportunities to make a game-changing difference for the Browns, and he’s confident he’ll become a fixture in the lineup because he’s healthier and stronger than he was a year ago.
“I wanted to get in better condition, so I can be out there and make plays, create turnovers,” Garrett said Monday during the 19th annual Cleveland Browns Foundation Golf Tournament at Westwood Country Club.
Garrett, 6-foot-4½, explained he still weighs about 272 pounds, but he has added muscle and reduced fat this offseason.
“The last game of the season, I was going most of the game,” Garrett said. “I think I took five, maybe 10 plays off. That’s my goal — to be on the field as much as possible, so I can make as big of an impact as possible.”
To be more precise, Garrett played 52 of 59 snaps when the Browns fell 28-24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17 and finished 0-16.
Speaking of the Steelers, Garrett has yet to face quarterback Ben Roethlisberger since the young defensive end vowed to “chop him down” after the Browns drafted him first overall last year.
Garrett sat out the first four games last season with a high-ankle sprain, so he missed a chance to play against Roethlisberger in Week 1. Then in the season finale, the Steelers rested Roethlisberger for the playoffs.
Barring injury, Garrett will finally get a crack at Roethlisberger when the Browns host the Steelers on Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener.
“Oh, thank God,” Garrett said.
Of course, Garrett said he “absolutely” still plans to take down Roethlisberger.
“I’m a man of my word,” Garrett said. “So hopefully I get to meet him on the field and off the field.”
Garrett had seven sacks in 11 games last season, when he was plagued by injuries. After playing through a high-ankle sprain during the second half of his final season at Texas A&M University, he suffered a lateral foot sprain in June in mandatory minicamp. Then he missed four games with the high-ankle sprain he suffered in practice a few days before the opener. Later in the season, he missed one more game with a concussion.
According to pro-football-reference.com, Garrett played 518 of 1,068 snaps (48.5 percent) last season. Ten defenders played more, including two defensive linemen: tackle Trevon Coley (656) and end Carl Nassib (643).
“Being healthy this year, it’s really about my confidence,” Garrett said. “Being able to be more mobile, not have anything hold me back, it’s helped me, not only bring me confidence, but bring my teammates confidence knowing that I’m always going to be out there, always going to be working and there’s not going to be any hindrances for this year.”
The Browns hope that holds true.
They passed on North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb with the fourth overall pick in last month’s draft and took Ohio State cornerback and Nordonia High School graduate Denzel Ward instead. The thinking behind the decision is Garrett and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, the 32nd overall pick in 2016 who missed the final six games of last season with a broken foot, will deliver the pass-rush production the Browns seek, so a shutdown cornerback was a greater need.
When asked about Chubb before the draft, Garrett said he hoped to continue to form a tandem with Ogbah, who posted four sacks in 10 games last season.
And Garrett conceded Monday he felt relieved when the Browns picked Ward instead of Chubb.
“Going with a guy like Chubb, he’s a good player, but you have to rebuild that chemistry, and once you become friends, it’s just something that it’s hard to build with another guy,” Garrett said. “It’s not certain that will happen every time and I feel like me and Emmanuel just have something going that we can take to a higher level next year, knowing that we’re both healthy and we’re both ready to get after it and have special years.”
The Browns drafted a defensive end, though. They picked Chad Thomas out of the University of Miami in the third round (No. 67 overall).
Which is all good in Garrett’s mind, as long as he gets to play as much as he desires.
“I mean, [Thomas is] all right,” Garrett said with a laugh. “He won’t be coming in on my side. I’m not coming out of the game.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected]. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/abj.sports.
ROCKY RIVER: The Browns hope HBO’s hit documentary series Hard Knocks will shine a national spotlight on the franchise toiling to reverse its fortunes.
The exposure could be positive, but the show also presents potential problems. If members of the team change their behavior to play to the cameras, it could be a distraction.
As a leader of the organization, quarterback Tyrod Taylor wants to steer teammates away from the pitfalls of Hard Knocks, which will feature the Browns in its 13th season with the first of five hourlong episodes airing Aug. 7.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a team to come together. That’s what I look at training camp as,” Taylor said Monday during the 19th annual Cleveland Browns Foundation Golf Tournament at Westwood Country Club. “Of course, [it’s about] competing, but it’s another opportunity for us to come together.
“As far as the cameras and stuff being there, the focus for me is that it doesn’t take away from preparation for the guys daily. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think guys are excited about having them around, but it’s not anything that’s going to take our focus away from the actual games. So as long as guys can keep focused and go to work every day with the right mindset, that we’re getting ready for a season, then I think it’ll be a good thing.”
Taylor plans to talk to teammates about his concerns.
“I definitely have to be vocal about that as far as just making sure everyone stays focused,” he said. “We’re planning on a big season, and we’re going to need everyone focused and dialed in each and every day that we come to work.”
Provided everything is handled the right way, Taylor likes the idea of Hard Knocks showcasing the talent and personalities of Browns players.
Left guard Joel Bitonio views the show in a similar light.
“I know a few guys who have done it before, and they said the cameras are there, but they’re not really that intrusive,” Bitonio said. “So I’m excited. I enjoy watching the show. It wasn’t my first choice, like, ‘Hey, let’s be on Hard Knocks.’ But it’s going to happen, and it’ll be interesting to see. It’s HBO, so if I cuss or something like that, we’ll be OK, so I don’t have to filter myself too bad.”
Defensive end Myles Garrett vowed to not alter the way he acts while cameras follow him.
“I’m not going to change anything,” he said. “Whether it’s my voice or how I talk, who I am, they’re just going to get all of that. If they don’t like it, well, too bad.”
No. 1 picks meet
Garrett, the top selection in last year’s draft, is eager to welcome Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the top choice in this year’s draft, to the NFL by getting after him in practice. Quarterbacks are strictly prohibited from being hit in practices, but defenders can still get in their faces and agitate them.
