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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

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.