No. 1: Durant versus Iguodala in Game 7 showdown — Tonight’s Game 7 showdown between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder includes a number of wicked subplots, including a battle within the battle between one of basketball’s most lethal scorers in Kevin Durant against one of the game’s truly elite defenders in Andre Iguodala. The winner of this matchup will have a colossal impact on this game, the same way it did in the Warriors’ Game 6 victory, as Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman explains:
Kevin Durant has an earned offensive arrogance. He won a scoring title at age 21 and three more before his 26th birthday.
So even after the roughest of performances — like, say, a 10-of-31 showing in a gut-wrenching Game 6 home loss with the NBA Finals on the line — Durant’s refuses to doubt himself publicly.
“On the offensive end, you don’t have to worry about me,” Durant said Sunday afternoon. “I’m a professional scorer. I tend to figure things out.”
Professional scorer meet professional defender. Warriors reserve forward Andre Iguodala re-entered the game with 6:33 left on Saturday night and the Warriors trailing by four. From that point on, the Thunder committed six turnovers and only made three shots.
Golden State closed on a season-saving 21-10 run, remembered most for the Splash Brothers shooting barrage but fueled most by Iguodala’s defensive dominance. His late-game fingerprints were everywhere.
“The interesting part about him is obviously last year he’s the MVP in The Finals,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “But he just appears to be the kind of player that whatever their team needs against a specific series or opponent or player, he’s able to try to provide to the best of his ability.”
In this series, he’s easily the Warriors best matchup on Durant. Harrison Barnes starts on KD, but Iguodala handles the brunt of the work and the big moments. Golden State coach Steve Kerr even started Iguodala over Barnes in the second half on Saturday, a sign of earned trust during the Warriors most desperate moment.
The Thunder had the ball and a three-point lead with three minutes to go. Durant had it isolated on the wing. Iguodala was draped on him. As Durant drove and spun and located help, Iguodala tracked his every move, cut off all windows and forced an errant pass right before the shot clock buzzer.
The Warriors scooped up the steal, pushed it in transition and found Stephen Curry for a game-tying, wide-open 3 — set up by the turnover that was set up by Iguodala.
With 1:49 to go and the game tied at 101, Durant screened Russell Westbrook‘s man, an action the Thunder commonly run late to get favorable switches. But Iguodala and Klay Thompson are versatile enough to trade-off without worry.
Iguodala took Westbrook and slid with the quick-burst point guard on a drive. Westbrook got to about 12 feet out and turned for a fadeaway. But as he gathered, Iguodala timed his move perfectly, raking down and ripping the ball away. Iguodala gathered his third steal, pushed it upcourt and then fed Thompson perfectly for the go-ahead 3-pointer.
“He’s always kind of our unsung hero,” Kerr said. “He never has the numbers that jump out at you in the box score, so people don’t write about him or show him much on the highlights. But he’s a phenomenal defensive player and he’s an incredibly intelligent player.”
No. 2: Warriors’ Kerr keeping it simple for Game 7 — He understands the gravity of a Game 7, having played in three during his championship playing career. Warriors coach Steve Kerr understands that any drastic changes to the plan at this stage of the series wouldn’t be prudent, not at this juncture. So he’s keeping things simple for his team, which has won the past two games to crawl out of a 3-1 hole and put themselves into a position to reach The Finals for a second straight season. Rusty Simmons of the San Fransisco Chronicle has more:
Among the first 232 teams that trailed 3-1 since the league went to a seven-game format, only nine have won the series.
Things certainly looked bleak for the Warriors after consecutive 20-point losses had them facing elimination for the first time in Steve Kerr’s two-year tenure, but they’ve won two in a row to get the odds back on their side. Home teams are 100-24 in Game 7s. In conference finals, teams that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to play Game 7 at home are 8-2.
“What stands out the most is our team’s grit and hanging in there after being blown out twice in Oklahoma City,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Sunday afternoon, sitting in the shadow of the Warriors’ 2015 championship banner at the team’s downtown Oakland practice facility. “To show that kind of heart and grit was great.”
End-of-the-bench guys Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo ran wind sprints in the background while Kerr spoke, but the regulars were given the day to re-energize, sleep and relax.
Kerr didn’t even have the players watch video of Game 6’s thrilling comeback win — a game in which they were down by as many as 13 points, still trailed by seven with fewer than five minutes to play and didn’t take a lead of more than three until Stephen Curry’s high-arching bank shot made it 106-101 with 14.3 seconds left.
