Dan Feldman

Kevin Durant outduels LeBron James in epic NBA Finals matchup

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LeBron James became the first player to average a triple-double in an NBA Finals. His Cavaliers were 36 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off against the Warriors, and he played 42 minutes per game.

Kevin Durant was even better.

The 2017 NBA Finals featured an all-time great individual battle between Durant and LeBron.

LeBron has used this time of year to fortify his argument as best player in the world. He was the best player in four of the previous five, maybe five of the last five, Finals. (He won three Finals MVPs, should’ve beaten Andre Iguodala in 2015 and was a tossup with Kawhi Leonard in 2014.)

But Durant was so good this year, he opened a legitimate debate about whether he’s better than LeBron right now. I honestly don’t know the answer. Durant’s superior supporting cast gave him and advantage, but he used it well enough to stake claim to the best-in-the-world moniker.

These were two superstars at or near the peaks of their power, engaged in intense competition.

Durant (30.4) and LeBron (29.4) posted average Game Scores in the Finals that combine to be far superior to any other Finals opponents in current postseason format.

Here are the top combined average Game Scores for Finals opponents since 1984 (as far back as Basketball-Reference records go):

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Michael Jordan-Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson-Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal-Allen Iverson – Durant-LeBron topped them all.

And Durant topped LeBron within the matchup. Making that even more incredible: This was LeBron’s best Finals average Game Score in the last six years.

Here’s LeBron (wine) vs. his top Finals opponent (blue) by Game Score:

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No Finals opponent fared better against LeBron in that span than Durant in 2012 with the Thunder. In the last few years, LeBron has kept pushing his statistical contributions higher and higher. Yet, Durant still made up all that ground.

LeBron’s Game Score this year probably inflated, because it doesn’t properly account for his for his lackluster defense, especially early in the series. Durant’s defense was awesome.

That’s why Durant won and deserved Finals MVP.

But even with its imperfections, Game Score tells a true story: Durant and LeBron were historically good in the 2017 NBA Finals, and Durant was just a little better.

Report: Kevin Durant texted Draymond Green night of 2016 NBA Finals Game 7 indicating commitment to Warriors

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Draymond Green recounted calling Kevin Durant from the parking lot after the Warriors lost Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Durant – just after straining his credibility – called that “100 percent false.”

But what would Durant say about a post-Game 7 text exchange with Green?

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

About 30 minutes after Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, Warriors forward Draymond Green sat at his locker in full uniform, fiddling with his phone. All around him, teammates hastily showered and dressed, rushing from Oracle Arena and the champagne fumes that polluted the air. But Green was in no hurry to leave.

And so, at that locker, in that uniform, less than an hour after the most excruciating loss of his life, Green punched up Kevin Durant’s number. “See what we’re missing,” Green says, recounting the text message he sent Durant. “We need you. Make it happen.” Green had been courting Durant for months, but this was his strongest pitch yet, delivered at the most dramatic juncture. “Right after you lose Game 7,” Green says, “shows you’re serious.”

by the time Green peeled off his home whites and hit the showers, he could sense that his squad would laugh last. Durant’s response flashed across the screen: “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

The Finals ended June 19. Durant revealed he’d sign with the Warriors on July 4. Between, there were free-agency meetings in the Hamptons, a dinner with his soon-to-be-former Thunder teammates and breathless speculation about where he’d sign. Most presumed he’d return to Oklahoma City for at least one more year.

But he was set on on Golden State all along? Wow. That’s quite a revelation.

Of course, texting Green never bound Durant. Any team, including the Thunder, could have persuaded him off his apparent plan. The Warriors had to close, and they did – then closed on a title nearly a year later.

As far as Durant denying Green calling him after Game 7, the difference between a text and call doesn’t clear that up.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who reported Green’s story of the parking-lot call:

Texting from the locker room and calling from the car, just after losing the biggest game of his career? Green was stalkerish in his recruitment of Durant.

But Green obviously has no regrets now.

Don’t forget the "Are Warriors best team ever?" discussion

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Only team in NBA history with an undefeated postseason

The 2016-17 Warriors’ strongest claim to being the greatest team ever got erased when they lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals. By the time they held off a suddenly dangerous Cleveland in Game 5, the focus had turned to the present: Golden State winning the title.

The Warriors might enjoy that room to celebrate without pondering their legacy, but take a step back, and they still have a compelling case as the greatest team ever.

First, the talent.

Stephen Curry is the back-to-back reigning MVP, the best shooter of all-time who has rounded out his game to unexpected levels. Kevin Durant won MVP the year before and also is still in his prime, maybe even playing his best basketball. Draymond Green is favored to win Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s one of the most dynamic passers ever for his position. Klay Thompson is an all-time great shooter and a defensive stopper.

