Kevin Durant outduels LeBron James in epic NBA Finals matchup

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LeBron James became the first player to average a triple-double in an NBA Finals. His Cavaliers were 36 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off against the Warriors, and he played 42 minutes per game.

Kevin Durant was even better.

The 2017 NBA Finals featured an all-time great individual battle between Durant and LeBron.

LeBron has used this time of year to fortify his argument as best player in the world. He was the best player in four of the previous five, maybe five of the last five, Finals. (He won three Finals MVPs, should’ve beaten Andre Iguodala in 2015 and was a tossup with Kawhi Leonard in 2014.)

But Durant was so good this year, he opened a legitimate debate about whether he’s better than LeBron right now. I honestly don’t know the answer. Durant’s superior supporting cast gave him and advantage, but he used it well enough to stake claim to the best-in-the-world moniker.

These were two superstars at or near the peaks of their power, engaged in intense competition.

Durant (30.4) and LeBron (29.4) posted average Game Scores in the Finals that combine to be far superior to any other Finals opponents in current postseason format.

Here are the top combined average Game Scores for Finals opponents since 1984 (as far back as Basketball-Reference records go):

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Michael Jordan-Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson-Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal-Allen Iverson – Durant-LeBron topped them all.

And Durant topped LeBron within the matchup. Making that even more incredible: This was LeBron’s best Finals average Game Score in the last six years.

Here’s LeBron (wine) vs. his top Finals opponent (blue) by Game Score:

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No Finals opponent fared better against LeBron in that span than Durant in 2012 with the Thunder. In the last few years, LeBron has kept pushing his statistical contributions higher and higher. Yet, Durant still made up all that ground.

LeBron’s Game Score this year probably inflated, because it doesn’t properly account for his for his lackluster defense, especially early in the series. Durant’s defense was awesome.

That’s why Durant won and deserved Finals MVP.

But even with its imperfections, Game Score tells a true story: Durant and LeBron were historically good in the 2017 NBA Finals, and Durant was just a little better.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.