Breaking down the Artest-Durant matchup

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NBA_artest.jpgWhen the Lakers have the ball in their upcoming series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the matchup to watch will be the battle on the perimeter between Kobe Bryant and Thabo Sefolosha. When the Thunder have the ball, the matchup to watch will be the one between Kevin Durant and Ron Artest, and it should be a good one.

With his lanky frame, incredible ball-skills, and silky-smooth stroke, Durant’s offensive game is often compared to Kobe Bryant’s. In practice, however, Durant’s scoring game is much more similar to LeBron’s than it is to Kobe’s. Despite the fact that he couldn’t lift the bar once at the NBA draft combine, Durant is as good as any player in the league at getting to the rim and finishing. Durant averages 5.3 shot attempts per game at the rim, and converts 69.8% of his shots from there. He also has one of the best pull-up games in the league from inside of 15 feet; Durant averages 4.9 jumpers from inside of 15 feet per game, and makes an impressive 47% of them. And of course, Durant gets to the line more than any other player in the league.

Despite his gorgeous shooting stroke, Durant isn’t nearly as effective when forced to take deep jumpers as he is when he goes to the hole. Durant takes six deep twos a game, but only makes 37% of them. Durant is a good three-point shooter, but most of his threes come after one or two dribbles in isolation or off a catch-and-shoot situation. He rarely punishes the defender for going under the screen on the pick-and-roll; Durant has been the ballhandler on a pick-and-roll that ended in a shot attempt, free throws, or a turnover 189 this season, and he’s only 2-15 from three in those 189 possessions.

Durant doesn’t have the kind of ability to hit deep jumpers from any angle that Kobe does. (In the interest of fairness, the same could perhaps be said about any other player in the league.) If you can keep Durant from getting into the teeth of the defense off the dribble in ISO situaions, his only recourse is launching a three from two or three feet beyond the arc or taking a deep two that he’s not very comfortable making. One thing that makes Durant so dangerous is that he’s just as comfortable spotting up or coming off a screen as he is getting the ball in an ISO situation. Since opposing players shoot 30% against Ron Artest in ISO situations, you have to imagine that Oklahoma City will attempt to keep Durant on the move and find ways to get him points without making him battle Artest.

There’s the matchup on paper. How has Durant fared against Artest in the Thunder’s four meetings with the Lakers this season? Let’s take a look:

Game 1:

This was a tough game for Durant, who shot 10-24 from the field and turned the ball over seven times. He only had one ISO possession in the entire game, and that was an end-of-quarter possession. The Thunder tried to remove Durant from Artest by giving him screens and putting him on the weak-side, but Artest stayed attached all night. Of Durant’s four baskets in the paint, two came off offensive rebounds, one came courtesy of a nice James Harden dime in transition, and one came when Artest gambled for a steal attempt while Durant was going backdoor.

Durant never got enough space during the Thunder’s first meeting with the Lakers. When he tried to catch and shoot, Artest bothered his shot and forced the miss. When he tried to put the ball on the floor and turn the corner, he went right into the waiting Laker defense and turned it over. If the Lakers play defense like this come playoff time, Durant and co. are going to be in for a very long series.

Game 2:

This was another tough game for Durant, who finished 8-20 from the field and only shot one free throw. The Lakers went up big early in this game and never relinquished the lead, and that seemed to have discouraged Durant. He didn’t have one recorded ISO possession that led to points, and he spent most of the game jacking up quick catch-and-shoot attempts, most of which missed their mark. Of his four makes in the paint, two were in transition and one came when he put his own miss back in.

Game 3:

The Thunder fell to the Lakers again in this game, but Durant looked worlds better. He was making much better and harder cuts to free himself up, looked much more confident attacking off the dribble, and the Thunder did a good job mixing up how they got him the ball. Durant was able to get past Artest a number of times in a variety of fashions on his way to an 11-18 shooting night.

Game 4:

This was the game the Thunder blew the Lakers out in Oklahoma City, but Durant actually didn’t do anything all that terribly different. He did go ISO a few times, but missed a quick-trigger jumper every time he did. He had his greatest success when he cut hard to the basket or attacked off the pick-and-roll, getting layups or easy pull-up jumpers a few times by moving without the ball.

