Kevin Durant attacked the rim and it was exactly what the Warriors needed

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OAKLAND — Kevin Durant did what the Warriors either could not or would not one year ago.

Cleveland’s defensive plan for Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals didn’t change much from what worked for them in the final games of the 2016 Finals. Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue described it as “kind of backwards” — the top priority was defending the arc and chasing the Warriors off the three-point line. Last year, the Warriors kept settling for those threes anyway.

Not Durant.

“If I see a lane, just try to attack,” Durant said of his mindset after the game. “Coach and my teammates always want me to attack and try to open it up for everybody else and try to score as well. So I felt like in transition they were running out to the three-point line, and we got the best 3-point shooters in the world on our team, so obviously, teams want to take away our 3-pointer, but just tried to be aggressive to the rim and loosen them up a bit.”

The result was plays like this.

Durant took over Game 1 early, and had 23 first-half points on his way to finishing with 38 points (shooting 53.8 percent and hitting 3-of-6 from three), eight rebounds, eight assists, and zero turnovers in the Golden State. Oh, and for large chunks of the game he also guarded LeBron James and did a solid job.

LeBron said after the game that Durant was the difference that led to a Warriors rout.

“I mean, you take one of the best teams that we had ever assembled last year, that we saw in the regular season and in the post-season, and then in the off-season you add a high-powered offensive talent like that and a great basketball IQ like that, that’s what stands out,” LeBron said.

“We were talking about it before the game, and Steve (Kerr) suggested we try to get the ball in (Durant’s) hands right away and put him in position where he can attack downhill,” Warriors interim coach Mike Brown said. “So we tried to do that early on, and K.D. didn’t settle.”

No, he didn’t — look at his shot chart and the 13 shots in the restricted area.

“When Kevin Durant has the ball, you don’t want to leave him and get to shooters,” Lue said. “But I thought they got him going early in the game. I thought he got out in transition, got four or five dunks early and it just kind of opened everything up for him. So we got to make it much tougher on him, can’t give a great scorer like Durant easy baskets like that, especially in transition, especially early. So we got to do a better job of taking that away.”

The challenge for the Cavaliers is how to take that away without opening up something else.

For Durant, this was his first time back on the NBA Finals stage since he was still teammates with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and he took a moment to try to soak it all in.

“What other option did I have?” Durant said. “This is what every player wants to be, is the highest level of basketball. That’s what you dream about as a kid, is to play at the highest level. So I would have — I wouldn’t done my teammates any good if I wasn’t just enjoying the moment, no matter what. So I just tried to stay locked in on that, at the same time have some fun.”

He had some fun, and made sure the Cavaliers didn’t have any. Do that a few more times this series and he may well get a new MVP trophy to add to the case at home.

 

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.

Report: Eric Bledsoe requested trade from Suns before season

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Suns guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted yesterday:

In light of Phoenix’s 0-3 start and Earl Watson getting fired yesterday, that sure looks like a trade request. Still, there’s risk in making assumptions about vague tweets.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Why wouldn’t Bledsoe want out? The 27-year-old is in his prime and stuck on a young team that would rather tank than play him.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bledsoe explains the tweet. He previously paid lip service to his situation in Phoenix, but it appears he’s ready to open up. On the other hand, public trade requests typically draw fines from the NBA.

Another Hornets backup PG injured

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Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williamsout.

Nicolas Batum, who handled a lot of playmaking with Charlotte’s second units – out.

Julyan Stone, another Hornets backup point guard – out.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee.  Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.

Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.