NBA Finals: Season over, but LeBron/Durant rivalry just beginning

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For years, the LeBron/Kobe rivalry was the most compelling one in basketball, but we never truly got to see it play out on the court. Sure, their teams would play each other twice a year, and people would try to extrapolate conclusions from those biannual meetings, but there was never really anything substantial on the line during those games, even when Christmas-Day bragging rights were up for grabs.

Ultimately, the LeBron-Kobe rivalry had (has?) more in common with Mayweather-Pacquiao than it does with Ali-Frazier: while there have been literally millions of arguments about which player was superior to the other in comments sections and sports bars and on message boards, the two players never faced each other for a title when they were almost unquestionably the two best players in the world. They had four decent chances at it, but James’ team failed to make it out of the Eastern Conference in 2009 and 2010 and Bryant’s team failed to make it out of the West last season and this season. (For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave it at that.)

The good news is that we don’t have to mourn the fact we didn’t get a LeBron-Kobe Finals (yet-as a rule, I never count out Kobe or Jerry Buss) too much anymore, because the LeBron-Durant rivalry is already shaping up to be an all-time classic. For five wonderful games, the NBA’s best all-around player went toe-to-toe with its best pure scorer, and neither of them disappointed, dominating in their own ways en route to a classic, if short, NBA Finals.

All series long, James picked apart Oklahoma City’s defense while Durant simply disregarded Miami’s. James used his combination of size, speed, and passing ability in a way we’ve never quite seen him do before — he was completely hell-bent on getting to the paint time and time again, either by blowing by Thunder players on the perimeter or using his refined post game to back them all the way down. When he got to the paint, he’d either finish, draw contact and go to the line, or kick it out to a wide-open teammate for an easy score. He was also an absolute monster on the boards, and he finished the finals with eye-popping averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game, although he did turn the ball over more than he normally does. After the Finals, LeBron was given his first Bill Russell Trophy, and he more than earned it.

As good as LeBron was, however, Durant was nearly as impressive. The Thunder didn’t run many screens for Durant or get him the ball of pick-and-roll sets very much — apart from transition baskets, Durant got the ball almost exclusively in isolation situations with a Heat defender directly in his face, usually LeBron James or Shane Battier. Battier has been one of the most intelligent and effective perimeter defenders in the league for years, and James has become an absolute monster on defense. He is almost universally considered the best perimeter defender in the league, and received more votes than any other player for the All-Defensive Team. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, he neutralized Derrick Rose when he guarded him in fourth quarters, and he held Paul Pierce to 34.4% shooting in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals.

Kevin Durant, who is all of 23 years old and was playing in his first ever NBA Finals, simply did not care about any of that one little bit. Durant would either pull up straight over his defender before dribbling towards the basket and make a long-range shot, take a few dribbles towards the hoop and pull up for an unblockable pull-up or floater, or get down near the basket and swish a turnaround jumper like he was shooting in an empty gym. Durant, who is freaking 23 years old and was facing some of the best team and individual defense in the league and was not getting set up with many easy looks, scored 30.6 points per game while shooting a disgusting 54.8% from the floor and 39.4% from beyond the arc.

What’s more, it never looked like he was on the verge of blinking, let alone sweating. And he never disrupted the flow of the Thunder offense — if anything, it would often seem like Durant had barely been involved in the Thunder offense before you realized he already had 25 points. Early-20s LeBron took our breaths away with his combination of size, athleticism, and pure basketball talent and IQ, but Durant’s size, skill, and seeming inability to be fazed on the court are just as breathtaking.

James drew first blood what I’m hoping will be a long string of NBA Finals played between the Thunder and the Heat, but Durant proved himself to be a more than worthy competitor for James’ crown as he finally officially grabbed his. There are a million variables that could prevent a James-Durant rematch, both next year and in the years to come, but I’m hoping we get enough of them to make this one of modern basketball’s great rivalries.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?

Rockets doctors to evaluate Chris Paul Sunday then make Game 7 call

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Officially, Chris Paul is questionable for Monday’s Game 7 against Golden State.

Mike D’Antoni said the call on whether he can play will be made by team doctors on Sunday.

“The team doctors will check him out tomorrow morning and see how far he’s got (in his rehab) and what the possibilities are,” the Rockets’ coach said, adding that the doctors will make the call, not him.

