Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Morning shootaround — June 5


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Hornacek gets the point | Wall still climbing | Work ahead for Presti | Too much LeBron? | The Ali Effect

No. 1: Hornacek emphasizes getting the point — During the most productive part of his playing career, Jeff Hornacek ran with John Stockton in Utah. During his only other stint as a head coach, he was able to choose from Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on any given night. Now that he’s taken over on the bench with the Knicks, it’s sounding like Hornacek has a point guard at the top of his wish list in New York, says Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“We have a young player that’s obviously inexperienced after his first year,’’ Hornacek said at Friday’s press conference. “He’ll get better and better. Jose is kind of later in his career. If we can find a middle guy to bridge those two guys, it would be good. There’s a lot of guys out there. I’m sure Phil [Jackson, team president] and Steve [Mills, general manager] are looking at everything.’’

“If there’s something out there in free agency to bring in that guy, in between, that can help guide the younger guard and assist the older point guard, that would make the team better,’’ Hornacek added.

It’s not a strong crop of free-agent point guards, with Memphis’ Mike Conley leading the top tier. Resurgent Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony’s choice, is next, but some in the organization believe he hangs onto the ball too much. Brandon Jennings, D.J. Augustin, Ty Lawson, Jeremy Lin, Miami’s unsung Tyler Johnson, Aaron Brooks and Mario Chalmers are also free agents. Sources have indicated the Knicks consider Lawson’s off-court issues too big a risk and Lin’s defense too gaping.

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Morning shootaround — June 4





NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all in Thunder’s heads | K.D. looms over champs | Cavs have need for speed | Can Porzingis be tops? | Kings deflated


No. 1:
Westbrook says Thunder need mental toughness — All through the playoffs we saw what the Thunder could do with their extraordinary length and athleticism and speed and ability to dominate on the glass. But after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook says that for OKC to be able to take the next step to winning a championship they have to get stronger in that one other key area — their heads. Westbrook made those observations to Berry Trammel and Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“Mental toughness,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten very, very well at that point, but I think to make the next step, we have to constantly do that throughout the whole season, not just late in the playoffs, because I thought we turned the page when it got to this time of year, but I think if we constantly keep that from start to finish, it makes it easier for us in certain situations.”

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No. 2: Durant is on minds of Warriors — That might be LeBron James and the Cavaliers standings squarely in front of them. But the fact is that the specter of Kevin Durant’s free agency is something on the minds of the Warriors even as they bid for a second consecutive championship. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper caught up with several key figures who admitted that K.D. looms in the Golden State locker room:

“Guys have definitely asked questions,” center Andrew Bogut told NBA.com. “We’re not immune to it. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the rumors, heard the rumors, all that kind of stuff. Different guys at different times have been scratching their head and thinking, ‘Why?’ The only way we can dispel all that stuff is maybe we’ve got to win five straight. Who knows? It’s one of those things we can’t really control, but we can control trying to make them make a tough decision.”

It clearly hasn’t been a problem that’s reached the level of distraction — again, check the Warriors’ recent resume — but the potential of a major roster jolt to the best team in the league, even for Durant, has been on players’ minds.

“Guys obviously ask questions at certain times,” Bogut said. “We’ve had two good years. Guys definitely find it interesting. But we understand that it’s a business and you’re not going to be able to stop. If an owner or a GM wants to do something, they’re going to do it.”

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No. 3: Lue tells LeBron to pick up the pace — After scoring a playoff-low 89 points in Game 1 of The Finals and showing an offense that was stagnant and ineffective, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue had a simple solution after reviewing the game film. He told LeBron James to pick up the pace, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:

“I just told LeBron I need him to play faster,” Lue said Friday. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”

James put up a strong stat line with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday’s Game 1. But the Cavs scored only 89 points, and their offense lacked the flow that saw them rip through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record. The Warriors slowed them with their ability to switch defenders and force the Cavs into deliberate isolation sets. Twice in the first half the Cavs were called for 24-second violations, which is rare for them.

Lue’s message was reminiscent of January, when his first order of business when taking over the coaching job from David Blatt was to make a point of the Cavs’ need to put their foot on the gas. It contributed to the Cavs turning into the No. 1 offense in the league in terms of efficiency over the last two months of the season.
“They make you stagnant and make you play one-on-one basketball because that’s all you can get,” Lue said. “So if we pick up the pace and play with a faster tempo offensively, I think we’ll be fine.”

