Destined or not, Kevin Durant needed to earn hard-fought Game 5 Warriors win, NBA title

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OAKLAND — It may have felt destined, like Golden State’s birthright since last July, but it was never going to be easy. Not from getting blown out the opening night of the season through battling a brilliant LeBron James performance in the Finals. The Warriors had to earn this ring with some grit.

In the end, Game 5 followed was the script the Warriors wanted before this series started. A couple big runs, monster nights from their two top-five players Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, strong defense, a small-ball lineup nobody could stop, and some big threes when they needed it.

Game 5 also followed the script the Cavaliers feared. LeBron James would be brilliant, but the defense that was questionable all season would make key mistakes giving up easy buckets, and even a hot night from J.R. Smith would not be enough save them.

Golden State grabbed the Game 5 lead with a 28-7 second quarter run, and despite pressure from the Cavaliers never gave it up, going on to win 129-120.

Golden State is your NBA champion, beating Cleveland 4-1. This is the Warriors second title in three years.

Kevin Durant had 39 points on 20 shots, plus had seven rebounds. His five-straight 30+ point games earned him the MVP award. He came West and the Warriors may well not have won this ring without him.

“Yeah, I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team. Like I said, tried to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well.”

Curry had 34 points on 20 shots, and Andre Iguodala had 20 points off the bench.

LeBron had a game-high 41 points, plus 13 rebounds and eight assists He averaged a triple-double for the series and carried the Cavaliers for long stretches. Kyrie Irving added 26 points on 9-of-22 shooting, and J.R. Smith had 25 points and shot 7-of-8 from three.

Golden State came out with more energy winning the hustle battles early — Zaza Pachulia grabbed one offensive rebound (which became a Klay Thompson three), but the key factors in the first went Cleveland’s way. The Warriors went more than six minutes in the first with Draymond Green at center — their best lineups — and were just +2. LeBron James went to the bench for the final 1:20 of the quarter, and the Cavs were +3 — the Warriors need to dominate those stretches. It was 37-33 Cavs after one, LeBron and Irving each scored a dozen. Curry had 12 for the Warriors, but they were 2-of-7 from three.

Midway through the second quarter, those dynamics changed — the Warriors went on what ultimately was a 28-7 run that had them up double digits and in control of the game. The run started with defense (the Cavaliers didn’t score on eight straight possessions) which in turn led to transition buckets — but it helpe the Warriors hit 14-of-15 shots. Plus, the Warriors went 4-of-4 from three in the second.

“Turnovers. Turnovers. Bad shot selection,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of that run. “Something we talked about all series. You can’t turn the basketball over, you can’t take bad shots because you don’t have floor balance. And they’re so fast, they get out in transition. It’s tough to get back and get matched, especially with their speed.”

“We tried to contain it and keep it a half-court game, but they continued to push the pace,” Kevin Love said. “They play really well when they do that. There were times where we were fanning out trying to get to that three-point line [on defense], and then they would back-cut us and get a layup. So we were just trying to protect everyone’s back and got caught up in a few situations that weren’t good for us.”

The Warriors were able to stay small in part due to quality minutes from David West, and he showed a little of the fight the Warriors had in this game, getting into it with Tristan Thompson (J.R. Smith jumped in for fun, and all three got technicals.

It was 71-60 Warriors at the half, and they had led by as many as 17 late in the second.

However, the Cavs did not roll over, they had great shotmaking to come out in the third, attacked the mismatches they wanted and were more disciplined, cutting the lead to four at one point. It wasn’t Cleveland’s defense that was the answer, it was all about buckets — they scored on 13 of 16 possessions at one point in the third. Getting stops was the hard part.

“They started to go with the 1-3 pick and roll with Steph Curry and Durant, which might be one of the most unstoppable pick-and-rolls in our league,” Lue said. And they waited until late to do it. But that’s a tough play to stop.”

Cleveland could never fully close the gap, the lead fluctuated between four and nine, with it being at five heading into the fourth. The Warriors got big three from Iguodala, they got some cuts for Durant dunks because defenders can’t help off Klay Thompson, and when they needed stops they got enough.

And they will get a ring for it.

Video: Carmelo Anthony says he’d have won 2-3 titles if drafted by Detroit

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In an Instagram Live chat with friend Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony said he’d “have won 2-3 championships if drafted by the Detroit Pistons:

Anthony was drafted third overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. LeBron James went off the board first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons then drafted Darko Milicic with the second pick. Chris Bosh was drafted fourth by the Toronto Raptors, and Wade was selected with the fifth pick by the Miami Heat.

