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No questioning Kevin Durant’s decision now as Warriors near title

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kevin Durant never demanded he’d get to take the biggest shot of the NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors made no promises and he knew there were no guarantees. When they met last summer in New York to discuss the biggest decision of his career, neither side even focused on winning titles.

They talked about having fun, and now Durant is on the verge of having the time of his basketball life.

One win from his first championship and probably the NBA Finals MVP award along with it, Durant is the perfect player in the perfect place.

“I think I said it last night, it just looks like he understands this is his moment, this is his time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. “He’s earned it. He’s been in this league for a long time, and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”

Durant was widely criticized last year when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State, chided for trying to take the easiest route to a title by joining what was already a stacked team.

But that wasn’t the way he looked at it. Durant wasn’t thinking about lifting trophies or being fitted for championship rings. He loves to play basketball, and loved the way the Warriors play it.

“I didn’t envision anything but just being around good people and getting better every single day. That’s exactly what happened throughout the season,” Durant said. “I didn’t talk to these guys when I made my decision and say we better make it to the Finals and be up in the series around this time, this exact date, or I’m not coming. I mean, it was just, `Let’s just have some fun playing ball, let’s just all get better and let’s see what happens.”‘

What’s happened is probably beyond what either even imagined.

The Warriors had the league’s best record even while losing Durant late in the season to a knee injury, and really turned it on in the playoffs. They are 15-0 and will trying to finish the NBA’s first perfect postseason with a victory over Cleveland on Friday in Game 4.

Durant’s 3-pointer over LeBron James with 45 seconds left in Game 3 gave the Warriors the lead for good in a 118-113 victory, providing him a lasting highlight that will be the signature play of this series and perhaps his career.

In his postgame interview, he used the word “liberating” to describe the shot, the moment.

James has changed teams twice and needed two seasons to win a title both times, so he knows how long it can take for everything to come together. Their situations are different – James never joined a team as strong as these Warriors – but he said he’s proud of Durant’s success and understands why moving to a team like the Warriors was so attractive.

“Their team was already kind of put together, and you just implement a guy that’s ready to sacrifice, a great talent, a guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” James said. “But that team, they knew what they were about. He just had to come in and just do what he had to do. And that’s what he’s been doing.”

Durant is averaging 34 points, 10 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the Finals, joining Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players with at least 25 points in their first eight Finals games.

He fell well short in his first shot at the title, when James’ Miami team beat Oklahoma City in five games in 2012. He never got back to the Finals with the Thunder, and when he was finally ready to consider looking elsewhere, the Warriors offered him exactly what he wanted to hear when they sat down in the Hamptons and talked about where the former scoring champion fit in a lineup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I think the whole thing was how fun it would be, because of the style of play, because of the individual talents,” Kerr said. “None of these guys are ball-dominant players. They all love playing off the ball, cutting, moving, passing. And it fits. They fit like a hand in a glove.”

A hand that will soon have a championship ring. Even those who hated Durant’s decision can’t question how it has worked out for him when watching how well he and the Warriors have meshed.

“It took a while for it to kind of reveal itself consistently as the regular season went on, but once it clicked and the habits started to become second nature, it was kind of beautiful to watch and an amazing kind of style to play and watch unfold,” Curry said. “So it’s been fun.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.