2014 NBA Finals - Game Three

Kawhi Leonard showcases next dimension in quest to lead Spurs

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What got into Kawhi Leonard?

After failing to crack double digits in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points in their 111-92 Game 3 win over the Heat on Tuesday.

“We just want him to be who he’s been the whole year – the regular season and the playoffs,” Gregg Popovich said.

No, seriously, Pop. What got into Leonard?

“He was just himself,” the San Antonio coach said. “I don’t know what you’re looking for.”

Popovich might be incredulous because he saw this coming so long ago, he can’t understand what took so long for everyone else to catch up. Before last season, Popovich predicted Leonard would become the face of the Spurs.

Now, it might be happening before our eyes.

The 22-year-old Leonard has drawn praise from all types, but the analytically inclined have particularly latched onto his all-around production. He led San Antonio in win shares during last year’s playoffs and again during this year’s regular season.

But being the face of a franchise, even the Spurs, involves more than quiet efficiency. It requires becoming the focal point at times, something Leonard had never done to this extent – not even at San Diego State, let alone in the NBA.

His 29 points were the most he’d scored since high school.

In the last eight years, the only other players to score so much in a Finals game are LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker – each multiple-time All-Stars.

Leonard has yet to receive that recognition even once, but if he keeps scoring like this, his contributions will be impossible to ignore.

He aggressively drove to the hoop and made open shots from beyond the arc, requiring just 13 shots to score his 29 points. And he still had enough energy left to defend LeBron, who spent just 64 seconds on the court without Leonard.

There are only so many two-way stars in the league, and Leonard is building his case for a seat at the table as his offense catches up to his defense.

The difference between Leonard and Paul George – a two-time All-NBA third teamer, recipient of a max contract and unquestioned best player on a team that has made consecutive conference finals – is not as great as it appears at first glance. Leonard, a year younger than George, has time to make up whatever difference exists.

Leonard used another one of those two-way stars to help find his way after struggling earlier this series.

“LeBron is very aggressive on the offensive end and defensive end,” Leonard said on ESPN. “So, just trying to match his intensity and trying keep my energy up and just staying hydrated throughout the game.”

That’s a nice subtle jab from a member of the Spurs, an organization paranoid about surrendering any competitive advantage. Maybe Leonard should know better – even if that was an unintended reference to LeBron’s cramps – because anything might motivate LeBron. But Leonard is still just 22 and learning the ropes.

Even if he doesn’t play like it.

For the second straight year, Leonard is the youngest player by four years in the Finals. Last season, he excelled, averaging a double-double. In his return to basketball’s biggest stage, Leonard took a bit longer to get going, but he made up for lost time in Game 3. Since at least 1985, only Kobe Bryant has scored so many points in a Finals game at such a young age.

Constantly, Leonard is evolving.

“He’s got to be one of our better players on the court, or we’re not good enough,” Popovich said. “That’s just the way it is. He’s got that kind of talent.”

That’s no longer a forecast of a distant future.

It’s the reality of the present.

Kevin Durant shines in first game at new home Oracle Arena, USA routs China again 107-57

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Cheered all night long by his basketball-crazed new fan base, Kevin Durant knocked down a 3-pointer on the Americans’ first touch and slammed home a dunk the very next time down the floor.

Then, another pretty one-handed jam just a few minutes after that.

What a performance for Golden State’s latest big star to help lead the U.S. Olympic team past China 107-57 on Tuesday night for a third dominant victory in as many exhibition games.

Durant, who finalized his two-year contract with the Warriors on July 8, scored all 13 of his points during a 13 1/2-minute span of the first half while playing his first game at his new home, Oracle Arena.

He was the first American player back on the floor after halftime to get in some more shots, all while Warriors general manager Bob Myers stood close by along the sideline.

Booed in Los Angeles a couple days back, Durant received a far more friendly reception in the Bay Area he will now call home. He emerged for pregame warmups to huge roars. He departed the court before the game to a swarm of autograph hounds hanging over the railings in the tunnel – and kindly obliged. One person held a sign that read, “KD is not a Villain.”

