NBA Playoffs: Is Kevin Durant really a Kobe stopper? Or was Kobe the Kobe stopper?


Bryant_Durant.jpgKevin Durant is being treated like basketball royalty today — he stepped up like a superstar should. With the game on the line, he asked to cover the other team’s best player. He went mano a mano with Kobe Bryant. That takes stones. He deserves the praise.

And the Thunder won. That is ultimately how we measure success. We see these things as black and white that way.

“It was a matchup that caught me by surprise. I think he did a great job,” Bryant said in his post-game press conference.

But what exactly did Durant do? Thanks to our friends at Synergy I rewatched every Kobe Bryant shot with Durant on him in the fourth. And as it always, things are not black-and-white so much as shades of grey. Durant deserves credit, but Kobe was passive and has hit many of those shots.

Durant didn’t take on Kobe until just more than nine minutes left in the game (Kobe’s first three shots of the fourth were against James Harden, where he was 1 of 3 but had looks he normally drains). What follows is a breakdown of the seven Bryant fourth quarter attempts where Durant was on him.

1. Kobe is isolated on the weakside wing, gets the ball then tries to drive Durant to the left to the middle of the court, the free throw line, then spins back to the elbow for a quick shot. Most defenders are nowhere near this and Kobe gets an unobstructed look, but Durant’s length makes it a shot he can contest. Kobe hits the back rim. Kobe’s shot was long all night, particularly in the fourth.

2. Kobe gets the handoff on the left wing then kind of dribbles until he gets a clear out, makes a couple of more dribbles like he’s going to make a move then goes the quick-release pull-up three. Durant contests and the shot misses. Not a great look, no motion in the Lakers offense, but Kobe has hit those.

3. The Lakers actually got the ball to Pau Gasol on the low block, he goes to the middle and draws three defenders so he kicks out to Fisher in the corner, who hesitated just enough for a defensive recovery. Fisher needs a bailout so he throws to Kobe on the high left wing, who launches a catch-and-shoot three from three feet behind the arc. Back rim again. Not a good shot for that possession again.

4. Just 5:30 and left and Kobe really tries to take him here — and Durant does his best defensive job of the night. From the top of the key Kobe drives left, then quickly comes behind his back to the right — and Durant is right with him, cutting off the lane. So Kobe steps back and goes to more of a power-drive left where once he gets to the baseline 12 feet out he tries a fade away, but Durant is not only there he blocks it. That was great defense from Durant.

5. Next possession and the Lakers offense is stagnant, they can’t get the ball inside with a post pass (it’s amazing how bad the Lakers guards are at that) and nobody creates a shot outside, so it is kicked to Kobe and he goes with another catch-and-shoot long three with Durant contesting, Flat and a miss.

6. The Lakers went away from Kobe for the next four minutes, and are now down four with less than a minute to go. This time after nothing develops for the Lakers on the strong side it becomes a weakside isolation for Kobe, again a couple steps beyond the arc. He takes one hard step to get Durant to step back then goes for the pull-up three. Contested and back rim.

7. Westbrook misses and Kobe gets the rebound and just races in transition. Durant is back and tries to pick him up a the free throw line but Kobe is going too fast with a full head of steam, gets by and lays it in, the block is just late.

So what did Durant do? He has quick enough feet to take away easy driving angles, and the Lakers not once came out and set a high pick for Kobe to come off of so he could get an angle. It was isolations. Durant’s length meant he could at least get a hand up on all these shots, sometimes making Kobe adjust. Durant did as well as could be done on Kobe late game.

But Kobe has also hit some of those shots before, we’ve all seen him drain those long threes. But he (and all the Lakers) were passive, settling for jumpers. It’s not good offense, but it works often enough for them. The Thunder would rather have the Lakers shooting those jumpers rather than getting the ball inside. But be careful what you wish for, the Lakers can hit those shots. It will be interesting to see if they do next game.

Kevin Durant moshes at Kanye West concert, Steve Kerr calls it ‘great workout’ (video)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) == Steve Kerr joked around on what became a post-mosh Monday, feeling some of the natural pressure before his Golden State Warriors get going at last with all the weight of trying to win another NBA championship on their star-studded shoulders.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year said he cut short practice given Kevin Durant‘s jostling in the mosh pit at a Kanye West concert the previous evening.

“He got a great workout last night,” Kerr said with a smile.

Kanye performed at Oracle Arena, where KD will become THE show Tuesday night for the defending Western Conference champions. And MVP Stephen Curry, too, of course.

“We all have pressure. That’s a good thing,” Kerr said Monday. “The alternative is, `Maybe we can win 30 this year instead of 25.’ Who wants that? Unfortunately, a lot of the teams in the league have that, teams that are going through rebuilding stuff, and they’re trying to get where we are. So we’re in a really enviable position. We know how lucky we are to be together with this group. We understand the responsibility that comes with it, and that’s fine. It’s a good position to be in.”

A day away from his highly anticipated Warriors debut, Durant insisted he had no idea just how much daily interest Golden State would generate before the season even began.

How much Durant’s every move would be intently watched – whether it was his concert-going or riding the BART train to get around.

“I never had a chance to get to a show. I was always moving around, Olympics and traveling a lot,” Durant said of attending West’s show. “I’m glad he came through here. I was telling all my friends. I’ve always told them I wanted to get in a mosh pit. It was amazing.”

Durant had no concerns about anything going wrong with all those people in tight quarters.

“I’m covered, man. I’m covered by a higher power upstairs, no matter what happens,” he said.

Four months after squandering a 3-1 series lead and losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to LeBron James and Cleveland, the Warriors are ready to start fresh without any thought on chasing the regular-season wins record they now hold at 73. They will host San Antonio and Kerr’s former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, on Tuesday night.

