NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: LeBron James finally suffocates Kevin Durant in the fourth

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(Before we get started, there is an alternate view point here, one in which Durant was out of his rhythm because he had been benched for the final 5:40 due to picking up his fourth foul, or that he was tentative for the same reason, concerned with drawing an offensive foul. If you choose to believe that Durant picking up those fouls was legitimately what resulted in Durant’s performance, then God Bless You. May the aliens who you wear tinfoil to avoid attacks from be merciful when they subjugate your world. For the rest of us, let’s talk about what happened.)

If LeBron James had dropped this line: 2 of 6 from the field, 0-2 from the line, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 2 turnovers in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, can you imagine the roasting that would occur? The abject demolition of his character? There would be attacks that would make Sherman’s March seem like the Disney parade.

Yet there’s Kevin Durant. Two points in the final five minutes, four in the quarter, a loss, and a 2-1 deficit after Miami’s 91-86 loss in Game 3.

You can thank LeBron.

James took on the task of guarding the NBA’s scoring leader in the fourth quarter, again, and versus the first two game in which Durant was setting records, in Game 3, James frustrated and confounded Durant into a miserable performance that helped the Heat seal the win. It wasn’t the usual NBA kind of defense which is foolish and prideful. There was no “go ahead and catch it, and come at me.” James engaged Durant all over the court. Baseline to baseline, sideline to sideline. Durant would flash for a lob, James was there with him, step for step. Durant would cut to the wing behind a screen, James was right there, somehow avoiding the foul but getting through the screen. Durant was in the post, trying to use his length to get around James (a curious tactic given his strengths). Durant forced him to the baseline, so far he was shooting behind the basket.

James had 4 fourth quarter rebounds. He pursued Durant to the ends of the Earth. Oh, yeah, and he scored 8 points.

He guided him into Chris Bosh for a bock. He forced him out of his positions. He rendered him isolated, stranded on the Isle of LeBron, trying to find his way to the ball, points, to a victory that would not come. If it was thought after Game 1 that Durant was proving himself the best player on the planet with his single-minded offense force, then Games 2 and 3 are LeBron answering with his comprehensive impact. While Durant was struggling to contain James, even before his foul trouble, especially inside, James was putting together a comprehensive effort. He pressure Durant, he bodied and challenged him.

James is on another level. It is of no slight to Durant, who is a better pure offensive player, despite LeBron outscoring the scoring champ in this series. James through three games has simply been the complete package he’s billed as (outside of the assists). There was no chance for Durant, no sliver of air, and the result was a frustrating and disappointing night.

Durant can rebound from this. He can hit pull-up jumpers over LeBron all day long. He tried to challenge him at the rim, tried to get calls that weren’t coming. He can respond by hitting pull-up j’s over and over in Game 4. But the result is still the same, a 2-1 lead for Miami on the back of their MVP, not their Offensive Player of the Year, but Most Valuable Player, swallowing the young gunslinger alive. Kevin Durant was eclipsed in Game 3. We’ll have to see if he responds with an even brighter shine in Game 4. For now, the edge goes to the King.

Steve Kerr “disappointed” in alma mater Arizona; wants to see NCAA follow new model

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Before he was the coach of the Golden State Warriors, before he was a five-time NBA Champion playing next to Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Steve Kerr was one of the great players the University of Arizona ever produced. The crowd would echo the announcer after ever made three — “Steeeve Keerrr” — where he was an All-American and helped lead a team (with future NBA players Sean Elliott and Tom Tolbert) to the Final Four.

There is a crisis around Arizona basketball right now. Coach Sean Miller was caught on a federal wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for star recruit Deandre Ayton (expected to be a high lottery pick in June, possibly the No. 1 pick). Miller did not coach Saturday and changes are coming to Arizona.

Kerr was asked about it before the Warriors took on the Thunder Saturday.

Kerr said he was “disappointed” in his alma mater over the incident. Which is understandable.

Not to completely excuse it, but what Miller got caught doing is commonplace — money is funneled to families or the players of top recruits on a regular basis. What is more troubling (in my mind) is the money paid under the table to AAU coaches, family members, and others close to elite recruits to funnel them to a specific “financial planner” or agent, or a specific university. People in positions of trust with the player are bought and paid for.

Kerr put out one solution that would certainly be a big step forward: follow the Olympics model and let elite players get sponsorships that don’t end their college eligibility.

This system has its flaws as well, but it gets some of the dirty money out in the open. It would be better than the hypocritical facade of amateurism the NCAA has hit behind for years.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”

 

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.