Sources suggest there is pessimism about if Paul can play around the team, but with his competitive nature nobody wants to rule it out. Nobody is quite sure where things stand.

“I don’t think he’s tested it at all, so he’s just getting treatment and trying to make sure it calms down and everything,” D’Antoni said. “And I would think our doctors and trainers are working on him 24 hours a day almost, and they will tomorrow morning re-evaluate it again.

“If I get a nod from Chris and the doctors he’s good to go. Probably if any of those disagree he’s probably not going. I think it’s a game-time decision.”

The Rockets got off to a fast start without Paul in Game 6, led by Eric Gordon raining threes. However, the Rockets missed Paul’s defense and steadying influence when he has the ball as things started to go sideways in the second half — the tempo got up, the Rockets missed shots and turned the ball over, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson got hot. Paul may well have not been able to stop this run, but the Rockets would have had a better chance with him.

Without him, even with the Rockets at home, Vegas opened the Warriors as five-point favorites.

 

Friends raise more than $20,000 for LGBTQ youth to honor memory of Bo Churney

via @byjanehammond on Twitter
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The name Bo Churney might sound familiar to you if you’re a member of NBA Twitter. A leading online voice around the Atlanta Hawks and a former writer for various outlets — including ESPN, Turner Sports, and Hardwood Paroxysm — Churney sadly took his own life last week.

The outpouring around Churney’s untimely passing has been significant. After his death, friends of Churney quickly decided to organize a fundraiser in his name, and in less than a week had $20,000 in donations from the online community.

The fundraiser will donate the money to Lost N Found Youth, an organization that helps at-risk LGBTQ youth in the Atlanta area. Churney had come out of the closet a few years before his death.

Via EverydayHero:

A lot of people have reached out asking if there’s anything they can do or help with after the death of our dear friend Bo Churney. We wanted to do something in memory of Bo in the Atlanta community that he loved and helped make a better, more fun place. Lost N Found Youth is an organization that provides outreach, crisis support, services, clothes, food, and safe shelter for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth between 13-25 in the Atlanta area. Anything you can give would be tremendous or even sharing and spreading the word. Thank you.

As of writing there have been 473 donations in Churney’s memory, with people leaving messages and sums large and small. Churney’s impact was vast, and the fundraiser has been mentioned everywhere around NBA media including TV, newsletters, and articles like this one.

You can click the links above to donate to the Bo Churney Memorial Fund or directly to Lost N Found Youth.

If you need to speak to someone, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline here.

Report: Mavericks employee looked at porn at work, created hostile environment

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The Dallas Mavericks were at the center of a Sports Illustrated investigation into their alleged corporate culture of that included an “Animal House” atmosphere, including sexual harassment.

The blowback from the report and subsequent investigations was severe, with former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and former Mavs.com reporter Earl K. Sneed at the center of the story in Dallas.

Now a report from the Dallas Morning News says another employee was known for creating a hostile work environment in the ticketing office. That employee, Chris Hyde, was a senior account executive in charge of selling tickets for the team. According to the report from the Morning News, Hyde continually showed explicit photos to co-workers, rubbed himself while at work, and did so even after being warned to stop by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Via Dallas Morning News:

His co-workers called him “Pants DJ.” He would sit at his desk in the Dallas Mavericks ticket sales office, stare at pornographic images on his cellphone or computer and rub himself below his belt line.

He’d often call co-workers over to show them pictures on his phone that he’d taken of women in lingerie, topless or naked. He once dropped a used condom onto the office floor.

This pattern of behavior, described by seven current and former Mavericks employees who spoke to The Dallas Morning News on the condition of anonymity, continued for six years despite a warning from owner Mark Cuban that he stop viewing pornography on his office computer.

Hyde worked for the Mavericks for 15 years, leaving the team in 2014. According to the Morning News sources, Hyde was not let go for his workplace behavior, and apparently was one the team’s top salesmen.

Read the full report in detail, as it gives even more insight into what has allegedly been going on inside the Mavericks organization for some time.

Cuban has said that he is open to any kind of cooperation he and the team need to have as an investigation into their corporate culture is ongoing. Meanwhile, Dallas has hired several HR executives as a means to turn things around in the front office.