Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Kerr uses lessons from Popovich to help Warriors dismantle Spurs

3 Comments

It was as wild a night in the NBA — so busy that Jeff Green‘s three for Memphis to force overtime (they eventually won in the extra frame) doesn’t even make the cut. And I thought this was going to be an all Warriors-Spurs recap of the night, but we will, at least, start there and follow with four other things you should know from an NBA Monday.

1) Steve Kerr used lesson he learned from playing for Gregg Popovich to help Golden State throttle Spurs by 30. All game Monday night it seemed amazing how many back-door cuts — and nifty passes to those cutters — the Warriors were able to get on the Spurs. Golden State’s ball movement was otherworldly, and Draymond Green, in particular, seemed to keep finding cutters going to the rim for good looks. It’s one of many reasons the Warriors ran the Spurs out of the building Monday, winning by 30.

Fear of those Warriors cuts threw the Spurs defense off and led to THE highlight of the night when Stephen Curry shaked and baked the best defender in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard and turned him into a Vine highlight flying around the Web.

After the game, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr credited playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for all those cuts. Via Ethan Sherwood Straus of ESPN:

“If anybody overplays you, our guys are taught, just cut, cut back door, the next guy will fill the spot. Keep the ball moving. That was something that really was a point of emphasis when I played in San Antonio for Pop. That’s what they do.”

There was more to this win than that. The Warriors pressure defense led to 15 steals and 25 Spurs turnovers (nearly one in four Spurs possessions was a turnover), which allowed Golden State to get out and run, where it is most dangerous. Matchups between these two teams — including in the playoffs — will come down to who controls the tempo and style of play, and Monday night at 106 possessions for the game it was all Warriors. Plus, Curry dropped 37 and whichever defender the Spurs threw at him struggled. There was more, such as Green’s defense on LaMarcus Aldridge, holding the Spurs’ star to five points on 2-of-9 shooting (plus Aldridge was exploited on defense, getting switched onto Curry at times). Everything went the Warriors’ way.

This game does not dictate what would happen in a seven-game series between these teams four months from now, or even what will happen the three other times they meet this regular season. But right now, today, the Warriors are asking questions the Spurs have to figure out how to answer. Right now the Warriors have established themselves as the clear best team in the NBA.

2) DeMarcus Cousins scores franchise-record 56, still not enough as Troy Daniels‘ three lifts Hornets over Kings in double OT. This was the most thrilling game of the night. Charlotte simply had no answer for the physicality of Sacramento’s big man Cousins. He is enough of a threat as a jump shooter that defenders have to respect it, so he put the ball on the floor and drove the basket against Charlotte — Cousins scored 56 points, tying Oscar Robertson for the franchise record for most points in a game.

Well, there was one thing the Hornets could do — keep pace by scoring a lot. Which they did. They were led by Daniels, who filled it up off the bench with 28 points, including the eventual game-winner in double overtime.

On that play, Daniels popped out up high and got separation from Darren Collison thanks to a moving, illegal screen from Frank Kaminsky that was not called. That space was all Daniels needed, he turned and shot from 27 feet out and hit nothing but the bottom of the net. The Hornets were up 129-128, and that proved to be the ballgame.

3) Anthony Davis suffers concussion and by the hand… er, elbow of teammate. The good news for the Pelicans is that they are off until Thursday, so there is time for Davis to go through the NBA’s concussion protocol and still play in their next game. But this was nasty. Both Davis and Tyreke Evans were going for a rebound, trying to keep it away from James Harden, when Evans inadvertently elbowed Davis in the head.

Davis went to the ground, then went to the locker room not to return, the Pelicans announcing he had suffered a concussion. Harden and Trevor Ariza sparked an 18-0 Rockets run to start the second half with Davis out, and from there the Rockets held on for a 112-111 win. Harden finished with 35 points.