“You’ve got to kind of show him how things are, show him the ropes a little bit,” Garrett said. “Once he comes out stronger and better, then we’ll know he’ll be ready for the grind and the bright lights.”
What advice does Garrett have for Mayfield about being the No. 1 pick?
“The biggest expectations you should have on your shoulders are your own and that you should keep focus and keep tunnel vision,” Garrett said. “Nobody else should be a distraction. It’s all about what you do on Sundays. It’s not about any media attention or the commercials or anything else outside of that. All of that will come as long as you work on the field and have success, win games.”
Garrett explained he hasn’t had the talk with Mayfield yet, but he hopes to do so.
Although coach Hue Jackson hasn’t ruled out moving Bitonio from left guard to left tackle, Bitonio doesn’t expect it to happen. Shon Coleman and rookie second-round pick Austin Corbett are the main competitors for the starting left tackle job that future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas held for the past 11 seasons before retiring in March.
“I know every game I’ve ever gone out to I’ve played left guard. Every practice I’ve played left guard. I don’t think I’ve taken a snap at another position since I’ve been here,” Bitonio said. “So left guard is my home right now. I’m a team guy, though. Anything they need I’m willing to give a try, but I think right now the plan is to find a guy to play left tackle, and I’m going to stick right at left guard.”
Some of the players who dealt with season-ending injuries last year won’t practice Tuesday when organized team activities begin.
Jackson said he doesn’t think strongside linebacker Jamie Collins (torn MCL) will practice, but he added defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (broken foot) “probably will.”
Jackson said cornerback Howard Wilson (broken kneecap) “should be pretty close” to practicing, but “he’s somebody we’ll monitor.”
As for the injuries that kept cornerback Denzel Ward (hip flexor) and wide receiver Antonio Callaway (toe) from finishing rookie minicamp earlier this month, Jackson said, “Both of those guys should be fine.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected]. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/abj.sports.
ROCKY RIVER: As Tyrod Taylor walked into the movie theater inside Strongsville’s SouthPark Mall to see A Quiet Place last month on draft night, he learned the buzz surrounding the Browns’ quarterback situation would become infinitely louder.
Coach Hue Jackson had called Taylor to notify him the Browns were drafting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield first overall.
“I didn’t have necessarily a reaction or anything,” Taylor said Monday during the 19th annual Cleveland Browns Foundation Golf Tournament at Westwood Country Club. “I appreciate [Jackson] calling. My mindset doesn’t change. It’s not going to change.
“I welcome [Mayfield] to the team, but my mindset when I first came into the league is prepare each and every day as the starter and continue to keep pushing yourself.”
Jackson said he thought it was important to call Taylor and explain the team’s thinking.
“As I said when we brought him here, he’s our starting quarterback,” Jackson said. “Our quarterback should know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish and do, and he’s still the starter. I wanted him to know we’re going to bring Baker aboard, that Baker will compete but, at the same time, I wanted to make sure he knew he had my support, just as Baker has my support, just as every quarterback on our team has my support.”
The Browns plan to start Taylor when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium, but Mayfield has vowed to compete for the job in hopes of forcing the franchise to alter its strategy.
“He’s a competitor, as well as myself,” said Taylor, who introduced himself to Mayfield in the office of quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese shortly after the draft. “I think that’s what drives us. That’s what gets us to the point that we’re at now in our career. [Mayfield promising to compete for the job] doesn’t faze me. I’ve been put in a number of situations throughout my career, and I’m going to continue to keep being the same person and continue to keep, I guess you could say, proving people wrong.”
Taylor is still motivated by the fact that 10 quarterbacks were drafted in 2011 before the Baltimore Ravens picked him in the sixth round (No. 180 overall). After spending four seasons as a backup with the Ravens, he signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent in 2015 and became their starter. He went 22-21 in that role the past three years and helped the Bills end their 17-year playoff drought last season. Only two of the quarterbacks selected ahead of Taylor seven years ago are NFL starters: the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (No. 1 overall) and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton (No. 35 overall).
In March, General Manager John Dorsey traded a third-round pick (No. 65 overall) to the Bills for Taylor in an effort to give the Browns an experienced quarterback who could help them return to respectability after they went 1-15 and 0-16 the past two seasons.
“I was brought here to help win games and to turn around the organization,” said Taylor, who’s set to make $16 million this year and become an unrestricted free agent in March. “As far as the underdog mentality, yes, you can always say that’s always going to drive me.
“What drove me every day was remembering my mom and my parents’ faces and the feeling that I had on draft day, not being happy about that. So I’m going to continue to keep pushing, continue to keep working the way I do. [I’m] ready to take my game to the next level. I think that I’ve been able to take steps in the right direction each year that I’ve been able to play the game. So I’m excited about the opportunity that I have here. There’s so much talent on this team and guys that are in the right mindset.”
Speaking of mentality, Jackson said Taylor’s background makes him well equipped to handle the presence of Mayfield.
“Everybody else is creating all of the [Mayfield] buzz,” Jackson said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think Baker Mayfield is the future of this organization and a tremendous football player. But at the same time, he’s never played a game and never won a game in the National Football League. Tyrod has, so that’s the road we’re going to travel right now.
“I think [Taylor is well equipped because he has] been an underdog himself all of his life. I think people have always counted him out and people have always chased better, and he’s always proven otherwise. So I think he’ll get an opportunity.”
Jackson rejected the notion that the quarterback pecking order could somehow be influenced by HBO’s Hard Knocks chronicling training camp this summer.
“It’s not going to change because the show’s there,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that’s going to be our focus as a football team. Our focus will be to have a great training camp and get better and be the best football team we can be. It won’t be about the cameras. I’ve been a part of [Hard Knocks as the running backs coach of the Bengals in 2013], and it wasn’t about that then, so I don’t think it will be about that now.”
Veterans and rookies will begin practicing together when the Browns start organized team activities Tuesday. There won’t be a bona fide competition for the starting quarterback job unless Mayfield rallies enough to create one.