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No. 4: Hornacek says Porzingis could be NBA best — Do you think Jeff Hornacek knows how to drum up headlines on the back pages of the New York tabloids? On his first official day on the job as the new boss of the Knicks, Hornacek is saying that second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis can be a top-five player and maybe the best in the league, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley of ESPN.com:

“His ceiling -– wow,” Hornacek said after his introductory news conference when asked about Porzingis’ potential. “I don’t want to put pressure on the kid, but let’s face it: At that size and his skills and his abilities — why can’t he be a top-five player in this league?

“Why can’t he be the best player in this league? He’ll continue to grow over these years. He’s 20 years old. He’s got a lot of things he’ll learn just from experience, and I’m sure five to six years from now you’ll be saying, ‘Look how good this kid is.’ He’s already good.”

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No. 5: Non-firing of Karl finished Kings season — Ever since they lost to the Lakers in the playoffs way back in the early part of the last decade, it’s never been a good time to be a member of the Kings. But when the rumors of coach George Karl being fired before the All-Star break didn’t come to pass, things hit a new low in the locker room. That’s what veteran Caron Butler told the gang on ESPN’s First Take, as related by James Herbert of CBSsports.com

“As players, from All-Star break and everything, I mean, as far as we knew, he was fired,” Butler said. “We’re in Philadelphia a game before All-Star break and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You’re not moving [on], I’m coming back.’ It was deflating to the locker room, it was deflating to the guys, and we tried to move forward and tried to do the best that we possibly could. But that was deflating to the team, it was a big blow and it was tough to move forward.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Even the Cavaliers felt ripped off by the price of tickets to see them lose Game 1 in Oakland… Charles Barkley says he’ll own up to being wrong if the Warriors win title again…Gordon Gund is selling his 15 percent share of the Cavaliers to Dan Gilbert…A young LeBron James was amazed by Muhammad Ali…Ex-teammate Anderson Varejao says Matthew Dellavedova needs to do those things to stay in the NBA...David Blatt is back as a head coach in Istanbul, Turkey…Who you gonna call?

Morning shootaround — June 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Health, experience key in 2016 Finals | Curry: ‘Face of NBA’ talk ‘annoying’ | Report: Knicks to hire Hornacek | Durant’s teammates await his decision

No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:

“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”

On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.

The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.

They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.

“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”

The Cavaliers are healthy again.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.

Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.

“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”

The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”

Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.

That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.

“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”