4) Tyronn Lue gets his first win as Cavaliers’ head coach. Cleveland gave Tyronn Lue the game ball for his first win as an NBA coach — and unlike his predecessor Lue accepted it gracefully. (David Blatt had used the moment to remind his players he had won more than 700 games in Europe.) That said, it wasn’t pretty. Lue has pushed the Cavaliers to play faster, and they did (99 possessions Monday, four more than their season average) but with that came guys clearly not being comfortable at times and being sporadic with their aggression. However, the bench got it and made a late third-quarter run that was enough to lift Cleveland past Minnesota 114-107. LeBron James had 21 points to lead the Cavaliers, but Kyrie Irving (17 points) had the highlight of the night.

5) Blake Griffin breaks hand, likely out weeks (at least). It’s another setback for a Clippers’ team trying to establish itself as elite. Blake Griffin has missed the Clippers last 15 games with a partial quadricep tear, but as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times told us in a PBT Podcast, he was expected to return Tuesday night when the Clippers visited the Pacers.

Nope, he’s going to be out for a few weeks (at least) with a broken right hand. Yes, that is his shooting hand, so this could be a while.

How did that happen? An “undisclosed team-related incident,” ESPN reported. We know he didn’t punch Josh Smith — the Clippers had already traded him. I’m not going to speculate as to what happened, but clearly he was not “in the zone.” Details will leak out soon enough. But you can go ahead and start speculating amongst your friends.

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

Getty
Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

AP
Leave a comment

There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.

Report: Klay Thompson could be interested in Clippers if Warriors don’t max him

4 Comments

Most everyone has expected that Klay Thompson will return to the Golden State Warriors next season. That seemed even more of a lock after Thompson tore his ACL, which might scare off outside teams.

Thompson is certainly a max-level player, and the Warriors will need to decide whether they are going to offer him that contract this summer. It’s not clear whether Thompson would be willing to take a discount, or if he’s finally ready to cash out in a big way.

Golden State will have a hard time keeping their core intact as everyone continues to get more expensive. Finding some leeway with Thompson’s contract has been seen as one way for the Warriors to at least limit their luxury tax bill.

But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there are other teams interested in giving Thompson a hefty sum if the Warriors decline to offer him a max deal.

Via ESPN’s “Woj & Lowe” special:

“The one team that I think — my information is — he would be very open to going down to sit down with are the Clippers. And if they have a chance to sell Kawhi Leonard with Klay Thompson, certainly that’s an appealing sell for any free agent.”

It seems unreasonable that the Warriors would not try to max both Thompson and Kevin Durant. Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe said as much during their special.

But we have seen made promises to spend in the past, and often that decision has been reversed. Golden State might end up choosing a handful of their core players to keep, and either Durant or Thompson could be left looking elsewhere.

There will be plenty of suitors for either of these guys, and both are still max-level players despite their catastrophic injuries. Whether both, one, or neither will be in San Francisco next year is the question heading into July 1.

Danny Green on fans trying to delegitimize Raptors title in light of Warriors injuries: ‘We don’t care’

Getty
6 Comments

The Toronto Raptors are your 2019 NBA champions. For some folks, this title comes with a caveat thanks to injuries suffered by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Many fans feel as though there should be some kind of asterisk next to their championship in the record books.

This is, frankly, is sour grapes at best and patently insane at worst.

What-ifs are some of the more fun things to contemplate in a league like the NBA, but reality is inescapable. What has come to pass is the truth, and in front of our very eyes we saw the Golden State Warriors go down in six games to Toronto. And should have been five.

Raptors guard at Danny Green shares the same sentiment, saying is much too the New York Times Marc Stein in his newsletter this week. When asked about the prospect of adding an asterisk to the Raptors championship in light of Golden State’s injuries, Green disagreed.

Via NYT:

In a phone interview Monday night, Toronto’s Danny Green forcefully scoffed at the asterisk question before I could even finish the sentence. “We don’t care,” Green said. “Doesn’t matter to us.”

Should I be surprised that this is an actual conversation happening between NBA fans in 2019? Probably not. I’ve been around for too long. But here I am, and the incessant idiocy of excuses remains ever-present.

Now, if only we knew with this kind of certainty where Kawhi Leonard was going to sign this summer.