James, Wade and Bosh would famously team up in Miami seven years later. Those three and Anthony all put together Hall of Fame careers. Milicic was another story entirely.

Detroit had that second overall pick by virtue of a 1997 sign-and-trade with the then Vancouver Grizzlies for forward Otis Thorpe. Vancouver didn’t even keep Thorpe for one full season, as he was shipped to the Sacramento Kings at the 1998 trade deadline. By the 2003 draft, the team had moved from Vancouver to Memphis.

The Pistons went on to win the championship in 2003-04, despite relatively limited production from rookie Milicic. The seven-footer played in just 34 games as a rookie during Detroit’s title run. Milicic then appeared in just 62 games over the next two seasons before he was traded to the Orlando Magic at the 2006 trade deadline.

Despite never living up to his draft position, Milicic did carve out a 10-year NBA career. On the other hand, Anthony blossomed into a 10-time All-Star.

Anthony went on to make six All-NBA teams over the course of his time with the Nuggets and New York Knicks. He holds a career average of 23.6 points per game, but has yet to win that elusive title.

Detroit passing on Anthony is one of the more interesting  what if’s in recent NBA history. The Pistons only got the one championship, but made the Finals back-to-back years. They had a multiple year run of contention behind a core of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamiltion in the backcourt. The frontcourt was anchored by Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. The one thing that group struggled with on occasion was scoring, which Anthony would have provided.

Had Anthony been drafted by the Pistons, he’d likely have a ring and Detroit would have a fourth banner. Who knows? Maybe they’d each have a couple more beyond that.

Former NBA player OJ Mayo to sign in China

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When the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association return to play, they’ll have a familiar face to NBA fans suiting up for them.

Liaoning announced they are signing former NBA player O.J. Mayo to a contract for the remainder of this season.

Mayo has been out of the NBA since the end of the 2015-16 season. The scoring guard was banned from the NBA due to a violation of the league’s anti-drug policy. He was eligible for reinstatement at the start of the 2018-19 season.

Since being banned from the NBA, Mayo has signed to play with various clubs in Puerto Rico, Taiwan and with a team in China’s second division.

During his eight-year NBA career, Mayo played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks. The 32-year old guard holds a career average of 13.8 points per game on 43/37/82 shooting splits.

With Liaoning, Mayo may suit up alongside former NBA players Lance Stephenson and Brandon Bass. The club announced that Mayo will undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which they expect him to back up Stephenson.

Neither Stephenson nor Bass have returned to China following the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s unclear when either player will return, as the CBA has delayed their return to play until May.

Alabama’s Herbert Jones declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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University of Alabama junior forward Herbert Jones announced via Instagram that he’s declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft:

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All Glory to God 🙏🏽

A post shared by Herb Jones 🛸 (@yung.ch0) on

Jones says he’s declaring while maintaining his eligibility, meaning he could get feedback and choose to return to school.

In his third campaign with the Crimson Tide, Jones turned his best collegiate season. The six-foot-seven forward scored 7.9 points on 48.4% shooting. He also grabbed 6.4 rebounds per game. Jones was also one of Alabama’s best defensive players.

Alabama has also seen starting guard Kira Lewis and John Petty Jr. declare for the draft.

Lewis is expected to be a first-round pick, while Petty and Jones are considered to be late second-round talents.

Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji, DePaul’s Paul Reed declare for NBA draft

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Nobody knows when the NBA Draft is going to take place — like everything with the NBA calendar, it is up in the air — but for college players whose season has ended now is the time to declare and throw their hats in the ring.

Two possible draftees did that Saturday.

Arizona center Zeke Nnaji was one.

The 6’11” Nnaji averaged 16.1 points per game on 57 percent shooting, plus grabbed 8.6 rebounds a game his freshman season at Arizona. In a good sign, he shot 76% from the free throw line, meaning he should be able to space the floor and hit midrangers (and maybe someday threes). He brings a lot of energy to the court, but is considered raw still on both ends of the floor and not an elite defender.

Nnaji is a bubble first-round pick.

The other player coming out is DePaul forward Paul Reed.

A projected first-rounder is a generous description by Charania, Reed is seen more as a second-round pick (and without a Draft Combine or workouts with teams it will be difficult to move up). He’s a 6’9″ power forward who averaged 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game this season. Reed shot the three well as a sophomore (40 percent) but regressed this past season. He’s athletic but needs to get stronger, and he needs to be able to fit into a role at the NBA level to last.

That said, he will likely get a chance somewhere to prove he belongs.