Blogtable: What’s next for Oklahoma City Thunder and for Kevin Durant?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> So what now for free agent Kevin Durant? And what now for the Thunder?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You’d be crazy to guess at this point, but the trend lines seem to be going in Oklahoma City’s favor, at least for one more year. As detailed in the Morning Tip on Monday, if Durant signs a two-year deal this summer with the Thunder with a one-year out, he’d set himself up for a potential five-year contract with OKC in the summer of 2017 for more than $200 million. Now, money isn’t the only thing driving Durant’s decision making, of course (and especially given the $250-plus million he’s already banking from Nike), but that’s not a sum you dismiss out of hand. More importantly, OKC’s rapid development the second half of the season and in the playoffs surely gives the Thunder more than a fighting chance of keeping its superstar. Coach Billy Donovan was more than comfortable matching Xs and Os with top-shelf coaches. Steven Adams went Beast Mode on opponents. Andre Roberson carried his weight offensively against the San Antono Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka again asserted himself as a defensive force and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter gave the Thunder one of the league’s best benches. And, oh yeah, Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrook. So, if you’re Durant, and you already like living someplace where people basically leave you be, and your team showed itself a legit title contender…where can you go that’s better? The Los Angeles Clippers’ core is older and the Miami Heat’s future is uncertain with Chris Bosh‘s health concerns. The Spurs already have an All-Star small forward in Kawhi Leonard. OKC already had the power of incumbency. After its playoff run, I’d put its chances at retaining Durant at 3-1.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant is interested in pursuing a championship, he should stay right where he’s at. That team has the talent and depth to contend again next season, and the Thunder surely can find ways to complement Durant and Russell Westbrook‘s firepower in a more balanced attack. Durant won’t find a more committed organization or adoring fan base, either. Now if it’s lifestyle he’s seeking, then fine, go live and work where you want to, the way 99 percent of America’s workforce does it — or could, if people really looked at their options. I don’t think he can get much more famous or ever spend any difference in off-court income that a bigger market might provide, but that would be Durant’s choice. For theatre, it would be fun to see Durant land on one of about a dozen different rosters, just to feel the NBA landscape shift. But for sheer balling, OKC seems to suit Durant fine. And vice versa.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Thunder simply wait on Durant. They don’t campaign or twist his arm or send him love letters. They just wait for Durant to reach the conclusion — and he might already be there — that there is no better place for him than Oklahoma City, where he is appreciated, adored and, most importantly, has the pieces already on hand to come right back next season and make another championship run. Where does he find another Russell Westbrook to be his sidekick? Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson all are the real thing. And coach Billy Donovan showed he has the chops. Does Durant sign a long-term deal in July or take the LeBron James one-year option and cash in even bigger next season? That’s for him to figure out. But one way or another, I believe he stays in OKC. For good.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing’s changed. Durant comes back for one season plus an option and goes through free agency for real in the summer of 2017. That has been my belief since before the playoff started, and nothing that happened in the postseason alters the opinion. There are a ton of reasons to stay in OKC well beyond 2016-17. He knows it and does not take the positives there for granted. What now for the Thunder? Respond to the ache of that elimination. How it changes them, if at all, will be one of the early storylines to watch for next season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Summer of Durant will fall flatter than OKC did late in Game 6 when Durant decides to return to OKC for at least another year. So much for drama. That’s the safe route, one that leaves him an out, if he so wishes to use it in 2017 when Russell Westbrook‘s deal is up. Meanwhile, OKC will be OK, provided the Thunder find a shooter (and he isn’t Dion Waiters, either). Folks need to calm down about this team. OKC beat a 67-win San Antonio Spurs team and took the 73-win Golden State Warriors to the brink. No shame in that, even if they were up 3-1.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLogic says that he should sign a two-year deal with the Thunder that gives him the option to be a free agent again next summer, when the max salary is projected to be higher than it is this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs a long-term deal to remain in Oklahoma City. I would be surprised if he leaves after coming so close to a return to The Finals. The Thunder don’t need much to get over the hump. It would help to have a wing who can both shoot and defend at a high level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant knew the day would come when he could no longer duck the free agency questions. Yet he still found a way to do so even in the moments after the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their collapse in the Western Conference finals. He insisted that he hadn’t given free agency a thought. Sure. Just go ahead and sign the two-year deal with the player option for the second season so we can get not to the free agents that might actually be in play for all of these teams with cap space to use up. The Thunder have no choice but to wait Durant out and see what his final decision will be. They’re clearly closer to championship level right now that many of us thought prior to their playoff run. So they should feel much better about a future that includes Durant.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t Durant have to return for at least one more year? Midway through the conference finals he and Russell Westbrook were playing the best basketball of their careers. It makes no sense to give up on their longterm investment when it is so close to paying off.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’ve seen numerous people say that if Kevin Durant wants his best chance at winning a title, he would leave OKC and go to the Eastern Conference. Which I don’t think is correct. To get to The Finals in the East you have to go through LeBron James, and that is one heckuva roadblock. To me, as we just saw, as presently constructed the Thunder are nearly good enough to get to The Finals. So I think KD stays, at least for a year. Although, I feel like the Thunder are still one rotation player away, some sort of swingman type who can score when needed and reduce the land on KD/Westbrook. (An interesting name who might be motivated to make a fit work? How about Carmelo Anthony?) They just need one more contributor. For so long the Thunder had Derek Fisher as their off guard in crunch time, and this year they made a reach for Randy Foye who they couldn’t really use in crunch time. Making this an even tougher situation is that they don’t have time to develop a young player — this a team needs to win now. Good luck balancing all of that, Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Morning shootaround — June 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron not worried about Finals odds | Barnes unsure if he will start in Game 1 | Durant’s offseason begins

No. 1: LeBron not listening to oddsmakers’ predictions for Finals In Cleveland, the Cavaliers have been in wait-and-see mode ever since they wrapped up the Eastern Conference title on May 27 with a Game 6 rout of the Toronto Raptors. In Oakland, the Golden State Warriors’ win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals clinched a return trip to The Finals and another date with the Cavs. In Las Vegas, the sports books have taken this and other data into consideration and declared the Warriors the heavy favorites in the series. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes, though, the odds mean little to Cavs star LeBron James at this point:

According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Golden State is a 5.5-point favorite to win Thursday’s Game 1 (9 p.m. ET, ABC) and approximately a 2-to-1 favorite to capture the championship.