“You never know,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “I mean, a lot of teams have planned to not start guys and they end up starting guys, but we’re in a good position right there — the best position I’ve had at quarterback since I’ve been here — with Tyrod and what he showed me so far. I’m 100 percent behind that. You know me, I’ll block [for] whoever’s back there, but as of right now, we’re preparing for Tyrod to be back there, and he’s acting like it, too. He’s QB1 right now.
“[Taylor is] a stud, man. Everything he does, on and of the field, he works his tail off. When I think of quarterback in the NFL, that’s what he does. … He’s putting in the time, he has a quiet confidence about himself and once he gets on the field, he has command of that huddle. It’s really refreshing to be around a guy like this. You know he’s doing everything in his power to be as prepared as he can be.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected]. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/abj.sports.
INDEPENDENCE: LeBron James expressed his appreciation Monday for fellow St. Vincent-St. Mary alumnus Aaron Carey’s fundraising campaign to erect a statue of the Cavaliers star in Akron.
Carey recently started a GoFundMe page called “LeBron James Statue to Akron” in hopes of raising $1 million for a memorial designed by sculptor Omri Amrany.
Asked if he was flattered by the proposal, James said: “Absolutely. First of all, thank you. It would be cool, not only for myself, but for my family and all the people that had anything to do with this journey thus far. It’s appreciative even of the thought.”
The preliminary design has James wearing his first edition Nikes and his No. 23 high school jersey as he goes in for a one-handed dunk.
James said he didn’t have a pose in mind for the statue.
“Nah,” he said, laughing. “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t have a particular pose in mind. Like I said, I think it’s the thought that counts, it’s pretty cool.”
Now a Columbus resident, Carey is a former member of a state championship team at St. V-M, and his brother played AAU basketball with James. Several sites are under consideration for the statue.
Four-time league Most Valuable Player James spoke at a shootaround at Cleveland Clinic Courts before Monday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena.
Taking his shot
Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson made the most of his time on the court in Game 3 after the game was already well in hand against the Celtics.
“It felt good. It came late in the game. I was just trying to find a rhythm any time I get an opportunity,” Clarkson said.
He played 18 minutes in Game 3 after not playing in Game 2. He made 3-of-11 shots and all three were 3-pointers. He believes those looks can eventually help him as long as the Cavs remain in the playoffs.
“Seeing shots go in is always a good feeling,” Clarkson said. “So, definitely getting those opportunities and when I’m on the court, it’s always just basically shooting it with confidence. The more looks I get, I feel like they will go in.”
Clarkson said he’s adjusting to limited minutes in the Eastern finals.
“I mean, it is what it is. Coach is making decisions. I’m here trying to win,” he said. “So, if I’m sitting on the sideline, I’m cheering my teammates on. I’m in the game still just watching and learning and when I get the opportunity to get on the court, I got to be ready.”
He’s learned something already in the postseason. He’s being defended differently, especially those first two series.
“They were hard showing and doing different stuff I didn’t see throughout the year,” he said. “So, it’s all been a kind of learning process for me.”
An old friend visits
There are reasons animals are used for therapy.
In many cases, they tend to bring out the best qualities in people, especially dogs.
The Cavs received a visit from a familiar canine prior to Monday night’s Game 4 when Remington, the University of North Carolina’s training room and therapy dog, paid a visit.
The last time Remington hung out with the Cavs along with the UNC baseball team was during an overnight visit on the second night of a back-to-back in Charlotte, N.C.
He had a positive effect on at least one Cavalier — J.R. Smith, who bonded with the dog. Smith came off the bench against the Hornets that night to score 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Then acting coach Larry Drew even credited Remington’s presence to Smith’s effort, according to reports.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who reportedly had considered making changes, treated information regarding his starting lineup as if it were a state secret prior to Game 4.
“By the NBA rules, we’ll have our starting lineup at 20 minutes [before tipoff] when I give it to the officials,” Stevens said as he toyed with the media.
When asked to clarify, he replied: “We will start five people. I promise.”
After playing coy, Stevens stood pat with the same starting five of Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier.
Browns first-round draft picks Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward attended Monday’s game. Browns coach Hue Jackson was also in the crowd, as was Rapper 2 Chainz.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James said he’s flattered that a campaign has begun to erect of statue of him in Akron, Ohio. Aaron Carey, a St. Vincent/St. Mary alumnus who also played basketball and won a championship is leading the drive via GoFundMe.com
INDEPENDENCE: Larry Nance Jr.’s playoff roller coaster might have begun its climb.
Through the first 12 games of the Cavaliers’ postseason run, Nance, a Revere High School product, was needed mainly for mop-up duty. In the semifinal sweep of the Toronto Raptors, he totaled barely over eight minutes and did not play in two games. His postseason high of 10 points and five rebounds came in an 18-point loss to the Indiana Pacers in the first-round opener.
But after a 25-point loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, coach Tyronn Lue realized the Cavs needed more physicality. So when Lue inserted center Tristan Thompson into the lineup in Game 2 and moved Kevin Love to his natural spot at power forward, he also turned to Nance.
Nance didn’t score, but contributed three rebounds and two steals in 11½ minutes in the Cavs’ 13-point loss.
In Saturday’s 116-86 Cavs’ victory in Game 3 at Quicken Loans Arena, Nance came into his own. He scored eight points with six rebounds, three assists and three steals in 21 minutes, playing the entire fourth quarter.
“Larry knows his job. He’s going to screen, he’s going to roll, he’s going to get rebounds and he’s going to defend,” said guard Jordan Clarkson, Nance’s teammate for three years with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I think his time is coming in this series.”
Nance certainly hopes so.
“A series like this, where they play a lot of bigs, they’ll go [Marcus] Morris, [Al] Horford, [Aron] Baynes and [Greg] Monroe, they have a lot of big guys and they’re super athletic,” Nance said after practice Sunday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “If there’s two things that I fit well against, it’s athleticism and playing big. Hopefully, the coaching staff sees and deems it that I get more minutes.”
