Unstoppable Kevin Durant drops 50 on Clippers, propels Warriors to second round

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LOS ANGELES — “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am.”

The Clippers knew exactly who Durant was before this series started. Everyone did. That’s a very different thing than stopping him.

“I promise we tried…” Lou Williams said after Durant dropped 50 on the Clippers and ended their playoff run. “We tried everything. We tried everything.”

Just two nights before, on Wednesday, Durant set a personal new career playoff high scoring 45 points. It wasn’t enough, the Warriors lost.

Friday night he upped his game, scoring 38 points in the first half and 50 for the game.

That was enough. The Warriors won 129-110, taking the series 4-2.

The Warriors will start their second-round showdown with a well-rested Rockets team Sunday in the Bay Area.

“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen some good ones. I’ve been around some decent players,” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, who was teammates with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and coaches Stephen Curry. “So he just carried us these last couple of games of the series. He’s the ultimate weapon because there’s no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot.”

It was more than Durant that propelled the Warriors Friday night. The focused Warriors showed up, for one. For most of the night Klay Thompson was a defensive beast, and as a team Golden State did a much better job on Lou Williams, trapping and being physical with him, pressuring him into a 3-of-20 night. Part of that was Williams missing shots he made the rest of the series, but for the Clippers they have to live and die with Williams. He’s been too good all season and deserved the standing ovation he got when taken out of the game.

“I was locked in from the jump,” Thompson said of his defensive effort. “I was just trying to play with intensity and make it tougher on whoever was in front of m. I thought I played well tonight.”

The Warriors also made an adjustment with Draymond Green setting very high picks for Stephen Curry, and the Clippers trapped Curry to get the ball out of his hands. However, the result was Curry finding a rolling Green to create a 4-on-3, making Green the playmaker, and he had 10 assists on the night, throwing lob after lob in the former home of Lob City. Green had a triple-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, too.

There was also cause for concern for the Warriors: Both Curry and Thompson tweaked their ankles.

“I’m sore, and I will be for the next few hours, but I anticipate going fully on Sunday,” said Thompson, who was limping noticeably after the game.

“It’s fine,” Curry said of his ankle, adding he will be ready to go on Sunday.

Curry tweaked his ankle chasing Landry Shamet across the lane halfway through the first quarter. He stayed in the game and drained a three on the next play, but later went to the locker room to have it worked on. He returned to the game but didn’t move the same after that.

Those injuries are exactly why the Warriors needed to take care of business in Game 5 on Wednesday. They didn’t. Now there is less than a 48-hour turnaround before they play at 12:30 Sunday, and both backcourt starters could be slowed a little.

That said, the Warriors, in general, were not concerned about the short turnaround.

“In the NBA, we’re pretty used to this schedule. We play a game, a day off, another game. We pretty much do that all year,” Durant said.

“We know [the Rockets] well. We kind of know what they’re going to do,” Kerr said. “They don’t make you think too much about what they’re going to do. They let you know. They’re going to come after you and pick-and-roll. We played them three times in the playoffs the last four years.”

The Warriors all were filled with praise for a Clippers team that won over a lot of fans — both in Los Angles and around the country — with their passionate, gritty style of play. The Clippers unleashed the beast in Montrezl Harrell, got a healthy Danilo Gallinari playing his best most of the season, got another Sixth Man of the Year season out of Lou Williams, and had Patrick Beverley’s feisty heart. And that on a team that started two rookies in this series and showed promise for the future.

“I love their team. I just love how they compete, how they fight and play for each other,” Kerr said. “That’s a beautiful basketball team. They made us work for everything. So they’ve got a bright future.”

The Clippers future could take a big step this summer, they are linked to Kawhi Leonard among other top free agents.

The Warriors future is Sunday. The question is, did the Clippers sharpen a team that was bored and grew dull during the regular season, better preparing them for the Rockets? Or, did they wear down Golden State and soften them up for Houston?

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.