Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years

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If you’re going to win tough playoff games and advance to the NBA Finals a couple things have to happen.

First, your stars have to step up. For the Rockets that didn’t happen Wednesday night. After a brilliant season and playoff run, James Harden had an off night with 2-of-11 shooting and 13 turnovers.

Second, you need role players to step. Golden State had Harrison Barnes score 13 points in the fourth quarter (and 24 on the night). Festus Ezeli had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Andre Iguodala stepped up with his best game of the season playing great defense on Harden.

The result was Golden State winning a playoff-style, grinding, at times sloppy but still entertaining game 104-90. The Warriors don’t care how it looked; they will take it, they won the series 4-1.

“I thought the defensive performance was brilliant…” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I would say in many ways this was a very Warriors’ like performance.”

Golden State is through to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years. They will face the Cleveland Cavaliers starting on June 4 at Oracle Arena.

If you think the Warriors are just a jump-shooting team that can’t win when the shots don’t fall, Game 5 was the example of why you’re wrong. The Warriors shot less than 40 percent for most of the game (they finished at 40.7) but they had 19 offensive rebounds and played strong defense all night — they won because they could be scrappy.

As you would expect, Houston came out battling, being physical (in a game the referees largely let them play), and trying to get the ball inside. On the other side, Curry missed four of his first five shots and his teammates followed suit. Dwight Howard had eight points in the first quarter but, unlike Game 4, the Rockets could not take advantage of the Golden State miscues.

“We didn’t finish very well at the rim, they got too many offensive rebounds, and we had too many live-ball turnovers at the top of the floor,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “Those three things really doomed us.”

Both teams just looked tired in this one. After three quarters the Rockets had shot 34 percent, the Warriors 37.7 percent. Both teams had 15 turnovers. There was certainly some good defense, but there was also just some slop. Throw in some hack-a-Howard — and some hack-a-Festus — and the game was not always pretty.

For the Warriors, part of the challenge was Klay Thompson being in foul trouble — he had 15 first half points (20 in the game), but missed extended time in the third quarter due to picking up two quick fouls early in the third to give him five. Then Thompson missed time in the fourth after taking a Trevor Ariza knee to the head (he had a cut on his ear that required stitches, but there was no concussion according to the team).

It was never easy for Golden State, Houston just hung around and hung around — Corey Brewer had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as he showed no quit.

But then Barnes happened.

The Warriors pushed their lead up to 15 as Barnes had a nine straight points (including a right corner three off a defensive mistake by the Rockets and a couple of dunks).

“Harrison was brilliant,” Kerr said. “He gets 24 points, and on a night when Klay goes down after his big first half… so Harrison steps up and takes care of the scoring.”

Houston tried but it was just too much — the depth of the Warriors was too much.

And it gave a passionate and starving fan base a trip back to the Finals.

Jahlil Okafor says he’s “learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety”

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Jahlil Okafor is trying to take advantage of his chance with the New Orleans Pelicans this season.

He talked about it in an Instagram post, and most people focused on the pictures of his improved physique. Which is improved.

My summer of transformation: First off I want to thank @idanwan & @dzandertraining for getting after it with me the moment my season ended. Grateful to have two of the best in their respective fields work with me all summer. Although the physical changes in this photo are evident, their has been extreme growth unbenounced to the eye. I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them. Often times because of my size and profession people may view me in a certain way, but in reality I deal with the same struggles as countless others. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal. 6 weeks left in the off season; with a lot more work to do!

A post shared by Jahlil Okafor (@jah8) on

However, the text was interesting:

I’ve learned how to identify and manage different stressors such as anxiety. Learning how to identify certain stressors has also allowed me to over come them…. Mental health awareness is a cause I will fight for the rest of my life and if you’re struggling today don’t be afraid to speak with someone and seek help. I would like to thank @kevinlove and the @playerstribune for helping me identify my feelings and informing me what I was dealing with was in fact normal.

NBA players stepping forward and admitting they need help dealing with mental challenges and illness is a good thing. Kevin Love helped Okafor, and hopefully Okafor talking about it will help others.

Okafor has a clean slate in New Orleans. He missed much of last season due to injury, and between his time with the Sixers and Nets he was on the court for just 353 minutes total. In New Orelans there are bench minutes available (behind Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and Julius Randle, but Okafor needs to show he can run the floor and play the up-tempo style the Pelicans employ. Okafor’s below the rim, back-to-the-basket offensive game, plus he poor defense, have held him back. If he’s got his body and mind right, maybe some of that can change.

Rockets waive R.J. Hunter, he’s a free agent. Again.

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R.J. Hunter has just not been able to find a home and stick in the NBA. He was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 and expected to be a sharpshooter at the NBA level. He went on to play in 35 games for Boston his rookie season, but during the following training camp they cut the former Georgia Tech shooting guard. The Chicago Bulls picked him up on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, he played a total of three games for them, then was cut loose. Houston eventually had him on a two-way contract the second half of last season, where he played five games for the big club and spent most of the season in the G-League.

He played for the Rockets at Summer League and averaged 11.2 points a game on just 40 percent shooting. Now, the Rockets have cut him loose, too. Via Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (for now, he moves over to The Athletic in the coming weeks).

Hunter will look for another chance in the NBA via the G-League, although he may be at the point he considers the overseas money he could earn.

In the G-League last season, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he averaged 20.4 points per game with an impressive 60.4 true shooting percentage, and shot 37.7 percent from three. However, he has never been able to transfer those numbers, or anything close to it, over to the NBA level. He has tried to broaden his game and be more than a shooter, but the consistency has just never been where he needs it to be.

He has talked about learning and maturing through all of this. Hopefully he has, and it pays off for him at his next stop. Wherever that may be.

Kobe Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor now worth estimated $200 million

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And the rich get richer.

Kobe Bryant is a smart man who studies whatever he does. He was that way on the court, breaking down film on opponents and knowing what was coming next, being one step ahead. He’s done the same in his post-NBA life, which is in part how he won an Oscar.  He is calculated.

The same with his investments. Before he stopped playing, he invested in a new sports drink called BodyArmor. (Did you notice the last couple years of his career he always took down or at least turned the label away of NBA sponsor Gatorade when he sat at a podium to speak?) This week, his investment in that company paid off big time, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola announced it had purchased a minority stake in sports drink BodyArmor.

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

At least where I shop, BodyArmor — marketed as a healthier alternative to the other sports drinks — is showing up in the same spaces as Gatorade, Powerade, and the rest. It’s got a growing market share, with more than $400 million in sales expected this year.

I guess Kobe can afford college for his daughters now. Although, he may have already had that covered.

Check out Trae Young, Carmelo Anthony getting buckets at ‘Black Ops’ run in NYC

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Chris Brickley runs one of the best, most star-studded NBA summer runs anywhere in the nation out of his facility in New York. (You can learn more about him and what he does in the video above.)

Right now, Carmelo Anthony and Trae Young are among the names there — and they are getting buckets. Check out some videos.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley told NBC Sports earlier this summer. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there.”

‘Melo and Young look good in these clips. Granted, this is summer run and no matter the level it has to come with a grain of salt — these are not NBA defenses and systems. It’s still summer ball. But if you’re a Hawks or Rockets fan (or a fan of Miles Bridges, or Mo Bamba, or some other NBA guys) you have to like what you see.

Some fans decided to go after Anthony in the comments on some of these videos, and he gave it right back (NSFW language):

For the record, if you feel the need to insult an NBA player in the comments of an Instagram feed of some summer run, you may want to step back and examine where things went sideways in your life.