Judging from Lue’s comments, Nance has convinced Lue of that.
“His energy, his athleticism, his ability to switch and guard multiple positions is good for us,” Lue said of Nance. “When he’s rolling to the basket, he got a couple dunks last night, and when they pull in to help, now you’ve got Kyle Korver and J.R. [Smith] making 3s. His athletic ability and his force rolling to the rim is really key for us.”
His most high-profile play was the tough left-handed pass he received from James for a cutting dunk in the second quarter that put the Cavs ahead by 17.
“If you go back and watch the clip, I kind of didn’t think there was an angle to pass it low, so I called for the lob for a brief second. I put my hand in the air like ‘There’s air up there,’ ” Nance said. “But, you know, he snuck it through sure enough and my job was easy.”
Acquired in trade from the Lakers in the Feb. 8 roster makeover, Nance averaged 8.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 20.8 minutes of 24 regular-season games with the Cavs. Through Game 1 of the Celtics’ series, a span of 12 games, Nance’s playoff averages were 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14:57 minutes of 10 games.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” Nance said. “Came in playing a lot, that kind of faded into the background a little bit. Now I’m getting to play some more. Everybody around here … everybody in my corner, ‘Just stay professional, stay ready, stay in shape.’ All stuff I already know, but, it’s good to hear it and it’s nice to see it pay off in a win.”
Nance said the pressure of being in the playoffs as a teammate of James is completely different.
“Obviously being in LA we had a lot of media around us with the different circuses we had there, but this is brand new,” Nance said. “You can’t turn on ESPN, SportsCenter, nothing without hearing Cavs this, Cavs that, so it’s definitely taken some adjusting. But, yeah, I think I’m there now and ready.”
Nance never played in the postseason with the Lakers. As he watched from the bench, his biggest takeaway was that “every possession matters.”
“Every defensive coverage matters,” Nance said. “During the regular season, not to say that it doesn’t matter, but you can get away with one or two mistakes because it’s not that crucial. We let Horford slip into a 3 or we let Baynes get a dunk, and it could change a series.”
Nance, 25, knows that the Cavs traded for him for this season and beyond, but that doesn’t change his motivation against the Celtics.
“The way I think of it is, I got brought here obviously to help win this year, but I’m looking forward to the rest of this playoffs, next year, the year after that,” Nance said. “They’ve gotten younger, so any time you get younger, it’ll help your team for years to come.”
That doesn’t change how much he appreciates being on the receiving end of masterful passes and lobs from James, even though those haven’t hit him yet.
“It’s hard not to be,” Nance said. “But in the moment no. It’s just like catch, finish. That’s all that’s going through my mind. I’m sure at one point I’ll look back at that like being able to catch a lob from Kobe [Bryant] or something like that. It’s definitely something that I’ll definitely keep in my memory bank.”
Nance’s father, Larry Sr., had his jersey retired by the Cavs in 1995 and still lives in Richfield. As Nance Jr. spoke to the media, he knew his dad was at home playing back Saturday’s game.
“He actually asked me why when LeBron caught that back-door and rocked it and reversed it, ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ ” Nance said, referring to a perfect bounce pass from Kevin Love that James used two hands to dunk. “He’s always got some remarks for me after the game. Most of them come the day after.
“He’s at home watching the film right now. On the drive home, I’ll know more.”
INDEPENDENCE: Center Tristan Thompson said the Cavaliers brought a “must-win” mentality to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday and it resulted in a 30-point victory.
But the Cavs trail the Boston Celtics 2-1 going into Monday night’s Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena and coach Tyronn Lue said they must sustain the same edge.
“We know what it takes. We did it before. We’ve got a lot of veterans and they know what it takes to win,” Lue said. “We can’t get satisfied with just one win. It’s just one, we’ve got to come out tomorrow night and duplicate it again.”
Lue said he didn’t use Sunday’s practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts to remind the Cavs the Celtics still lead and hold home-court advantage. The Celtics are 37-0 when they take a 2-0 lead in a series.
“Just remind them that this is the way we have to play,” Lue said. “Reminding those guys of just bringing the physicality, 1 through 5, picking up full court, being on bodies. The biggest thing is the multiple effort, making the second effort. We made some mistakes defensively, but we covered for one another last night, we really continued to keep moving.
“I thought last night was one of LeBron’s best games I’ve seen in a long time as far as helping, closing out to Jaylen Brown’s chest, making him put it on the floor. Closing out to [Marcus] Morris. Closing out to [Marcus] Smart. He did a really good job of just setting the tone of multiple effort and that was good for us.”
According to ESPN Stats & Info, when LeBron James was the primary defender he held the Celtics to 2-of-10 shooting, allowed the Celtics .36 points per play, his best of any game in the postseason, and forced four turnovers. In Games 1 and 2 combined, the Celtics shot 9-of-23 when James was the primary defender and he forced three turnovers.
The Cavs contested 58 percent of the Celtics’ shots in Games 1 and 2 combined and 76 percent in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats.
Thompson knew what Lue’s emphasis would be even before he heard the message.
“We did a lot of good things,” Thompson said Saturday. “We know they’re going to make adjustments. They definitely missed some shots that they made in Boston, so we’ve got to prepare for that. It’s all about being physical from the opening tip. The team that throws the first punch and comes ready to play is definitely in the driver’s seat.”
With James’ usage rate his lowest of the series, it appeared the Cavs made an effort to keep the ball in the hands of point guard George Hill, but that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“We put in a few new sets last night; it gave us more movement,” Lue said.
“Bron doesn’t want to move too much, so we had to make J.R. [Smith] and G. Hill do all the moving and Bron just hold the ball.
‘‘G. Hill did a good job of just pushing the pace. I thought he did a tremendous job of getting downhill, playing fast. When he’s attacking the paint and being aggressive early, him and J.R., when they’re scoring, it really opens everything up.”
