Kevin Durant turned on the heat to close out Miami

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Kevin Durant had a pretty quiet first half and, perhaps not surprisingly, his Oklahoma City Thunder trailed by seven points heading into halftime.

That all changed in the second half, however, as Durant dominated down the stretch to close out the Heat on his way to 36 efficient points in his first ever NBA Finals appearance. The Thunder won 105-94 and now have a 1-0 lead in the NBA finals.

The Oklahoma City defense deserves a lot of credit for sparking the second half comeback and getting the Thunder a lead, of course, but it was Durant who completely closed the door on any sort of Heat heroics. The leading scorer during this year’s NBA season might not quite have been the force that basketball fans saw LeBron James become to get Miami to this juncture, but Durant was certainly something special down the stretch.

Oklahoma City ended the third quarter with a one-point lead thanks to a pair of free-throws from Russell Westbrook and, at the time, the outcome of the contest was still very much in doubt. As soon as the fourth quarter commenced, however, Durant decided he’d show the world that the Thunder weren’t “just happy to be here,” “leery of the Finals’ limelight” or anything else that people have mentioned as reasons for picking against this young Thunder team. No, the team that has already dispatched the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs doesn’t seem ready to settle for the “experience” of making it to the championship series — they showed, through their star player, that they’re ready to win now.

Durant came out a mix of fearless and ferocious in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his team’s first 17 points in the final stanza as Oklahoma City went from barely coming back by holding a contentious one-point lead to looking like the real deal as they took a 91-83 lead with less than five minutes to play via an all too easy mid-range jumper from Durant — his 13th points of the quarter. The Durantula ended up tallying 17 points in the final stanza to lead his team to the opening-game victory.

The reason your’s truly found beauty in Durant’s first game in the Finals wasn’t simply because he scored a lot of points on the big stage, though, but more due to the fact that he was willing to wait and let the game come to him rather than deciding to try and force his offense as soon as the Thunder found themselves in the deficit because, as basketball fans know, that is certainly wont to happen with a player as young as he is. The NBA’s leading scorer instead showed patience typically exhibited from players with much more experience than he has, however, and it paid off — not only for himself, but for the fans.

See, as anyone who watched Tuesday night’s game will tell you, the way Durant did his damage — using his phenomenal length to finish over Shane Battier at the rim, showing superb touch from beyond the three-point arc or hitting the mid-range jumper that was once thought to be a lost art in today’s game — was nearly as impressive as everything surrounding his impressive performance: in his first game of the NBA Finals, against the league’s MVP, in the clutch moments of the game and with not one bit of evidence that he was trying to do too much on the offensive end … no, he was just doing what it took to help his team pick up an all-important win.

It might not have been one for the history books considering it was only Game 1 of what could absolutely end up being a seven-game series, but Durant showed on Tuesday night that he’s ready, willing and able to take the game over if necessary. Now we just have to wait to see how Miami responds.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

AP
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.

 

PBT Extra: Spurs many off-season questions start with Kawhi Leonard

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San Antonio has a lot of roster questions heading into this summer. When Danny Green opts out at $10 million a year, how much do they offer to bring back a key wing defender? What about Tony Parker, an unrestricted free agent? Will Manu Ginobili come back at age 78 41 for another season?

But at the top of the list: Can the Spurs relationship with Kawhi Leonard be repaired?

If so, do they trust his health enough to offer him the $219 million designated veteran max extension?

If not, do they test the trade market (likely we will know the answer to that around the draft, well before July 1)?

I get into all of it in this latest PBT Extra.