After watching all of Durant’s possessions against the Lakers this season, here’s what pops out at me: the most important part of the possession has come before Durant catches the ball. When Durant catches it out on the perimeter with Artest in his vicinity, he hasn’t been able to do much. When he gets it on the move or catches the Laker defense scrambling, he’s been deadly. The Thunder will need to find ways to free up Durant for good looks, and Durant is going to have to commit himself to being aggressive with his movement and cuts off the ball. When the playoffs start, the most interesting battles between Durant and Artest may happen when nobody is watching them.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.

 

Get out of my head: Golden State routs Cleveland in last regular season meeting before Finals

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No regular season game is going to erase the memory of blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

No January game is an accurate crystal ball into an NBA Finals matchup.

But the Warriors can put to rest the “Cleveland is in their heads” rhetoric and take a little confidence away from an absolute drubbing of the NBA Champions on national television Monday night.

Golden State caught fire midway through the first quarter and led by 15 after one, put up 78 points in the first half to lead by 29 at the break, and it all happened so fast it left Tyronn Lue’s face as the meme of the night.

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From there, the Warriors cruised in (sloppily at times, but cruised) for the 126-91 win.

“It was very important to come out and get off to a good start, but more importantly to hold on to that, to continue to keep our foot on the gas,” Draymond Green, speaking to the blown leads issue in his postgame TNT interview. “We did that the entire night, they had one little stretch there, I think it was the end of the third quarter, but other than that we kept our foot on the gas the entire time.”

Everyone in a Warriors uniform looked sharp. Klay Thompson had 26 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. Kevin Durant had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Stephen Curry had 20 points and 11 assists. Green had a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Conversely, for the Cavaliers LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were a combined 13-of-43 (30.2 percent shooting), with just five assists to 13 turnovers between them. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 35.2 percent overall and 9-of-34 from three (26.5 percent). Love didn’t play in the second half due to lower back soreness.

The Cavaliers looked like the team on the last night of a six-game road trip counting the minutes until they got back home, which is exactly what they were.

Neither side thinks this game portends anything going forward.

“It wasn’t about sending a message,” Green said in his interview. “At the end of the day, that’s the defending champs, we played them guys in two straight Finals, you’re not sending a message with a regular season win.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good for the Warriors (and is cathartic for their fans).

The only real moment of drama in the game was when Green shouldered LeBron to the ground in the second quarter and picked up a Flagrant 1 for his efforts.

Golden State started the game slow, getting good looks but shooting just 1-of-7 from three. Still, it felt like with the looks they were getting the shots would fall at some point, and they did as the Warriors hit six of their next eight from deep. Cleveland tried to match that but found no rhythm, shooting 2-of-12 from three early. With the hot shooting continuing for them, the Warriors stretched the lead up as high as 22, but the Cavaliers had Richard Jefferson come in and muck the game up, LeBron started attacking off the drive, and the Cavaliers cut the lead down to 14.

Then the Warriors got a couple of live-ball turnovers — including Curry stripping LeBron — and converted those to fast-break buckets the other way, then all that was left was Lue looking dazed. The Warriors were moving the ball and not getting sucked into isolation, racking up 26 first half assists. The Warriors also were out and running and had 34 fast break points in the first half — credit Golden State for pushing the tempo, but the Cavaliers transition defense was a horror show. And not in a cool, “Let the Right One In” kind of way, but in the “Cavs fans never want to see that again” kind of way. Dazed Lue is right there with them.

No more meetings between these teams until the Finals we all expect to see. It’s six months of these teams getting better, trying to stay healthy, and gaining confidence going into that series. Cleveland has plenty of confidence. Golden State just got a little more.

Jeff Teague, Paul George help Pacers hold off Pelicans 98-95

Indiana Pacers' Paul George is defended by New Orleans Pelicans' Jrue Holiday during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague figures he’ll eventually get that elusive triple-double.

Until then, he’s content to pile up wins.

For the fourth time in 30 days, the former All-Star guard flirted with his first career triple-double and Paul George scored 20 points to help the Indiana Pacers hold off the New Orleans Pelicans 98-95. Teague finished with 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds – the closest he’s come yet this season.