Quote of the day
Larry Nance Jr. came up with the line of the day in reference to Kendrick Perkins, 33, when asked what he’d learned from the Cavs veterans.
“It’s been cool to see these guys’ work ethic to be honest with you. Not to say I’m not a hard worker or anything like that,” Nance said.
“But to see a Kyle Korver come in here at 15 years in the league and LeBron 15 years in the league and Kendrick Perkins, who can’t jump over a phone book, come in here and working every single day on their crafts and still bettering themselves as a player is eye-opening to see. It speaks to their level of professionalism, something I’d really love to mirror myself after.”
After his post-game news conference, Lue stopped in the hallway to hug and speak to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, waiting in a wheelchair outside the club lounge.
A 2014 first-round pick out of Ohio State and a 2017 Pro Bowler, Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury in Week 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals that left him temporarily paralyzed.
At the NFL Draft on April 26, Shazier walked on stage to announce the Steelers’ first-round pick.
“My first time getting to meet him. Just good to see him be able to get up and get around,” Lue said. “The Pittsburgh organization did a great job of paying him all of his money, a class act.
‘‘I told him anything he needs, any game he wants to come to, we have his back.”
John Dorsey has made so many moves in his first offseason as the general manager of the Browns that it can be hard to remember everything he’s done.
For those keeping score at home, Dorsey has traded for three veteran players, signed another 10 as unrestricted free agents and drafted nine incoming rookies. He’s also traded away six players.
When a team goes 1-15 and 0-16 in consecutive seasons, an overhaul of the roster should be expected. And Dorsey has certainly delivered one.
With veterans and rookies set to practice together for the first time when organized team activities begin Tuesday — Wednesday’s session will be the first open to media — now is as good a time as any to review where the Browns stand at each position.
There won’t be a true competition for the starting job unless No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield forces a duel to materialize.
The Browns plan to start trade-acquisition Tyrod Taylor in the Sept. 9 regular-season opener at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Mayfield has vowed to compete for the top spot on the depth chart in an effort to compel the team to rethink its strategy.
Coach Hue Jackson has vacillated between definitively declaring Taylor the starter and leaving some wiggle room for Mayfield to charge into the lineup sooner than expected. This can be traced back to before the Browns drafted Mayfield on April 26.
For example …
March 15: “He [Taylor] is going to be the starting quarterback. There is no competition. … If that’s the decision that we make as an organization to [draft] a quarterback at one, then we will. But Tyrod’s the starting quarterback. That’s not going to change that.”
April 28: “If Baker can understand the National Football League and all the rigors and the grinding that you have to go through, I’m not going to ever stop a player from being the best he can be. But we have a plan [to start Taylor], and I want to work that plan as much as we can. Now, can a player [Mayfield] supersede that? You never know. I haven’t had that happen. But right now, this team is going to be led by Tyrod Taylor.”
April 30 (on 92.3 The Fan): “[For Mayfield to start immediately], it would have to be something that blows me away and blows the organization away because we have a plan in place [to start Taylor].”
May 4: “Tyrod Taylor’s the starting quarterback of this football team, and that won’t change. … [Mayfield] has a lot of characteristics that we love. That’s why he’s here. But again, let’s make sure we pump our brakes a little bit because he’s got a ways to go and a lot to learn.”
Rookie minicamp perfectly illustrated two weeks ago how much Mayfield needs to learn about playing in the NFL and specifically from under center — taking the snap, mastering the footwork and seeing the field from a new perspective. He’ll still operate out of shotgun most of the time, but he’ll also need to play from under center much more than he did at the University of Oklahoma, where, according to ESPN, he took only seven snaps from under center last season compared with 1,040 out of shotgun.
Here’s hoping the Browns are disciplined enough to stick to their plan to start Taylor and allow Mayfield to learn from the sideline before he inevitably plays at some point in the upcoming season. The Browns invested in Mayfield with the intent to make him their starter for the next 15 years or so.
Jackson said Mayfield is third on the depth chart, meaning he’ll take snaps behind Taylor and free-agent signing Drew Stanton when OTAs start this week. But, of course, this all bears watching
Shon Coleman, a 2016 third-round pick, started every game at right tackle last season, but he has moved to left tackle in a quest to fill the vacancy created by future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas retiring in March. Coleman played left tackle at Auburn and believes it’s his best position.
Dorsey isn’t betting the farm on it, though. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have used the first pick of the second round (No. 33 overall) on Nevada product Austin Corbett. The Browns aren’t sure Corbett will find a permanent home at tackle — he could play guard or center — but they will give him his first shot at left tackle, pitting him against Coleman.
Undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison and free-agent acquisition Donald Stephenson are long shots in this position battle.
The rest of the starting offensive line is expected to look like this: left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Chris Hubbard, who signed with Cleveland this offseason after playing for new Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Pittsburgh.
Rookie second-round pick Nick Chubb versus free-agent pickup Carlos Hyde should be another fascinating competition. Both of them are known for possessing a physical, downhill running style.
Hyde caught 59 passes for the San Francisco 49ers last year, the first NFL season in which the Ohio State product played every game. Chubb caught just 31 passes in four seasons at Georgia, but the Browns believe the 35th overall pick has much better hands than his numbers suggest.
Duke Johnson will be counted on to catch more passes than the other backs combined, and the dynamic playmaker is scheduled to soon enter the final season of his rookie contract.
Danny Vitale returns at fullback.
Everyone knows Josh Gordon and trade-acquisition Jarvis Landry are the top two receivers, but will Corey Coleman be able to hold onto the third spot in the pecking order?
Rookie fourth-round pick Antonio Callaway, who has about as much off-field baggage as Gordon, will receive a chance to threaten Coleman’s playing time, with the 2016 first-round pick’s future with the team already in question.
Meanwhile, the arrival of free-agent addition Jeff Janis and rookie sixth-round pick Damion Ratley has put 2016 fourth-round choice Ricardo Louis and 2016 fifth-round selection Rashard Higgins on notice.