“It’s the Spurs, so it makes it even more fun,” Kerr said.

Golden State also will honor TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is fighting leukemia, with a special T-shirt for all fans at the opener.

Kerr has said all along Durant would need time to adjust.

“He’s light years beyond where he was three weeks ago,” Kerr said. “He’s embracing the chaos, for sure.”

With Durant and so many new players, Kerr still expects everything to take time before the Warriors really start clicking. Kerr wasn’t even on the bench for last season’s opener, missing the initial 43 games and a record 24-0 start while dealing with complications from a pair of back surgeries.

Next week might be even bigger for Durant, whose former Oklahoma City Thunder visit on Nov. 3. Golden State rallied from 3-1 down to beat OKC in the Western Conference Finals.

Durant’s departure was a big deal. It still is.

“I think they’re just looking for something to grab onto and make it a story,” Durant said. “We understand that. That’s one thing I actually didn’t understand coming in here. Everything’s going to be taken and used as a headline. It’s definitely a learning experience for me not used to all this coverage around a team. That’s just part of the job. That’s why we get paid the way we do and that’s why we are who we are as players. You’re kind of prone to criticism.”

New center Zaza Pachulia got a glimpse of the attention and hype surrounding the Warriors on media day last month.

He’s ready to embrace it.

“We take it as a compliment because it means you’re doing something right. It means you’ve got good talent here, it means that people want to know about you more than anybody else,” he said. “It’s a huge year for us, a big season, kind of what we expected with a lot of expectations, a lot of eyes on us.”

LeBron James responds vaguely when asked about Carmelo Anthony joining Cavaliers

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks battle for position during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (and Chris Paul) said they talked frequently about winning another Olympic gold medal together. LeBron and Anthony both said they’d take a pay cut to play with each other (and Paul and Dwyane Wade). In 2014, Anthony reportedly tried to join LeBron on the Heat or get LeBron to join him on the Knicks.

But none of it came to fruition.

LeBron skipped the 2016 Olympics. He also left Miami for the Cavaliers in 2014, and Anthony returned to New York. Again a free agent the last two years, LeBron re-signed with Cleveland.

What about a LeBron and Anthony teaming up on the Cavs?

LeBron, via Chris Fedor of

“We have a lot of conversations,” James said Tuesday of his relationship with Anthony.

Did any of those talks center on Anthony coming to Cleveland?

“Maybe. Maybe not,” James said.

Anthony can’t opt out until 2018, so he’s not signing in Cleveland anytime soon. Plus, the Cavs will likely still be capped out then.

Anthony holds a no-trade clause, which allows him to dictate when and where the Knicks deal him. Would he be open to Cleveland? A trade based around Anthony and Love makes at least a little sense.

This line of thinking probably isn’t what Love wants to hear, but he at least knows to expect it now. Not even a championship can quash all the rumors that find this team.

It just goes with the territory of being LeBron’s teammate.

Assistant coach: Kevin Durant ‘jealous’ of Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan relationship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kevin Durant #5, Kyle Lowry #7 and Demar DeRozan #9 of United States celebrate as Jhon Cox #6 of Venezuela  looks on during the Men's Priliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Anything positive Kevin Durant says about the Warriors is interpreted as an insult to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

So, Durant has gone out of his way to praise Oklahoma City lately.

But he can’t control the messaging of Rex Kalamian, a Raptors assistant coach who previously worked for the Thunder.

Kalamian relayed a text from Durant about his experience playing with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Team USA in the Olympics.

Chris O’Leary of the Toronto Star:

“Your two guys are the best. I’m jealous of their relationship, the way they get along with each other and the way they play together. The way they enjoy each other, it’s great,” Kalamian said of that text on Monday, as the Raptors finished up their practice. Durant, all the way from the Olympics in Rio, was in awe of the friendship that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had on display with the U.S. men’s basketball team.

“I think it’s kind of what he wants,” Kalamian continued. “He wants that bond with someone . . . and I think he’s going to find that.

“Early on in OKC, we had that.”

“We had that (bond) really with James Harden. He was a connector of everyone. He brought Westbrook, Durant and (Serge) Ibaka and they all kind of connected, they all came together,” Kalamian said.

“James is a big reason and when he left I think Kevin said . . . that trade was the beginning of the end for him and now there wasn’t that connection as much.

“Kevin and Russell, they respect the heck out of each other, no question about it. They played well together, they work well together, they communicate, but I think the connection was lost a little bit for whatever reason.”

This will absolutely be interpreted as shot at Westbrook, and that’s not fair. Lowry and DeRozan share a quirky, trusting and sincere friendship. Even with deep bonds with their current coworkers, who wouldn’t be jealous of that?

Now, there are real signs of fray between Durant and Westbrook. Even if Durant’s text doesn’t necessarily implicitly refer to Westbrook, it might.

Maybe losing James Harden caused problems between Durant and Westbrook. Beyond his ability to – as Kalamian put it – connect, Harden also made the Thunder better. Winning cures all ills.

Durant will win plenty with the Warriors. That will smooth any rough edges in his friendships with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and everyone else.

But even if Durant has all his dreams come true in Golden State, he can remain jealous of Lowry and DeRozan. Their connection seems special.

Warriors embrace villainy in hilarious cartoon (video)

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke around while they pose for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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I find most of these corny, but “Super Team: A Warriors Musical” is fantastic.

Obviously, Draymond Green‘s character provides plenty of comedy. But the entire roster – from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to even Ian Clark – is used in the gags.

The breakout stars: Klay Thompson and Rocco.

Well done, Bleacher Report: