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Kevin Durant shines in Warriors playoff debut in Game 1 win over Blazers

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Kevin Durant had 32 points and 10 rebounds in his Golden State playoff debut, Stephen Curry scored 29 points, and the Warriors withstood a sensational day by Portland duo CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to beat the Trail Blazers 121-109 on Sunday in Game 1 of the first-round series.

McCollum scored a playoff career-best 41 points, and Lillard had 34, but the Warriors made the crucial big plays on both ends down the stretch with Portland playing without injured center Jusuf Nurkic.

Draymond Green contributed 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five blocked shots to help last season’s second-place team take the first step in what it is counting on to be a championship run.

Durant shot 12 for 20, showing no issues with a recent left knee injury that sidelined him 19 games before he returned for the final three regular-season contests with the NBA-best Warriors. He patted his chest after two straight fourth-quarter baskets and said, “I got this!”

Game 2 is Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

The opener in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won in five games by Golden State didn’t disappoint featuring two of the NBA’s best backcourt duos. There was a little of everything: physical play, trash talk, deep 3-pointers, monster blocked shots and dazzling dunks. After one flurry of a third-quarter sequence when several players on both teams hit the floor trying to secure a loose ball, four towel guys frantically wiped down the court from the sweat.

Durant got going fast. KD drove the lane for a one-handed slam midway through the first then knocked down a 3 from the top about a minute later. After missing a dunk but getting fouled, Durant pounded the basket stanchion with his right fist in frustration.

He vowed to take his game to another level as a new season begins – not to mention the quest for his first title.

Curry’s baseline 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the third followed by Durant’s driving layup and three-point play got Golden State going at last, and the teams headed into the final quarter tied at 88.

Curry reached his hand in the air to further ignite the sellout crowd, thrilled to be inside raucous Oracle Arena on a rainy day that postponed the Astros-Athletics game next-door.

As the final period got underway, Ian Clark did what he often does to give the Blazers fits. The 6-foot-3 guard scored a putback off his own miss in the paint one possession then knocked down a 3-pointer the next as Golden State went ahead 97-90 with 8:59 remaining.

McCollum shot 11 of 15 in the first half then began the second 2 for 7 and finished his day 16 of 28 while Lillard shot 12 for 26.

The shot-making tandem combined for 48 of their team’s 56 points through halftime as was tied. They averaged an NBA-best for backcourts this season with 50 points per game between them.

McCollum’s 27 first-half points matched a Portland playoff record for a half.

Meanwhile, Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson went 12 of 29 in the first half. Thompson wound up with 15 points.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Curry missed the initial three games against the Blazers last year following a fluke sprained right knee injury suffered in Game 4 at Houston when he slipped on a wet spot.

Green emphatically blocked a shot by Noah Vonleh in the third as the Portland center was going up with one hand to dunk.

Lillard only played one game at Oracle this season because of an injury.

But he was part of a 135-90 debacle on Dec. 17 here – the Warriors’ largest margin of victory in the rivalry – that prompted coach Terry Stotts to say afterward, “It’s embarrassing to get beat by 45.”

NO NURKIC

Stotts figures Nurkic might return at some point this series but isn’t predicting. The big man from Bosnia missed the final seven games of the regular season with a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg, depleting the Blazers’ already thin frontcourt.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard has scored 25 or more points in his last seven playoff games – first to do so since Clyde Drexler from April 29-May 14, 1992 – and McCollum 20 or more in the past five, all vs. the Warriors. … Portland has lost 11 of the last 12 including playoffs to Golden State.

Warriors: Curry moved by Wilt Chamberlain (507) for second place on the Warriors list for career playoff field goals. … Curry hit a 3-pointer in his NBA record 59th consecutive playoff game, making his first 1:17 into the game.

UP NEXT

The Warriors hope to get forward Matt Barnes back from a sprained right ankle and foot for Wednesday night’s Game 2, while the Blazers were uncertain when Nurkic might be ready to return.

Rumor: Tension between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

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Chris Paul sacrificed $10,083,055 last season by opting in to facilitate a trade to the Rockets rather than opting out and signing somewhere for a max salary.

He expects to be made whole. And by most accounts, Houston understands the arrangement.

But here’s a rumor otherwise.

Undisputed:

Chris Broussard:

From what I’m told, there is tension now between Houston and Chris Paul. Because there was definitely some type of handshake, wink wink, “we’re going to max you out” last summer. But here’s the thing: Now, they’re not so sure. Houston, with good reason, doesn’t want to do that. But they’ve got an out, because they have new ownership. So, Daryl Morey can go to Chris Paul and be like, “I want to do it, but we’ve got the new owner doesn’t want to give you five years, four years.”

Former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander committed to big expenditures. New owner Tillman Ferttita has talked about his spending limits – for good reason. He sunk so much of his personal wealth into buying the team. He might not be able to afford outrageous luxury-tax bills.

Starters Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza will also become free agents this summer. Houston definitely wants to keep Capela. A large contract for Paul would be prohibitive.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. Already 33, he almost certainly won’t produce enough on the court to justify that amount. Players that age just decline and face greater injury risk.