The Browns plan to make 2017 first-round pick David Njoku a full-time starter. Free-agent acquisition Darren Fells, known for excellent blocking, should play a lot, too. Seth DeValve might expand his role by playing some H-back under Haley.
Rookie fourth overall pick Denzel Ward, an Ohio State product and Nordonia High School graduate, will be relied on to start in Week 1, and free-agent signing TJ Carrie is the favorite to line up on the opposite side.
That would leave E.J. Gaines and Terrance Mitchell, both of whom signed with the Browns this offseason, vying for the third spot with holdover Briean Boddy-Calhoun, rookie sixth-round pick Simeon Thomas and Howard Wilson, a fourth-round pick last year who missed the entire season with a fractured kneecap.
Damarious Randall will start at free safety after playing cornerback for the Green Bay Packers, who traded him in March. That will allow 2017 first-round pick Jabrill Peppers to move from free safety to strong safety.
Should Peppers falter in his transition, Derrick Kindred would be the logical contingency plan. Boddy-Calhoun has played safety for the Browns and might spend more time there.
Things should get interesting behind starting ends Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick last year, and Emmanuel Ogbah, the 32nd overall selection in 2016 who’s coming off a broken foot. Rookie third-round pick Chad Thomas and free-agent pickup Chris Smith will fight for playing time and could knock 2015 second-round choice Nate Orchard and 2016 third-round selection Carl Nassib off the roster.
At tackle, Larry Ogunjobi, Caleb Brantley, Jamie Meder and Trevon Coley, who led the team in playing time at this position last season, all return to vie for the two starting spots. Undrafted rookie Trenton Thompson is a potential sleeper.
There are established starters in Jamie Collins (strong side), Christian Kirksey (weak side) and Joe Schobert (middle). Rookie fifth-round pick Genard Avery should make the team and, at the very least, contribute on special teams.
So Tank Carder, who’s coming off a torn ACL, James Burgess and B.J. Bello would be among those left to battle for their jobs. Justin Currie is listed as a linebacker after playing safety last season.
Britton Colquitt will need to hold off waiver claim Justin Vogel to remain the team’s punter. Vogel punted for the Packers throughout last season.
Punt returner will be Callaway’s job to lose. Kickoff returner appears to be up for grabs despite Peppers filling the role last season.
Kicker Zane Gonzalez and long snapper Charley Hughlett are unchallenged.
CLEVELAND: Cavaliers forward LeBron James didn’t have to play “hero ball” on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
After two forgettable games in Boston, J.R. Smith and George Hill made shots and in the process made a difference to help the Cavs earn a 116-86 win over the Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavs can even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 on Monday in Cleveland.
Will Hill and Smith shoot efficiently once again?
James and the rest of the Cavs would love to see it.
“We’re playing too slow,” Smith after practice on Thursday in Independence. “We’re making Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, especially in the Eastern Conference finals. We’ve got to help him.”
Celtics starting guards Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown outscored Hill and Smith 72-12 in the first two games. But on Saturday night, Hill and Smith came out one point ahead (24-23) in the battle of the backcourts.
“J.R. and G-Hill did a good job of setting the tone early, being aggressive, playing with more pace and more force,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
Hill scored 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-9 from 3-point range, in 30 minutes. Smith had 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3s, in 26 minutes.
“First of all we got stops and we were able to get out and run a lot,” Smith said Saturday. “We were able to get the ball up the floor. Bron and G-Hill made the right plays. And then when we touched the ball — myself, G-Hill, Kev [Kevin Love], JC [Jordan Clarkson] — guys were aggressive. We tried not to force shots but be aggressive enough to take the shots that we’re accustomed to taking, shots that we work on in practice and they fell.
“We’ve been down before and we’ve just got to keep fighting our way out of it. It’s just one game at home. We’ve got to win two at home and take this show back on the road and try to get one in Boston.”
The Cavs got off to a great start in Game 3 and led 32-17 at the end of the first quarter with 12 points from James and 11 points from Hill. The Celtics never held a lead.
Hill scored five of the Cavs’ first nine points and finished the first quarter with three 3-pointers.
“I said I’ve got to figure out how to make an imprint on the game,” Hill said Saturday. “If it’s defensively, if it’s offensively, just be somebody out there they have to respect and honor. Knowing that we needed some much-needed help here from Game 1 and Game 2, I wanted to be aggressive, drive to the basket, take shots with confidence and just have fun out there.
“All the guys were tied together on both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively. We got into the ball a little better, made them take the shots we wanted them to take. Once we did that, got some stops, got out in transition, the ball was moving pretty well and guys made shots.”
The best shot-maker in Game 3 was James, who made 8-of-12 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-3 from deep, and 8-of-10 free throws. James totaled 27 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 38 minutes.
James said he liked seeing Hill and Smith playing “aggressive.”
“No matter if they are making shots or not, we want them to be aggressive,” James said Saturday. “It just keeps the defense at bay. It allows me and Kevin to have more open lanes as well when those guys are being aggressive, looking for their shots.
“You saw that in G-Hill’s mindset to start the game. He just had an aggressive mindset that if they’re going to slide under his pick-and-rolls, he’s going to shoot it. He gets a swing-swing, he’s going to shoot it. He’s going to attack. And the same for J.R. We always sit up here and talk about how much pressure me and Kev try to take off our teammates. Those guys took pressure off us [in Game 3]. Their aggression just settled us in and allowed us to play free.”
Love, who had 13 points and 14 rebounds, described Hill and Smith’s play as “huge.”
James, Kyle Korver (14 points), Hill, Love, Smith and Tristan Thompson (10) all scored in double figures for the Cavs in Game 3.
Smith averaged 2.0 points on 2-of-16 shooting in the first two games of the series, which the Celtics won 108-83 and 107-94. Hill wasn’t much better in the first two games, averaging 4.0 points on 3-of-8 shooting in Boston.
The Cavs were the home team Saturday, and they gave a sellout crowd of 20,562 a show.
