Golden State looks every bit the juggernaut in Game 1 win in Houston

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Golden State would like to remind you they are the defending NBA champions. For good reason.

Houston brought its MVP to the table in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and James Harden had 41 points on 24 shots, hit five threes and had seven assists. The Rockets brought the three ball and took 37 of them (hitting 35.1 percent). They brought their switching defense aimed directly and dealing with the Warriors.

None of it mattered.

Kevin Durant looked like the MVP he once was too with 37 points on 27 shots. The Warriors hit just as many threes as the Rockets (in four fewer shots). More importantly, they picked apart the lapses in the Rockets switching defense — and there were plenty, more and more as the game wore on and players got tired. Klay Thompson kept getting uncontested threes (he had 28 points). Harden was a defensive liability and the Warriors directly targeted him.

The result was a 119-106 Golden State win in Game 1 on the road, where the Warriors were comfortably ahead through the final minutes of the game.

The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 and look in control, having won the first game on the Rockets’ home court.

The big difference in this game was the defense — the Warriors were solid, making the Rockets really work hard for their buckets on every possession. The Rockets would do that for stretches, but then have breakdowns in matchups or effort that led to layups or uncontested threes.

The Rockets tried to make Durant work for his buckets, but it usually just didn’t matter.

“Kevin is the ultimate luxury,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “A play can break down and you just throw him the ball. He can get a bucket as well as anybody on Earth.”

Harden went off in this one — as he has done in the first couple games of the first two rounds of the playoffs — and in this game the Rockets relentlessly targeted Stephen Curry, setting picks to force him onto Harden. Curry did not have a standout offensive night (18 points, eight assists), but he battled Harden as best he could on defense, gave a full effort and make Harden put in the effort. Draymond Green was able to help a lot, especially when Clint Capela sat (he needs to play more, especially late), but give Curry credit for the effort.

“If that’s the game plan they want to stick with, my job is to make it as tough as possible,” Curry said.

“We know James is an all-world scorer, he’s gonna make shots over us, we just try to stay solid,” Durant said.

Houston got the start it wanted — Harden hit a couple of stepback threes early, one over Curry. Harden opened the game with 12 fast points on 4-of-6 shooting. Green cane out over-hyped and emotional, picked up a needless technical for shoving Harden, and made some defensive mistakes. Capela was making plays on defense in the paint and held his own.

“Well, they home for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, we knew they were going to come out with a lot of energy, especially after that long layoff,” Durant said. “We just tried to take that first punch and keep fighting.”

Keep fighting they did. The Warriors were the Warriors. They stayed steady, Kevin Durant had 17 points in the first half, Klay Thompson hit a couple of threes and Nick Young came out of nowhere to drain three more from deep in the first half.

The Rockets never pulled away, it was 30-29 Houston after one quarter, and 56-56 at the half. It felt like a blow chance.

Durant owned the third, with 13 points, and the Warriors stretched their lead out to double digits, but a late 8-0 Rockets run kept it close 87-80 after three. Still, the Rockets just could not execute well enough down the stretch.

The Warriors could. They have done this before. And unless the Rockets find another couple of gears, the Warriors are going to again.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.