Durant received a rousing standing ovation when introduced along with Warriors All-Stars Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Also cheered was former Golden State forward Harrison Barnes, part of this past season’s runner-up team that squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers to miss out on a repeat title.

The sellout crowd went nuts again when Durant checked back into the game at the 2:32 mark of the third quarter.

Mike Krzyzewski’s latest star-studded roster sure looks untouchable just more than a week before the Rio Games begin.

Chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” greeted Durant in the building where Stephen Curry has won the past two NBA MVPs, becoming this first unanimous winner last season.

Curry – who opted out of playing for the Americans in their Rio Olympic run – had a courtside seat to watch with his wife, Ayesha.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and former Warriors star Chris Mullin was in the house sitting next to Mitch Richmond.

Warriors assistant coach and former member of the Thunder staff Ron Adams was an early arrival to watch Durant’s warmup routine. At his introductory news conference, Durant joked, “Ron Adams was the only reason I came.”

Before joining Golden State, Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder blew a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. He is ready to chase a championship with Curry and Co.

Green, joined on the court by Durant and Thompson, took the microphone before tipoff to thank the fans.

“We appreciate the support,” he said. “We look forward to going on to Rio and winning the gold.”

It will be the second straight Olympics the Americans have three teammates on the roster. Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook represented the U.S. four years ago at the London Games.

The next stop for Krzyzewski’s team will be in Chicago to face Venezuela on Friday night at United Center before wrapping up its pre-Olympic tour against Nigeria on Monday in Houston.

China, which lost to the Americans 106-57 on Sunday, and the U.S. also meet in their Olympic opener Aug. 6.

A moment of silence was held for former Warriors great Nate Thurmond, a Hall of Famer who died earlier this month at age 74 after a short bout with leukemia.

Dion Waiters explains decision to sign with the Heat in an Instagram post

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the first quater against the Golden State Warriors in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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On Monday, Dion Waiters agreed to a one-year, $2.9 million deal with the Heat, far less than most people thought he would get as one of the few significant free agents still on the market. Tuesday afternoon, he posted an explanation on Instagram for his deal.

Here’s what he said:

I didn’t do it for the money… I did it for the opportunity to go out & ball & have fun. Everything else will take care of its self!!! I just felt like it was the best situation for me…& my family. I could have waited & got wat I wanted. But I rather be happy then miserable at the end of the day!!! Meaning Yu can have everything & still not be happy… #heatnation let’s get it!!! #provethemwrong #stamped #Philly

It seems clear, based on the market, that the kinds of offers Waiters was hoping for weren’t out there for him. In Miami, with Dwyane Wade gone, he’ll probably start at shooting guard and have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in hopes of landing a long-term deal next summer.

Report: Celtics sign second-round pick Demetrius Jackson to four-year deal

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 27:  Demetrius Jackson #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish walks to the bench late in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center on March 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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While we wait for the Celtics to make a bigger move to trade for another star, they’re filling out the end of their roster. Sheridan Hoops’ Michael Scotto is reporting that they’ve signed Demetrius Jackson, the No. 45 pick in last month’s draft, to a four-year deal.

Jackson declared for the draft after his junior season at Notre Dame. Talent-wise, he has the chance to be a major steal for Boston — DraftExpress has him ranked as the 17th-best overall prospect in this year’s draft class. But he might not play much his first year. The Celtics’ roster is already crowded and there’s still the chance that they’ll make another move with some of their much-vaunted assets if the right star becomes available.

Hawks sign former Michigan State center Matt Costello

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18: Matt Costello #10 of the Michigan State Spartans handles the ball against Darnell Harris #0 of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have signed undrafted rookie free agent center Matt Costello of Michigan State.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound Costello averaged 5.7 points and 5 rebounds on the Hawks’ summer league team in Las Vegas.

Costello averaged 10.7 points and 8.2 rebounds as a senior at Michigan State. He holds the school’s career record with 146 blocked shots.

Terms of the deal were not released.