“I’m happy I’m getting some rebounds,” Teague said. “I was one of the worst rebounders last year, so to actually get some rebounds this year is good.”

The Pacers rebounded from Thursday’s embarrassing performance in London by leading almost wire to wire. They trailed only once, at 2-0, and were only tied just three times – twice in the first 66 seconds and at 91 with 4:10 left in the game.

And Teague was a big reason why the Pacers managed to keep the Pelicans at arm’s distance.

The other reason: Anthony Davis‘ injury.

New Orleans’ All-Star center took a hard tumble with 7:08 left in the third quarter when he appeared to be leaping for an uncontested dunk. Myles Turner raced over, hit Davis on the right wrist, sent him sprawling. After Davis got up, he limped toward midcourt before making two free throws and being replaced by Terrence Jones.

Davis finished with a team high 16 points but did not return. Team officials said he injured his right thumb and left hip and that X-rays were negative. Davis left with a slight limp but did not speak with reporters.

“I don’t know anything yet, we’ll check with the doctors,” coach Alvin Gentry said.

Without Davis, the Pelicans couldn’t quite come all the way back from a 14-point deficit in the first quarter or two 10-point deficits in the third quarter.

Teague broke the 91-91 with a 3-pointer with 3:55 to play and New Orleans had three chances to tie the score in the final 20 seconds.

But Jrue Holiday missed a 22-foot pull-up jumper, E'Twaun Moore missed a short runner with 4.8 seconds left and Tyreke Evans fired up an air ball from the corner as the buzzer sounded.

“We let them hang around without their star on the floor,” George said. “We’re floating around .500. We’ve got to get some consistency, we’ve got to find a way.”

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Moore and Jones each had 15 points. Jones also had eight rebounds. … Solomon Hill had four points and four rebounds in his first trip back to Indiana since leaving the Pacers in free agency. … The Pelicans were 6 of 9 on 3-pointers in the second quarter after scoring only 18 points in the first.

Pacers: Myles Turner had his eighth double-double of the season – 18 points and 12 rebounds. He also had four blocks. … Thaddeus Young left in the first half after getting poked in the left eye but returned at the start of the third quarter. He finished with 17 points and tied a season-high with six steals. … Indiana won despite missing four of its last six free throws. … Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (sore left hamstring) hasn’t played since Dec. 28 and coach Nate McMillan said before the game he isn’t expected to play on Indiana’s upcoming three-game road trip.

FATHER-SON MATCHUP

Pacers coach Nate McMillan didn’t want Monday’s game to turn into an emotional father-son matchup. So after having dinner Sunday with his son, Jamelle, an assistant with the Pelicans, the Pacers coach told his son the same thing he always has.

“We’re both trying to win,” the father said. “That way it’s not a father-son deal. He’s been taught to go out there and win.”

But the elder McMillan was surprised this day even came. When he was asked if he ever discussed the intricacies of coaching with his son, McMillan quipped: “No, I didn’t. I thought he’d be smarter than that.”

HOME, SWEET, HOME

The Pacers have won five straight on their home court and have the second best home record in the Eastern Conference at 16-5. And New Orleans knows how tough it is to play at Indiana. The Pelicans have lost seven straight at Indy since their last win in January 2010.

 

Draymond Green picks up flagrant foul for shoulder hit to LeBron (VIDEO)

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If this were the NFL, that would be a clean tackle — led with his shoulder, not his helmet.

Turns out in the NBA, that’s not allowed.

Draymond Green picked up a Flagrant 1 foul for the hit above on LeBron James. It was a transition play, and Green came in looking for a steal and maybe to send a little message, and in doing so dropped LeBron with a shoulder. You can see the video above.

Green also appears to mock LeBron for flopping.

The refs got this right (sorry Chris Webber). Did LeBron sell that call a little? Sure. But that was unnecessary contact, the exact definition of a Fragrant 1. Sorry Cavs fans, but that was not excessive and deserving of an ejection.

The Warriors torched the Cavaliers in the first half putting up 34 fast break points, racking up 26 assists, and leading 78-49. You read that score right. That’s at the half.