Golden State is so good, Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, barely gets mentioned.

When Durant got hurt in the regular season, the Warriors turned to their other MVP in his prime. When Green – whose unique skill set at center fortifies a unit so devastating, it’s called the death lineup – got into foul trouble, they turned to Durant (a skilled 7-footer unlike any other) at center. Heck, when their coach stepped away due to back problems, they turned to an assistant who previously won Coach of the Year and guided his team to the Finals.

Golden State has everything a team could ever want – and answers when the machine sputters, which isn’t often.

Even with their loss, the Warriors (16-1) posted the best playoff record ever:

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Maybe the 2001 Lakers (15-1) would’ve matched the Warriors with an extra first-round game. (The first round was best-of-five then.) The 1983 76ers could have also matched Golden State if they played in the same postseason format.

But the Warriors are the only team to achieve 16-1 in reality, not a hypothetical. They were also much more dominant en route, anyway.

Golden State outscored playoff opponents 13.5 points per game – the third-best mark ever, second best by an NBA champion and best in decades:

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With a 67-15 regular-season record, this might be the best season ever.

But why stop there? Golden State’s elite run began two years ago with another 67-15 season and a championship, continued with 73 wins and a Finals loss last year and returned to the top with this year’s title.

The Warriors have won 84.1% of their games in the last three years, the best three-year span in NBA history (with championships won on the right):

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Only Michael Jordan’s Bulls came close, winning 82.5% of their games from 1995-96 through 1997-1998. They, of course, also won three titles in that span.

Golden State won only two.

But two of three isn’t bad, and this year’s championship cleanses the stench of blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s finals after winning a record 73 games in the regular season. Two titles and another trip to the Finals puts this three-year stretch in an elite class.

Here’s every time a team reached at least three straight NBA Finals and won at least two of them:

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These Warriors, LeBron JamesDwyane WadeChris Bosh Heat, Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol Lakers, Shaq-Kobe Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Bad Boys Pistons, Showtime Lakers, Larry Bird Celtics, Bill Russell Celtics and Minneapolis Lakers – that’s the entire list. Add Golden State’s regular-season dominance, and this is an unprecedented run.

The best ever? I’d still favor Jordan’s second three-peat.

But the Warriors aren’t going anywhere. They might already be the greatest. If not, we could have good cause to revisit the topic next year and the following year and…

Warriors: ‘We have not received an invitation to the White House’

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Have the NBA-champion Warriors decided not to visit Donald Trump’s White House? A muddled and difficult-to-follow rumor suggested that was the case.

But Golden State won’t confirm it and is taking a different tone.

Warriors release:

Today is all about celebrating our championship. We have not received an invitation to the White House, but will make those decisions when and if necessary.

This seems a little semantic. NBA champions are routinely invited to the White House. Even if the Warriors haven’t yet been formally invited, they know it’s coming.

They also knew they were heavily favored to win the championship, and Shaun Livingston even publicly said he wouldn’t visit the White House. I’d be surprised if they voted on a White House trip in the hours after clinching the title, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they determined a plan in the weeks or months prior.

Golden State can and should celebrate its championship today. But a decision is coming on the White House, if it hasn’t been made already.

Golden State Warriors parade set for Thursday in Oakland

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The city of Oakland is gearing up for a Thursday parade to celebrate the Golden State Warriors latest NBA title, officials said following their win.

As fans snapped up victory shirts and hats Tuesday following a night of celebrating, city crews were busy hanging championship banners along the parade route.

The parade will take place Thursday morning in downtown Oakland, following the same route as the team’s parade to celebrate the 2015 NBA title.

It will start at 10 a.m. at Broadway and 11th Street, wind through downtown streets and end with a procession to the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.

Fans are encouraged to line up for the parade and rally as soon as 5 a.m. Thursday and taking public transportation is encouraged.

Following the victory Monday night, warriors’ fans danced in the streets in downtown Oakland and wildly honked their horns in San Francisco.

The party began as soon as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 129-120 at Oracle Arena to clinch their second championship in three years.

In San Francisco, people hung out of cars waving blue and gold flags.

Across the bay, rowdy crowds gathered in Oakland intersections, including one where cheering fans made a circle to watch several men breakdance. Some climbed street lights, some sprayed champagne and some threw bottles leaving broken glass in streets. Others set off fireworks.

There were no immediate reports of any violence or arrests.

The Warriors won the title in 2015 before the Cavaliers made their historic comeback last year. Then it was Golden State’s turn again, taking the title in five games.