Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant scores 42, Thunder win a chippy one over Rockets

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The Thunder and the Rockets have a history that dates back to the playoff series last season, and a serious injury suffered by Russell Westbrook that he believes was avoidable at best, possibly caused by Patrick Beverley’s reckless play.

Tuesday night’s contest should have been simply a measuring stick game for two of the West’s top teams, but instead it was an emotional affair on both sides that saw plenty of individual, non-basketball incidents.

The result was a 106-98 Oklahoma City victory behind a monster 42-point performance from Kevin Durant, but Houston hung around until the very end despite trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half.

Early on, however, it was about Beverley vs. Westbrook.

The two went at it from the game’s opening possession, with Beverley amped up beyond belief to prove … what, exactly? It’s understandable that Westbrook would have an ax to grind, but the only explanation for Beverley bringing it like that would be an attempt at intimidation.

It didn’t work, as Westbrook was more than ready for the challenge. Beverley had his moments defensively, but Westbrook largely torched him when the opportunity presented itself. He finished with 24 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four steals, while playing a physical game that Beverley invited.

There were several minor incidents between the two all game long, but things were especially heated in the opening minutes, and they came to a head midway through the first quarter when Beverley briefly grabbed Westbrook after he had slowed up and was calling a timeout. It was almost an exact replica of the play where Westbrook was injured in the playoffs last season, and it occurred at almost precisely the same spot on the floor.

Westbrook rightfully lost it for a moment, which was likely Beverley’s intention. And that wasn’t the only bit of chippiness we saw.

OKC’s Reggie Jackson pulled the same stunt against James Harden later, and Harden’s reaction seemed to indicate that he wanted no part of the extracurricular nonsense. But he couldn’t escape it, and was the victim of a flagrant foul from Steven Adams later on a forearm to the chin.

Durant usually doesn’t engage in these things, but he apparently has issues with Francisco Garcia, who had a couple of big games against the Thunder in last year’s playoff series. Durant threw a forearm to Garcia that caught him in the chin, but received nothing more than a technical foul for his actions.

There’s bad blood here, and that’s going to make the next time these two teams meet on April 4 a game that’s a must-watch. But the Rockets will need to corral Beverley, and focus more on slowing Durant in the future, who was simply masterful in lighting up the Rockets in this one.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.

Drake congratulated LeBron James in hallway after game

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Drake is a Toronto native and a huge Raptors’ fan. He’s officially the team’s “global ambassador,” although nobody knows what that actually means.

Drake is also tight with LeBron James.

As LeBron is running down the hall to get to the locker room and celebrate making a sixth straight trip to the Finals Drake stops him to congratulate him. And Drake is one of the handful of guys LeBron will stop and talk to.

Nothing wrong with this, either. Drake has walked a line the whole series — he’s a Raptors fan, he’s trolled LeBron and Kyrie Irving on social media after Toronto wins, but he’s close with Cleveland’s players and has been seen in the Cavaliers locker room plenty the past few seasons.

Some fan bases (we’re looking at you, Philly) would flip out over this kind of divided loyalty, but not Canadians who will just forgive and move on.

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.