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Kevin Durant’s defense leads the way for Warriors

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(AP) — Kevin Durant is growing a little tired of questions about his ability to play defense.

“Underrated?” Durant responded when recently asked about the perception of his D. “My coaches don’t feel like that.”

Neither does he, and KD’s menacing, 6-foot-9 presence from the paint to the perimeter is a big reason unbeaten Golden State is closing in on its second championship in three years.

While best known for his sensational scoring and shot-making from every corner of the court, Durant has been tough on LeBron James so far in these NBA Finals by smothering the Cavs superstar. The Warriors are two wins from a title going into Game 3 at Cleveland on Wednesday night.

Durant is chasing his first championship and seems determined to do whatever it takes.

So versatile with his length and ability to alter shots, he even played center during Sunday’s Game 2 when Draymond Green dealt with foul trouble in the 132-113 victory.

“I don’t think there’s many teams in the league who their backup is better than their starter,” Green said. “So I think that’s a luxury that we have with KD here, and when I went out with foul trouble, obviously he – to say pick up the slack is kind of a ridiculous term, because he’s a great player, an MVP, one of the best players in the world. So just the way he played on the defensive end, the way he played on the offensive end, he’s been doing it all playoffs long, but in these Finals, he’s really picked it up, and it’s been huge for us.”

Durant and Green have set the tone all season on the defensive end, establishing an intensity and toughness – and the rest of the Warriors had no choice but to do more during Durant’s 19-game absence this spring with a knee injury.

“If we’re locked in on the defensive end, we’ll score enough points,” Green said. “Even on an off night, we’ll score enough points.”

After his NBA Finals failure five years ago against James and the Heat, Durant vowed to become a legitimate, respected defender who could make nearly as much of an impact blocking shots and crashing the boards.

He insists he can do even more.

“I’ve gotten better, and 2013 is when I feel I really turned the corner as a defender. Around 2012, that’s when coaches stopped thinking they could go at me and get a basket or get me in foul trouble,” Durant said. “But I don’t expect anybody on the outside who really doesn’t know the game to look at me as a defender because once you’re labeled something that’s what you’re going to be. But I feel the last four or five years I’ve definitely continued to get better and better, and smarter. I have the physical tools, but it’s also about mentally knowing what to do.”

Sure, James still notched his record-tying eighth career Finals triple-double and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had big nights. Yet Durant, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and the others kept the pressure on the Cavs.

Durant blocked five shots to go with 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists after going off for 38 points and eight assists in Thursday’s Game 1.

“His defense was amazing, and we needed it. Especially with Draymond out,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s a small game and you got shooters everywhere and you have to be able protect the rim with LeBron coming downhill, with Love posting up and Draymond’s on the bench. So that’s a pretty scary proposition for us. I thought that Kev’s defense was unreal, and it was probably the key to the whole game.”

It could be that Durant’s defense will quiet the critics at last, especially if he comes out a winner after that scrutinized move from Oklahoma City last July to join the super-Warriors.

“I don’t feel like I get picked on or people call sets just to try to score on me. That hasn’t happened in a while,” he said. “I’ve grown leaps and bounds from where I was. I feel like I’ve been a solid defender in this league for a while.”

With all of their offensive firepower, the Warriors often turn a stretch of timely defensive stops into scoring spurts that can swing the momentum. Or, in many cases, give them just the jolt they need to put a game out of reach for good.

“I operate under the assumption that our guys know what to do and they know their system,” Golden State assistant and defensive specialist Ron Adams said. “We have an eclectic system. There’s freedom offensively, and we have some freedom defensively, and we’re good at it.”

When the Warriors added Durant, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West to a roster that blew a 3-1 Finals lead to James and fell short of a repeat last year, many wondered if they would have enough in the middle to defend the rim.

“It was a question mark for some people going into the season, losing (Andrew) Bogut and some other guys,” general manager Bob Myers said. “Ron is interesting. He’s always had good defensive teams. And we take pride in it, we care about it. I know the offense gets most of the attention but our players, they work at it, collectively, individually. They want to be a good defensive team. We try to do it all year. Sometimes it’s better than other times, but this is the time of year you really need it the most. For us, we view it as important as our offense.

“It’s not as sexy, but it’s important.”

 

Spike Lee says not everyone at Nike thought Jordan should be face of company at first

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We have mythologized Michael Jordan into a man who could almost walk on water, and could certainly walk on air. He legitimately is the GOAT — or, at the very least, one of a handful of players ever worthy of being in that conversation — but the idea he is perfect is far from true.  (He was 6-7 in getting his team to the Finals, LeBron is 8-4, so LeBron lifted lesser teams farther, to use one devil’s advocate argument).

Not everyone always believed in Jordan, and that came out in a couple recent articles.

The Chicago Tribune ran a June 20, 1984, article about Jordan being drafted from their paper, where then GM Rod Thorn was not exactly selling Jordan as a franchise changing player.

“There just wasn’t a center available,” said Thorn. “What can you do?”

“He’s only 6-5,” said Thorn, who must use a different yardstick than Dean Smith, the Carolina coach. Down where the tobacco grows, Jordan has always been 6-6, not that one inch ever stopped Jordan from crashing the boards, hitting from the outside or playing substantially above sea level. By the time he gets to Chicago, or when negotiations for his wages get sticky, Jordan may be the size of a jockey. The Bulls aren’t even sure where to play Jordan. “Big guard, small forward,” said coach Kevin Loughery.

Jordan ended up being the perfect player at the perfect time — an all-time great who peaked just as the popularity of the game took off, and with a little help from Nike his image blew up.

Except, not everybody at Nike was down with Jordan being the face of the organization, Spike Lee told Sole Collector (remember Lee and his commercials helped blow up Jordan’s image).