“Not my concern,” James said Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the Cavs’ Finals rematch with Golden State was set. “I don’t get involved in all of that — underdog, overdog, whatever the case may be. It’s stupidity.”

James was confident in the Cavs’ chances compared to last June when Cleveland lost Games 4, 5 and 6 and the series after being up 2-1, but he framed that confidence as nothing that warrants special attention.

“We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year,” James said. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the significance of the Warriors’ success against the Cavs in the past as a factor for the Finals.

“I wouldn’t say revenge,” Lue said. “I just think both teams are happy and excited to make it to the Finals. It’s a big thing, and I just think that we have a different team than we had last year. Organization-wise, it’s the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we’re a different team. Kevin [Love]and Kyrie [Irving] are both healthy, the addition of Channing Frye, we’re a completely different team than we were last year.”

And based on Irving’s response when asked about the Warriors’ 34-point drubbing of his team in Cleveland on Jan. 22, the Cavs believe they are a completely different team than they were several months ago, too.

“In January?” Irving said Tuesday. “I don’t remember it.”

Irving said that the memory of going out with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of last year’s Finals isn’t giving him any extra motivation for him this time around.

“No, the Finals are the Finals,” Irving said. “Just happy that we’re back here again.”

Analytics Art: Are Ingram-Durant Comparisons Valid?

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Duke University standout Brandon Ingram is projected to be the No. 2 (potentially No. 1) overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The slick-shooting 18 year old has drawn comparisons to former No. 2 overall pick Kevin Durant, and not just because of their standing as top prospects entering the draft.

By the eye test, it seems an apt evaluation: both play the small forward position, and both boast a physical build similar to that of a praying mantis — tall, slender, lanky, all limbs.

But is it fair to stack Ingram up against a Kia MVP, four-time scoring champion and five-time All-NBA First Team member?

Below is a comparison of each guy’s stats during their one-and-done seasons in college — Ingram at Duke, Durant at Texas.

It becomes clear rather immediately that Durant, at least statistically, was the superior college player. He averaged more than eight additional points per game compared to Ingram, and he also notched double-digit rebounds.

However, context is key. While Durant did average a whopping 25.8 points per game for Texas, he was the unquestioned go-to scorer. The 2006-07 Longhorns only had two other players post double-digit scoring: A.J. Abrams (15.5 PPG) and D.J. Augustin (14.4 PPG).

On the other hand, Ingram wasn’t even Duke’s leading scorer — that distinction belonged to guard Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils finished the season with five players scoring in double figures. By comparison, Mike Krzyzewski’s crew featured a far more balanced offensive attack that didn’t rely so heavily on one superstar to get the job done. So while Ingram’s scoring output was inferior, there are some factors at play making that outcome understandable.

Moreover, Ingram’s efficiency from the field was impressive for someone his age. He sunk 41 percent of his 3s, launching 5.4 attempts per game.

Ingram wasn’t particularly fond of the right corner, but he splashed triples at rates well above average at the top of the arc and from the left corner during his only collegiate year.

Both Ingram and Durant hoisted about the same number of 3-point shots per game — 5.4 for Ingram, 5.8 for Durant — but it was a larger chunk of Ingram’s offensive repertoire. His 3-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that were 3-pointers on a team possession basis) finished at 40.3 percent. Durant, meanwhile, launched treys 31.4 percent of the time, per Sports Reference — so he didn’t lean on the outside shot nearly as much. That could certainly mean Durant entered the NBA with more polish on the offensive end, but it shouldn’t overshadow Ingram’s own scoring ability.

There’s little question Ingram can score at a high level, much like Durant. His reliable 3-point stroke seems a surefire indicator that he’ll contribute at the next level. Whether he’s the next Durant remains to be seen.

