Destined or not, Kevin Durant needed to earn hard-fought Game 5 Warriors win, NBA title

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OAKLAND — It may have felt destined, like Golden State’s birthright since last July, but it was never going to be easy. Not from getting blown out the opening night of the season through battling a brilliant LeBron James performance in the Finals. The Warriors had to earn this ring with some grit.

In the end, Game 5 followed was the script the Warriors wanted before this series started. A couple big runs, monster nights from their two top-five players Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, strong defense, a small-ball lineup nobody could stop, and some big threes when they needed it.

Game 5 also followed the script the Cavaliers feared. LeBron James would be brilliant, but the defense that was questionable all season would make key mistakes giving up easy buckets, and even a hot night from J.R. Smith would not be enough save them.

Golden State grabbed the Game 5 lead with a 28-7 second quarter run, and despite pressure from the Cavaliers never gave it up, going on to win 129-120.

Golden State is your NBA champion, beating Cleveland 4-1. This is the Warriors second title in three years.

Kevin Durant had 39 points on 20 shots, plus had seven rebounds. His five-straight 30+ point games earned him the MVP award. He came West and the Warriors may well not have won this ring without him.

“Yeah, I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team. Like I said, tried to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well.”

Curry had 34 points on 20 shots, and Andre Iguodala had 20 points off the bench.

LeBron had a game-high 41 points, plus 13 rebounds and eight assists He averaged a triple-double for the series and carried the Cavaliers for long stretches. Kyrie Irving added 26 points on 9-of-22 shooting, and J.R. Smith had 25 points and shot 7-of-8 from three.

Golden State came out with more energy winning the hustle battles early — Zaza Pachulia grabbed one offensive rebound (which became a Klay Thompson three), but the key factors in the first went Cleveland’s way. The Warriors went more than six minutes in the first with Draymond Green at center — their best lineups — and were just +2. LeBron James went to the bench for the final 1:20 of the quarter, and the Cavs were +3 — the Warriors need to dominate those stretches. It was 37-33 Cavs after one, LeBron and Irving each scored a dozen. Curry had 12 for the Warriors, but they were 2-of-7 from three.

Midway through the second quarter, those dynamics changed — the Warriors went on what ultimately was a 28-7 run that had them up double digits and in control of the game. The run started with defense (the Cavaliers didn’t score on eight straight possessions) which in turn led to transition buckets — but it helpe the Warriors hit 14-of-15 shots. Plus, the Warriors went 4-of-4 from three in the second.

“Turnovers. Turnovers. Bad shot selection,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of that run. “Something we talked about all series. You can’t turn the basketball over, you can’t take bad shots because you don’t have floor balance. And they’re so fast, they get out in transition. It’s tough to get back and get matched, especially with their speed.”

“We tried to contain it and keep it a half-court game, but they continued to push the pace,” Kevin Love said. “They play really well when they do that. There were times where we were fanning out trying to get to that three-point line [on defense], and then they would back-cut us and get a layup. So we were just trying to protect everyone’s back and got caught up in a few situations that weren’t good for us.”

The Warriors were able to stay small in part due to quality minutes from David West, and he showed a little of the fight the Warriors had in this game, getting into it with Tristan Thompson (J.R. Smith jumped in for fun, and all three got technicals.

It was 71-60 Warriors at the half, and they had led by as many as 17 late in the second.

However, the Cavs did not roll over, they had great shotmaking to come out in the third, attacked the mismatches they wanted and were more disciplined, cutting the lead to four at one point. It wasn’t Cleveland’s defense that was the answer, it was all about buckets — they scored on 13 of 16 possessions at one point in the third. Getting stops was the hard part.

“They started to go with the 1-3 pick and roll with Steph Curry and Durant, which might be one of the most unstoppable pick-and-rolls in our league,” Lue said. And they waited until late to do it. But that’s a tough play to stop.”

Cleveland could never fully close the gap, the lead fluctuated between four and nine, with it being at five heading into the fourth. The Warriors got big three from Iguodala, they got some cuts for Durant dunks because defenders can’t help off Klay Thompson, and when they needed stops they got enough.

And they will get a ring for it.

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.