“People don’t know about this, but the truth is a lot of people were speaking in Mr. Knight’s ear that it might not be too good for Nike to have Michael Jordan as the face of the company,” Lee revealed to Sole Collector. He added that there were worries that Jordan “might not appeal to white America, or the general market as a whole.”

Jordan, obviously, transcended the market and everything else.

But Jordan had his doubters and had his rough patches. He got his head handed to him year after year by the Bad Boy Pistons, who taught him how to win the hard way. He was thought of as the guy who couldn’t win the big one, who was too selfish a player to lead a team to a title.

In hindsight, it’s laughable. But that’s what you get when you try to define a person’s legacy before his career is over.

 

Jimmy Butler shows up in Minnesota wearing a fanny pack and holding a football (PHOTO)

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, reunited with former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. A draft day trade between the Bulls and the Timberwolves saw Butler head to Minnesota in exchange for the No. 7 pick in 2017 NBA Draft, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn.

Butler and Thibodeau get along quite well, and there’s little doubt Butler will be one of the league leaders in minutes played for the Timberwolves next season. With the trade finalized, Butler showed up in Minnesota this week alongside Thibodeau wearing a very Butler-esque outfit.

There’s no good way to describe it other than by looking at it.

Via Twitter:

The Bulls got hosed.

Big3 begins: 3-on-3 league has close games, not much Allen Iverson

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NEW YORK (AP) Allen Iverson plans to be more spectator than scorer in the Big3.

The Iverson of old might be the only thing Ice Cube’s new 3-on-3 basketball venture can’t deliver.

The rapper-actor’s league of former NBA players got off to a strong start Sunday, with the first two games both decided on winning shots in front of 15,177 fans.

Iverson’s team won the third game, though as player-coach he only put himself in for 9 minutes. At 42 years old, the former NBA MVP said he doesn’t expect to be playing heavy minutes in the 10-game season.

“But I think the best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The quality of play was spotty, as players had to shake off sometimes years of rust. But it was certainly competitive.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly good. The games are exciting, the players are still talented and they’re fun to watch,” said Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who coached Power to a 62-58 victory over Tri State in the second game on DeShawn Stevenson’s 3-pointer.

Entertainers such as LL Cool J and NBA All-Star James Harden were in the crowd for the first two games before Iverson, the main attraction among players, took the court following a concert.

He may be the biggest name in the league, but his role on the court will be minor.

“I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. “Playing part is not going to be what you expect.

“You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

He can’t be blamed, given the risk of injury for players way past their primes. Jason Williams, the flashy point guard nicknamed “White Chocolate,” went down with a right leg injury late in the opener, and Corey Maggette had to come out of the second game. Both were expected to be OK.

And that might not stop more players from wanting to play. Recently retired Paul Pierce was in the crowd and Andre Owens, the star of Iverson’s 3’s Company, said Kevin Garnett might want to play.

“Sky’s the limit. Obviously you see the debut,” Iverson said. “I didn’t even expect it to be like this, and then obviously guys that’s retired now, to see the outcome of this situation right here, probably are going to get that itch.”

Games are played to 60 points but teams have to win by two, and getting to 60 wasn’t enough in either of the first two games.

In the opener, Rashard Lewis made a three-point play with his team facing game point as 3 Headed Monsters edged Ghost Ballers 62-60.

The game has gimmicks – Lewis made the first 4-point shot and teams had 14 seconds to shoot. Team names included 3’s Company and Killer 3s and some players wore nicknames on their jerseys, with Jerome Williams going with “Junk Yard Dog” on his.

Cube vowed the games would be competitive – players are vying for a revenue share based on final league standings. There was pushing and shoving in the post and a few hard fouls, and the physicality and trash talk appeared to heat up as the games went on. With hand checking allowed, the games looked nothing like today’s NBA game.

“Some people like that style, some people don’t,” Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin said. “So we’re here to fill that void for the people that appreciate the way the game has been played forever, you know what I’m saying? Basketball is a contact sport.”

The eight-team league will play on 10 weekends, culminating with the Aug. 26 championship in Las Vegas. Games are shown on Monday nights on Fox Sports 1.

3 HEADED MONSTERS 62, GHOST BALLERS 60

The 3 Headed Monsters blew a late lead after Williams went down and the Ghost Ballers went ahead 60-59 before Lewis scored and drew a foul, making the free throw to finish the game.

Lewis finished with 27 points and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the 3 Headed Monsters. Ricky Davis led the Ghost Ballers with 23 points.

POWER 62, TRI STATE 58

Stevenson finished with 20 points for the Power, making five 3-pointers. Maggette scored 15 and Cuttino Mobley had 14.

Jermaine O’Neal scored 18 points for Tri State, coached by Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Mike James had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

3’S COMPANY 61, BALL HOGS 51

Andre Owens had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Iverson’s team. DerMarr Johnson added 14 points and Al Thornton scored 13.

Iverson finished 1 for 6 with two assists.

Rasual Butler made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Ball Hogs. Derrick Byars chipped in 19.

TRILOGY 60, KILLER 3’s 45

Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game of the day. James White added 16.

Reggie Evans scored 18 and Stephen Jackson 17 for the losers.

Watch Draymond Green name all 34 players drafted before him in 2012 (VIDEO)

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Is Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green a petty guy? I will leave that for you to decide.

He is certainly determined, a characteristic that has led him and the Warriors to two championships in the last three seasons.

Green was famously a second round pick, drafted No. 35 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. And according to the video I’m about to show you, Green can recite the name of every single player who was drafted before him in 2012.

No, seriously.

Via twitter:

This might be the best video I’ve ever put on this website.