At this juncture, the Durant comparison should be viewed as Ingram’s best-case NBA scenario — what he could become at his absolute ceiling. The good news for either the Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers? Ingram’s floor seems to be remarkably high, too.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant versus Iguodala in Game 7 showdown | Warriors’ Kerr keeping it simple for Game 7 | DeRozan’s focus is on Toronto | Report: Bosh, Heat clashed over use of blood thinners

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.”

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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 GilbertGiannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis hit the streets to play ball in Greece over the weekend

Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

***

No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

***

No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

***

No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Morning shootaround — May 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder can’t pull off clinching win | Green gets back into gear | Magic plan to be active in free agency | Why Beal will likely get max deal

No. 1: Key surge in fourth quarter gets Warriors past Thunder The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to wait at least another day to clinch what they hope will be their second Finals trip in four seasons. Although the Thunder took the Golden State Warriors’ best shot time and again in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals series last night, ultimately the Warriors prevailed to trim OKC’s series lead to 3-2. As Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman points out, a key stretch to start the fourth quarter proved the difference in this still super-close series:

Oracle Arena was alive but nervous. The Warriors’ eight-point halftime lead had been sliced to four. Twelve minutes remained — maybe in their season. And to start that crucial fourth quarter, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were on the bench.

A risky move from Steve Kerr. A chance for OKC to pounce. But, instead, the Warriors bench mob blasted open the game in a flash and created the separation their starters would need to close out Game 5 with a 120-111 victory and send the Western Conference finals back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night.

“I don’t know if it was the stretch (that won the game),” Kerr said. “But it was a very important stretch.”

….

Golden State went with Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marresse Speights to start the fourth. The crowd grumbled.

But Livingston eased the tension with a 16-footer over Enes Kanter, whose rough night led to a postseason-low six minutes.

Dion Waiters, who went scoreless off the Thunder bench, threw a bad pass on the ensuing possession. It was picked off by Barnes and fed to Iguodala on the fastbreak eight seconds later. From the wing, Iguodala canned a 3. In 56 crucial seconds, Golden State had spiked its lead from four to nine.

To try and stem the tide, Billy Donovan called timeout and pulled Kanter, reinserting Serge Ibaka. But out of the break, sandwiched by a Thunder offensive rebound, Kevin Durant and Waiters missed jumpers. Livingston snared the rebound and found Barnes moments later.

Another three. The lead was suddenly 12, Golden State’s biggest on the night, while Green and the Splash Brothers played spectator.

“It was (a game-changer),” Durant said of that 8-0 spurt. “They made shots. They made those two threes that were huge for them and kind of stretched the lead. That was tough.”

Morning shootaround — May 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr wants more from Bogut | OKC’s stars back Donovan’s ways | Noah still open to Chicago return | Silver: ‘Human error’ part of game for officials | Oladipo, Fournier look forward to Vogel era

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors need Bogut in Game 5 At different times and in different ways in the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder centers Enes Kanter and Steven Adams have made a sizable impact on the series. The Thunder hold a 3-1 edge over the Golden State Warriors as tonight’s Game 5 (9 ET, TNT) in Oakland nears. During yesterday’s practice, Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a point to single out his center, Andrew Bogut, and how Golden State simply needs more from him if this series is to continue. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

With the Warriors on the brink of elimination, head coach Steve Kerr used Wednesday’s media session as a chance to issue an all-points bulletin on center Andrew Bogut.

“He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes,” Kerr said at the team’s downtown Oakland facility. “He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there.

“When he’s out there, we rebound better and we’ve got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”

The Warriors trail the Thunder 3-1 in the Western Conference finals — a best-of-seven series that is being decided by effort, rebounds and defense.

Bogut is usually among the Warriors’ best in those categories, but he has been absent in the series’ first four games. He’s averaging 3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 of a blocked shot in 14 minutes per game — numbers that are significantly down from his regular-season contributions.

He has taken only eight shots and has been whistled for 13 personal fouls.

“We’re not out of it yet, but we’ve got to have three perfect games to try to win the series,” Bogut told reporters after Tuesday’s 24-point loss. “… We’ve done a lot of things this season that haven’t been done before, so hopefully, we can do one more.”