Kevin Durant has his Thunder one win from the Finals

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In the press conference following the Thunder’s huge Game 5 win over the Spurs in San Antonio, one that now has Oklahoma City just a single home victory away from advancing to the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant was asked a question that seemed silly on the surface. It referenced the fact that teams seemingly needed to politely wait for their time to come, before asking when the Thunder decided they were ready now to take that next step.

Durant handled it with the grace and skill that he displays on a nightly basis, while often making his heroics seem routine.

“We never just thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” Durant said. “We always wanted to go and take everything.”

It was a fitting response after Durant and his Thunder took Game 5, winning for the third straight time over a now-reeling Spurs team that began this series with a 2-0 lead, and a 20-game win streak that had many wondering if it would ever come to an end this post-season.

The thing about that answer, though, is that Durant has often waited his turn in these playoffs — but not to his team’s detriment. In fact, the results have been outstanding.

Durant once again led the Thunder in scoring on Monday, hitting for 27 points on 10-19 shooting. But he did so after scoring just five first-half points, all of which came in the first quarter, on just 1-6 shooting.

It’s cliche to say that a player takes what the defense gives, and doesn’t force while allowing the game to come to him. But that’s exactly what we get from Durant. It’s rare to see a superstar adhere to both of those principles on a consistent basis, and to do so in such a way where the rest of the team thrives —  while still leaving the door open to take the game over when the time is right — well, it’s a special quality that might belong to Durant alone if we’re talking about the game’s most elite players.

The Spurs held a lead of six points with 5:40 to play in the third quarter. Durant had yet to assert himself, but when he did, just like the majority of the games he’s played in this season, his opponent had no answer.

Durant started getting buckets, in the silky-smooth way that only he can. He hit from distance, mid-range, and at the rim, and even assisted Russell Westbrook on a highlight-reel alley-oop that was part of a 23-5 OKC run that turned the game around for good.

The Spurs didn’t go away, of course, and closed the gap with a late run of their own. And, once Durant got things rolling by doing his thing, James Harden stepped up with 12 huge fourth-quarter points on just four shots, which included four three-pointers and the dagger with the shot clock winding down that effectively sealed it.

As a team, the Thunder may not have had any intention of waiting their turn behind the Mavericks, Lakers, and now Spurs — all of whom have been the only ones to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals over the past 13 years, and all of whom the Thunder have faced in these playoffs.

Incredibly, all it will take is one more patient performance from Durant at home in Game 6, and the wait for his Thunder will be over.

Bill Russell to Shaq, Kareem during awards show: “I would kick your ass”

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Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever lived. His dominance for the Boston Celtics is unquestioned.

And, he apparently knows it.

Russell received a lifetime achievement award on Monday night during the 2017 NBA Awards. Joined on stage by NBA big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, Russell opened his acceptance speech of the award with a little joke.

Via Twitter:

Tell ’em, Bill

Russell Westbrook has to choke back tears during emotional MVP acceptance speech

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Russell Westbrook was a tornado on the court this past season, tearing fearlessly through the NBA, leading the Thunder to the playoffs, and eventually himself to winning the MVP Award on Monday night.

It was a different side of Westbrook we saw when he accepted the award, barely able to hold back the tears in thanking his parents, teammates, and everyone who helped him get to that point.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.