Kevin Durant’s defense shines in elite two-way performance

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Kevin Durant stonewalled a Kevin Love postup, blocked Love’s baby hook with his left hand, snatched the loose ball, tucked it under his arm and turned to read the court.

As he looked ahead, he saw no peers.

Durant turned in a devastating defensive performance – five blocks, three steals and 11 defensive rebounds – in the Warriors’ 132-113 Game 2 win over the Cavaliers in  the NBA Finals on Sunday. The only players to get even three-quarters of those defensive stats in an NBA Finals game since the league instituted a 16-team playoff in 1984:

  • Dwight Howard in 2009 Magic-Lakers Game 2 (four blocks, four steals and 13 defensive rebounds)
  • Tim Duncan in 2003 Spurs-Nets Game 1 (seven blocks, three steals and 17 defensive rebounds)
  • Hakeem Olajuwon in 1986 Rockets-Celtics Game 4 (four blocks, four steals and nine defensive rebounds)

That’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Howard), 15-time All-Defensive teamer (Duncan) and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (Olajuwon).

And Durant.

Durant infamously entered the NBA unable to bench press 185 pounds then built a reputation as a lanky finesse scorer. But through sheer force of will, Durant has developed into one of the NBA’s better defenders. A de facto 7-footer, his length is a huge asset – especially considering his mobility. He can block shots on and off the ball and erase passing lanes. He has gotten strong enough and tough enough to body traditional bigs, and his defensive awareness is off the charts.

“Kevin’s defense was unreal, and it was probably the key to the whole game,” said Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who deployed Durant at center in Game 2.

Engaged like he is in these Finals, Durant rivals Kawhi Leonard and even LeBron James as the best two-way player in the NBA. Remember, Durant was in the thick of the MVP race until he got hurt. The 28-year-old is summoning another gear in the Finals, one the 32-year-old LeBron is struggling to maintain.

Durant’s offensive performance tonight would’ve stood up on its own: 33 points, six assists and two offensive rebounds. He’s just taking it to the Cavs.

After blocking Love, Durant pushed the ball against a retreating Cleveland defense, blew by LeBron and banked in a shot as Love pushed him down. Draymond Green, who enthusiastically celebrated the sequence by flexing on the bench, was asked whether he transferred his flexing power to Durant.

“That was a man play. I don’t really know if I could put this power,” Green said while showing off his bicep then tapping Durant’s, “in these arms, though.”

Don’t let Durant’s frame fool you.

His shoulders can carry plenty of weight.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.