But the downside of not paying him that much could be losing him. Even playing hardball could offend him given the circumstances that brought him to Houston. The Rockets are contending. A bad contract a few years down the road would be worth it if they win a title, and Paul is instrumental to that push.

This could be a delicate situation, and Morey can probe at least a little if he chooses. Would Paul be understanding of the ownership change? What options will Paul have better than a large, but sub-max, contract from the Rockets? Would Paul take a discount if Houston got his friend LeBron James?

But push too hard, and would Paul bolt to play with LeBron on the Lakers?

There has been too much insistence that Paul re-signing with the Rockets was assured to completely trust Broussard’s report. But it’d also be a mistake to completely ignore the possibility talks have broken down.

Hawks GM: We might have traded up with Bucks if their draft pick didn’t leak first

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Let’s pick up with the No. 16 pick in last night’s NBA draft.

The Suns were on the clock and planning to pick Donte DiVincenzo. John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

But then 76ers called Phoenix about trading No. 10 pick Mikel Bridges for the No. 16 pick and a future first-rounder. The teams agreed to the deal (causing this heartbreaking moment), and the Suns picked Zhaire Smith for Philadelphia.

The next three picks:

17. Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks

18. Lonnie Walker, Spurs

19. Kevin Huerter, Hawks

Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk on 95.7 The Game, via ESPN:

“Last night, for instance, we had the 19th pick, and we’re coming down and we’re actually talking to Milwaukee on the 17th pick, talking about trading up to get a guy we like,” Schlenk said. “There’s were a couple of guys we felt really good about on the 19th pick, obviously Kevin [Huerter] was one of them, and it leaked who Milwaukee was going to take.

“So, all of a sudden, we were able to pull back out of that deal and keep the draft pick instead of packaging picks to move up because we knew that, two guys on the board we felt really good about and only one team in between us, so that was beneficial to us last night.”

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports and Jeff Goodman of ESPN reported the Bucks picking DiVincenzo at 9:18 p.m.:

The pick became official at 9:22 p.m.:

Clearly, Atlanta wanted Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo.”* Once they learned Milwaukee would take DiVincenzo at No. 17, the Hawks knew at least one of Huerter or “Mystery Player Not Named Donte DiVincenzo” would be available at No. 19.

*I think there’s a good chance it was Walker, whom San Antonio picked No. 18.

That saved the Hawks an asset(s) and cost the Bucks an asset(s), though perhaps Milwaukee couldn’t have gotten DiVincenzo at No. 19. Maybe the Spurs would’ve selected him at No. 18.

Still, the Bucks didn’t protect their internal plans well enough. Maybe that’s an organizational flaw. But this also could have been a fluky sequence of events. Perhaps, after hearing Phoenix would take DiVincenzo, someone in Milwaukee felt comfortable sharing that the Bucks wanted him. Then, when he surprisingly fell, it was too late. The information was already out there – allowing Atlanta to stand pat.

Danny Ainge unwittingly leaks Celtics’ draft pick on call with Terry Rozier during live show (video)

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Terry Rozier takes solace in how much Danny Ainge believes in him.

But I didn’t appreciate how deep their bond went.

Appearing on Bleacher Report’s live draft show, Rozier was asked to predict the Celtics’ No. 27 pick. So, Rozier called Ainge to ask. Shockingly, Ainge answered – with Boston on the clock. Almost certainly not knowing the call was public and live, Ainge revealed the likely selection:

Good thing the Celtics stuck with Robert Williams. That would have been extremely awkward otherwise.

As is, it was only a little awkward. Williams said today he doesn’t like to be called Bob.

Report: Rival teams expect Paul George to consider 1+1 contract with Thunder

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Paul George has openly stated the appeal of playing for his hometown Lakers. He has also openly stated the appeal of staying with the Thunder.

That has created significant confusion about his upcoming free agency.

Could George find a compromise outcome?

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

More than one rival team has suggested to me that they expect George to strongly consider a two-year deal with the Thunder at $30.3 million next season and $32.7 million in 2019-20 that includes a player option to return to free agency next summer.

This makes sense on paper.

A 1+1 contract would give George more time to determine whether he and Russell Westbrook can win together in Oklahoma City without getting stuck there long-term if they can’t. The Thunder were starting to put it together when Andre Roberson got hurt. Perhaps, Roberson getting healthy would swing Oklahoma City’s fortunes.

George would also be eligible for a higher max salary in two years – 35% of the salary cap, up from 30% if he signs now. So, a short-term contract would allow him to maximize his potential earnings.

But George said he wanted to sign somewhere long-term this summer. He also suffered an extremely gruesome leg injury just a few years ago. He might not want to bypass guaranteed money to gamble for a little more later.

Are these rival teams just looking at the general outlook for a player in George’s position without considering his specific circumstances? Or do they know something? George could have informed teams he might become available in 2019 or 2020 so they should prepare.

I’m skeptical this is more than speculation by opposing teams. But the possibility that they’re basing their expectations on inside information makes this worth monitoring.