“We’ve talked a lot the last few days about playing with more energy, playing with more movement, setting more screens, making more passes and getting the ball out of bounds faster,” said Korver, who made 4-of-4 3-point shots on Saturday. “It’s all these little things that add up. … We just got better looks than we got in the first two games and we were able to knock some down.”
About those passes
James assisted seven different teammates on field goals en route to 12 assists on Saturday. Several of his passes were of the nifty variety.
“The first left-handed pass to Larry [Nance Jr.], I was able to keep my defender [Semi Ojeleye] on my back for a little bit,” James said Saturday. “I seen their big [Al Horford] step up just a little bit, and me having the ball in my left hand, I could pass with either hand so I was able to kind of shuffle a bounce pass to him for him to dunk it.
“The second one to Tristan was going right. Tristan set a great screen, and Marcus [Morris] tried to steal for the ball so I was able to go behind my back to the left-hand side and then I seen [Aron] Baynes step out onto the floor so I was able to wrap that around him to Tristan.
“And then on the third one, I rejected a screen-and-roll and Baynes stepped up again. I seen Marcus trailing me a little bit, so I seen I had the wrap-around pass because the other defender on the weak side didn’t pull in on Tristan.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers made a couple of tweaks to their defensive game plan prior to Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Finals. The result was a victory in which they held the Celtics to 39 percent shooting, including 27 percent from the three-point arc.
Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers jumped out to a 32-17 first-quarter lead and rolled to a 116-86 victory over the Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena. The Celtics lead the series 2-1 going into Monday’s Game 4 at the Q.
1. All season the Cavs’ defense has been suspect. Then when the Cavs used three days in between games to concentrate on offense, they miraculously remembered how to play on the other end as well.
2. LeBron James turned back the clock to the days when he was one of the league’s fiercest defenders. He started out on Jaylen Brown, the Celtics’ leading scorer in the series with a 23.0 average, and Brown scored just two points in the first half. Plagued by foul trouble in the matchup, Brown didn’t get his third and fourth points until 2:52 remained in the third quarter and finished with 10 points.
3. In the first two games, the Cavs had considered rookie Jayson Tatum the head of the snake and had concentrated on stopping him, just as they had the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo in the first round and the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan in the semifinals.
4. Coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavs changed a couple things up to shut down Brown early.
5. “We know Jaylen is a first-quarter player,” Lue said. “He plays good throughout the game, but he really sets the tone early in that first quarter. I thought LeBron really did a good job of closing out to him, making him put it on the floor, cutting him off and making him play in the crowd. It was good for us to slow him down that first quarter because he’s been really good in Boston.”
6. Brown went 3 for 8 from the field and 2 of 3 on 3s.
7. “I think they were denying me,” Brown said. “They didn’t want me to get the ball and when I did get it, it wasn’t in the position I was comfortable in.”
8. ESPN Stats & Info came up with some impressive nuggets on James and the Cavs’ defense. It said when James was the primary defender, he held the Celtics to 2 of 10 shooting, allowed the Celtics .36 points per play, his best of any game in the postseason, and forced four turnovers. In Games 1 and 2 combined, the Celtics shot 9 of 23 when James was the primary defender and he forced three turnovers.
9. Asked about those numbers, James said, “Just tried to put myself in position to help our team. I think tonight as a group, even when things broke down, we just covered for one another. We made them make extra passes. We made them make extra dribbles. We were flying around, and I just happened to be one of the guys on the floor that wanted to fly around as well.”
10. As a team, according to ESPN Stats, the Cavs contested 58 percent of the Celtics’ shots in Games 1 and 2 combined and 76 percent in Game 3.
11. Asked if he challenged James to ramp up his effort on defense, Lue said, “No, we challenged everyone just to be aggressive, understand the game plan. We still had a couple screw-ups where [Marcus] Morris got a three, I think someone else got a layup. But other than that, it was really a great defensive game for us. From front to back, we played good defensively.”
12. Another standout was Tristan Thompson, who started at center for the second consecutive game because of his past success against Celtics center Al Horford. Horford scored seven points (hitting 2 of 4 field goals) with seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. Called “their rock” by James before the series started, Horford posted a -23 plus/minus, second-worst of the Celtics’ starters behind Marcus Morris at -28. Horford came in averaging 17.1 points in the postseason and 17.5 in the series.
13. “He’s defended him well,” Lue said of Thompson on Horford. “I think he’s physical. Al Horford is a perennial All-Star and they run a lot of sets through him. He’s usually handling the ball at the top of the key, making the dribble hand-offs or pick-and-pop, shooting the three and posting him.
14. “Tristan is the kind of guy who is agile enough to get back on his shot when he pops to put ball pressure on him at the top of the key. Just try to make him uncomfortable. Al is a good player so he’s going to be able to score, but we just want to make it tough. I think Tristan is the best matchup for him for us to do that.”
15. Horford thought the fact that he only got four shots was more of a team-wide breakdown.
16. “I just think that we need to run our offense just with more pace,” Horford said. “I think tonight a lot of the times we got caught up in just being in a lot of isolation positions. I think if we move the ball better, we will all benefit from that and it will be better.”
17. Kevin Love said the Cavs didn’t make any “huge” defensive adjustments.
18. “I thought overall, across the board, we were just doing a better job of getting in the passing lanes, making it tough for them and, more than anything, just contesting shots,” Love said. “We made a few minor adjustments that we saw after Game 1 and 2. We came home, looked at film and really executed. We liked our game plan. They just had too many open shots, too many easy looks, and they didn’t feel us in Game 1 or 2. We feel like we did a lot better job with tonight, used the crowd to our advantage and came away with a big win.”
19. Kyle Korver spoke after Game 2 about the Cavs’ lack of energy, and he liked how the Cavs used it on defense Saturday.
20. “I thought it was a lot better. Some of that is being at home. Being at home and shots falling. Those two things together usually give us a little more energy on the other end,” Korver said. “But I think, too, defense is all about focus and energy. And I thought we had both of those things tonight.”
