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New NBA plan aimed at reducing player-referee tensions

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MIAMI (AP) — Kevin Durant was steaming mad over officiating this week, then eventually apologized after realizing he could have better handled his frustrations.

The NBA hopes all players and referees take the time for such reflection.

The league introduced a five-pronged plan Friday to try and improve how players and referees get along during games. It comes during a season where one of the top story lines has been the ongoing deterioration of the relationship between the sides, with stars such as Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul not shy about expressing their frustrations.

“What we’ve basically done is taken a bit of a step back,” NBA President of League Operations Byron Spruell said. “It’s kind of been a cumulative effect that’s been going on throughout the course of the season. We feel like frustration is high and tensions are high, so we want to address it, frankly.”

The league’s plan comes less than a month before the players and referees are set to meet in Los Angeles during All-Star weekend, a long-planned session that was scheduled with hopes of finding common ground. The NBA isn’t expected to have an official role in that meeting, though clearly wants to see more civility – and soon.

“Time is of the essence,” said former referee Monty McCutchen, now an NBA vice president overseeing referee development and training. “This is an important issue.”

McCutchen and NBA senior vice president overseeing referee operations Michelle Johnson will be among those starting to meet with teams in the coming days, one of the five steps in the plan:

-Discussing rules interpretations, on-court conduct and the expectations of NBA referees with all 30 clubs.

-A re-emphasis of the NBA’s “Respect for the Game” rules, not just for players but also coaches and referees themselves, with hopes of more consistent enforcement of violations.

-Expansion of rules education by the NBA Referee Operations department for coaches, players and team personnel to provide better clarity of rules and interpretations.

-Enhanced training for referees on conflict resolution. Johnson and McCutchen will conduct that training and will more closely scrutinize on-court interactions to make sure referees are handling things consistent with league policy.

-An additional reliance on the NBA’s Officiating Advisory Council, which will be tasked with getting all parts of the league more involved in finding solutions to problems.

“That nature of public discourse these days is a bit rough,” Johnson said. “So what tools can we provide them to deal with this changing landscape? Over the course of the season, as the chippiness has gone on, we say there’s no time like the present to not just communicate with the referee staff but to talk with teams. This dialogue is all the more important right now.”

There has been no shortage of ugliness in player-referee exchanges this season.

James was ejected from a game for the first time. Paul, the president of the National Basketball Players Association, publicly aired his complaint about longtime referee Scott Foster giving him a technical foul by saying “Scott Foster at his finest. … That’s who they pay to see.” Draymond Green told The Athletic this month that referees are “ruining the game.”

Referee Courtney Kirkland was removed from the floor for a week after he and Warriors guard Shaun Livingston went forehead-to-forehead over a foul call during a game in Miami. And this week, Durant apologized after becoming overly upset with referee James Williams. Durant said he will personally apologize to Williams when they see each other again.

“I’ve got to just own up to it,” Durant said. “I watched it when I got home. I was wondering why he was coming at me so hard but then I watched the plays I was like, `Yeah, I looked like a jerk out there.”‘

McCutchen said it’s critical the sides learn how to agree to disagree in more situations, and stop expecting perfection from each other. And seeing Durant own up to his actions gave McCutchen hope that a strained relationship can be saved.

“That’s the Kevin I know,” McCutchen said. “Because of his personhood, because of his platform that comes along with that stature, it’s an incredible platform for everyone to build on. That was a self-reflective moment, and if we’re going to solve this collectively each stakeholder has to be able to turn the lens and look inward. What Kevin did is an incredible springboard toward that.”

Will Chris Paul play in Game 7?

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The way Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were shooting it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Game 6, but the Houston Rockets missed Chris Paul. They missed his steadying influence on offense, and maybe more importantly on defense — Curry was directing the offense, creating space with his handles then finding people cutting off the ball and draining threes. Paul may have been able to help keep Curry in relative check.

Which all leads to this big question: Will Paul suit up and play in Game 7.

Doesn’t sound like it.

I would describe the mood of sources I spoke to on this issues as pessimistic on CP3’s chances of play.

If Paul can at all go, he will. Three years ago Paul played through a hamstring injury to lead the Clippers past the Spurs, he’ll want to do it again.

This is different. For one thing, Paul is older now, his body will not bounc he is at all limited with his movement the Warriors will target him with Curry and Klay Thompson, try to get CP3 moving laterally and exploiting him. It might now work to put him out there.

But if he can go, D’Antoni will try.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.