Kerr said Curry, who is dealing with ankle and knee pain and also took another shot to his bruised elbow Saturday, looked “bouncier and livelier” in Game 6. The Warriors’ point guard said he likes being banged up, because the pain helps him understand the magnitude of the moment.
During his 13-minute media meeting Sunday, Kerr repeatedly talked about the need to simplify things in Game 7 — a stage that can naturally create jittery nerves under sports’ most intense spotlight.
Kerr said he didn’t anticipate starting Andre Iguodala in Game 7 after the Warriors’ sixth man started the second half of Game 6 and fueled the team’s game-closing 9-0 run. Instead, Kerr leaned toward a simple game plan, the same that was used to win a record 73 regular-season games and the one that was on full display during the fourth quarter Saturday: rebound, limit turnovers, play tough defense.
The Warriors have been outrebounded by nearly six boards per game in the series, but they were nearly even (10-9) in the fourth quarter Saturday. They’ve committed more than 15 turnovers per game in the series, but coughed up only one during the final 12 minutes of Game 6. They’ve allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 44.5 percent in the series, but pressured the Thunder into missing 14 of their final 19 shots.
It all added up to an improbable Game 6 victory and had Green bobbing through the corridors of the Oklahoma City arena in anticipation of the biggest game of his life.
“Any Game 7 brings a whole different energy,” Green said. “… Game 7 is Game 7, whether it’s in the conference final or the first round.
“That’s what people live for.”
No. 3: DeRozan’s focus is on Toronto — Free agency will be here soon enough for Toronto Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan. Plenty of teams with ample cap space will attempt draw his attention elsewhere, but DeRozan insists his focus is on continuing what he and Kyle Lowry have built in Toronto. Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com provides the details:
DeMar DeRozan expressed a desire to stay with the Toronto Raptors one day after his team was eliminated from the playoffs.
DeRozan, who will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has been with the Raptors for his entire career. He was asked specifically if he can find a better situation than Toronto
“I don’t think so,” DeRozan said Saturday. “My mindset has always been Toronto. I’ve always preached it. I was passionate about it when we were losing, when we were terrible. I said I was going to stick through this whole thing, and I want to be that guy who brings this organization to where it is now. I definitely don’t want to switch that up after we win.”
DeRozan, a two-time All-Star who averaged 23.5 points per game during the regular season, has been linked to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, who could be one of several teams to offer him a maximum contract starting at $25 million annually.
Per collective bargaining rules, the Raptors will be able to offer DeRozan up to five years at around $145 million, whereas other teams will be able to offer him up to four years at around $107 million. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri will address the media early next week.
“I grew up in L.A. That’s my home. There’s not a part of L.A. I haven’t seen,” said DeRozan, who attended Compton High School and USC before being selected No. 9 overall by Toronto in the 2009 NBA draft. “I don’t get caught up into it. I let whoever comes up with that say what they want to say.
“The only thing appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that’s always been my mindset since I’ve been here.”
This is not the first time DeRozan has made his hopes known.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time. I haven’t changed, not one bit,” DeRozan said. “I took pride in putting that Raptors jersey on when people counted us out or when people said, ‘Why go to Toronto? Why this, why that, why this, why that?’ You hear it so much — that gave me the motivation to want to prove people wrong or prove critics wrong — why this organization can’t be a winning organization. You know what I mean? I took pride in that a long time ago. To see how far [we’ve come], that’s what it’s all about.”
No. 4: Report: Bosh, Heat clashed over use of blood thinners — Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat are forging ahead together in an effort to get the All-Star forward back on the court next season after he finished each of the past two seasons in street clothes because of his issues with blood clots. But the sides clashed this past season over the use of blood thinners, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
The sides remain hopeful he will return next season, barring a setback. So why did Bosh believe he could come back for the playoffs and the Heat resisted?
The Heat was adamantly opposed to allowing him to play while taking blood-thinners because it would be very dangerous for someone on thinners who sustained a cut, or fell hard and started bleeding internally, during a game.
According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.
Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.
None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg — an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.
“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After careful consideration P.J. Carlesimo has decided not to pursue the assistant coach vacancy in Philadelphia created by Mike D’Antoni‘s departure … Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue has made plenty of fans since taking over for David Blatt earlier this season, and that includes the two most important people in the organization, LeBron James and Dan Gilbert … Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis hit the streets to play ball in Greece over the weekend …