21. The Celtics’ 86 points was a postseason low by a Cavs’ opponent, as was the Celtics’ .392 shooting from the field.
22. Asked the biggest change, George Hill said, “The physicality.”
23. “Not letting them be comfortable, communicating on screens, things like that,” Hill said. “From Game 1 and 2 to Game 3 what we did better was when guys did make mistakes, we had teammates there. That extra effort and energy wasn’t there in Game 1 and 2. It cost us a lot of wide open 3s and I don’t they got a lot of those today.”
24. The Celtics connected on .273 from 3-point range.
25. Thompson was especially critical of the poor defense and lack of communication in Game 2.
26. “We saw it on film how the lack of communication was horrible, basically it was embarrassing,” Thompson said. “We know with this team they move the ball a lot and we’ve got to be prepared to move ball and move bodies. We did that tonight and we’re going to need that same effort, but probably even more in Game 4.”
27. The Cavs also claimed a 45-34 rebounding edge after being outrebounded 48-40 in Game 1 and 46-45 in Game 2.
28. “When we’re on the defensive glass getting the rebound and offensive glass getting the rebound it’s definitely deflating and it wears on them defensively,” Thompson said. “That’s what we’ve got to do Game 4.”
29. As the Celtics fell to 1-5 on the road in the postseason, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wouldn’t make excuses for his team, but praised the Cavs instead.
30. “We were clearly not the harder-playing, more connected team tonight. Cleveland was, and they deserve all the credit for that,” Stevens said. “I thought they played a great game. They came out and really moved it and were really tough, got into us defensively. I think a good example is we shot just a ton of hard pull-ups tonight.”
31. The Cavs also made a postseason-high 17 3-pointers and improved to 13-1 in the playoffs when they make 15 or more treys.
32. Beyond the arc, Korver was 4 for 4, James 3 for 3, J.R. Smith 3 for 4, Jordan Clarkson 3 for 7, George Hill 3 for 9 and Kevin Love 1 for 4.
33. “We’ve talked a lot the last few days about playing with more energy, playing with more movement, setting more screens, making more passes, getting the ball out of bounds faster. It’s all these little things that add up,” Korver said. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Be aggressive’ and that’s the mindset we have to have. But you also have to have room to be aggressive, you have to have opportunities to be aggressive. I think tonight we did that. We were able to take better shots. We just got better looks tonight than we got in the first two games and we were able to knock some down.”
34. Lue cited many ways the Cavs improved on offense.
35. “Moving without the basketball, moving the ball, moving bodies and then trying to exploit the mismatches,” Lue said. “We did a good job of that tonight, and we just have to continue to keep doing it.”
36. They also took advantage of spectacular passing, especially from James, who totaled 12 assists.
37. “We can’t give up dunks. Obviously some of the threes that he sprays out for are tremendous,” Stevens said of James’ passing. “There’s only one person that can make passes going to his left like that in the league. But we’ve got to do a better job with all of our help and with all of our coverages.”
38. Asked to rate his left-handed passes to Larry Nance Jr. and Thompson and a play when he drove the baseline and wrapped the ball around Thompson, James said, “They’re all pretty difficult. Don’t try it at home.” That’s the same thing he said after his buzzer-beating bank shot against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Cavs’ semifinal sweep.
39. “I think my passing is up there with every other aspect of my game,” James said. “It was something I kind of just knew I had when I first started playing the game of basketball, to be able to see things develop before they actually developed. Then it was on me to kind of put the ball on time, on target to my teammates ever since I was a kid, and I started playing at age 9.”
40. Kevin Love also had one to remember, that on a perfect bounce pass to a cutting James that James finished with a two-handed reverse dunk in the second quarter.
41. “Not many people can — you didn’t even take a dribble, did you?’ Love said to James, sitting beside him at the podium. “Didn’t take a dribble. That’s the one that’s going to be on — I don’t know if it’ll be a career highlight for him, but maybe it will be for me for the pass.
42. “Bron, off the ball, he’s always cutting and I’m always looking for them. So I just tried to give him a little bit of love back because he had those 12 assists and a couple of them were to me. It was a great play.”
43. The Cavs seemed to benefit from a three-day break between Games 2 and 3, although Lue gave them the first day off.
44. Korver didn’t sound crazy about the layoff, saying, “Just three days of stewing on Game 2. …It’s frustrating to have to wait that long for another game. But we were able to put in some new things on offense. To take a day off, then we had a couple days where we put in some new sets, we put in some things we thought might work. That was helpful.”
45. Hill had the same initial reaction as Korver.
46. “It kind of sucks because you have to wait a long time because your mind starts thinking. I’d rather get right to it and play,” Hill said. “But it was much-needed rest for our bodies, for our minds to watch film to figure out what we were doing so bad and what we were doing great and how we can fix the problem to get off to a good start.”
47. Smith considered a young Celtics roster that includes rookie starting forward Jayson Tatum, born on March 3, 1998.
48. “It helped us a lot because we old,” Smith said of the days off. “We got some old guys over here. I think they got one guy that’s born in ‘98, ‘99, just to think about that is crazy. So, we needed it. We definitely did.”
49. Thompson agreed that it would be easier to watch film Sunday after an impressive victory in what he called a “must-win” game, but said the Cavs need to play with the same aggressiveness in Game 4.
50. “We did a lot of good things,” Thompson said. “We know they’re going to make adjustments. They definitely missed some shots that they made in Boston, so we’ve got to prepare for that. It’s all about being physical from the opening tip. The team that throws the first punch and comes ready to play is definitely in the driver’s seat.”
The Boston Celtics made no excuses for their showing in a 116-86 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Finals, giving credit to the Cavs’ defense and desire.
After the first two games of the NBA Eastern Finals, it was clear the Cleveland Cavaliers needed more scoring from their guards. In Game 3, a 116-86 beat down of the Celtics, guards George Hill, Kyle Korver and JR Smith combined for 38 points, including 10-of-17 from the three-point arc.