Warriors handle whirlwind of emotions amid Kevin Durant injury, Game 5 win

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TORONTO – Warriors general manager Bob Myers fought back tears. Coach Steve Kerr was somber. Players spoke in hushed tones.

And this was on a night Golden State won Game 5 of the NBA Finals to stave off elimination!

The strange scene stemmed from Kevin Durant‘s Achilles injury, which forced him from the game in the second quarter.

Any feelings of frustration have morphed into sadness and inspiration. Durant returned from a month-long absence, played well then re-injured himself in a whirlwind stretch to open the game. Everyone is still processing their feelings, but the unified message from the Warriors now: They stand with Kevin Durant.

They also showed they’re good enough to win without him, at least for a night and only with his early boost.

Stephen Curry was at the center of both causes.

Curry’s last five seasons can be split into two distinct periods – before Durant and with Durant.

In the former, Curry won back-to-back MVPs. He was the Warriors’ undisputed best player and good enough to lead them to the 2015 title, 73 wins the next season and Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. His on-court excellence commanded respect, and he rose to his natural leadership position.

In the latter, Curry often deferred to his co-superstar. Golden State still belonged to Curry, and he clearly took on the burden of making Durant feel welcome.

Both sides of Curry came through when Durant got hurt.

Curry left the game to walk with Durant and Andre Iguodala toward the locker room. Though he usually frames his desire to accommodate Durant in terms of doing whatever it takes to win, Curry gave a different explanation for this gesture.

“Everybody gets so wrapped up in chasing championships and the greatness that you see on the floor,” Curry said. “But life is more important in terms of caring about an individual.”

Curry still found his way back to Golden State’s bench in time to regroup his team.

“You could kind of just feel the life just go right out of us,” Draymond Green said. “But to Steph’s credit, he kind of rallied the troops. He talked to everybody, went around the huddle and just told everybody to stay locked in and do this for Kevin.”

It became like old times – Curry and Klay Thompson scoring, Green doing a bit of everything. Add a dash of DeMarcus Cousins, and the Warriors had enough to beat the Raptors.

At least after Durant’s important start.

Golden State outscored Toronto by six in Durant’s 12 minutes. Toronto outscored Golden State by five in the other 36 minutes.

In three years, Durant has made a deep impact on the Warriors – mostly for better and occasionally for worse. He attracts drama, but he also produces in these big games. With 11 points in 12 minutes, Durant became the first player to enter an NBA Finals this deep into the series and score double digits in his first game. He has also been open about his life journey and trying to find himself – endearing himself to a few of us.

“He’s one of the most misunderstood people,” Myers said. “He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’ not fair. I’m lucky to know him.

“Sports is people. I know Kevin takes a lot of hits sometimes. But he just wants to play basketball, and right now, he can’t. Basketball has gotten him through his life. So it means – I don’t know that we can all understand how much it means to him. He just wants to play basketball with his teammates and compete.”

It seems unlikely that will happen again this season, but an MRI on Tuesday will reveal more.

In the meantime, Durant’s latest injury has brought him and the rest of the Warriors even closer together. Eventually, they’ll have to snap out of this funk and prepare for Game 6. But their motivation will be easy to find.

“We do it for Kevin,” Thompson said. “We do it for K.”

PBT Podcast: Talking “Top 50 players in five years”, players 26-50

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Starting this week, NBCSports.com’s NBA team is rolling out it’s “50 best players in five years” project, trying to project what the NBA will look like in five years, the summer of 2024. Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

In this podcast, Rob Dauster from NBCSports.com’s college basketball page joins me to talk about players 26-50 on our list, which includes up-and-coming high school players such as James Wiseman and Emoni Bates. The back half of the list also includes a lot of current stars who will fade in five years — Klay Thompson, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, and more — but the question is how much do those stars fall off? It’s a fun discussion about the NBA’s best and how they will fit into an evolving league.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Kawhi Leonard to give away 1 million backpacks to kids in Southern California

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Kawhi Leonard is back in his home area of Southern California, and now that he’s a member of the Los Angeles Clippers he’s decided to get into the swing of charitable giving.

Leonard recently decided to team up with the Clippers organization to give out one million backpacks to children in need as a way to relieve some of the pressure from low-income families as students head back to school in the fall.

The Clippers and the NBA star worked with Baby2Baby, an organization that provides for low-income children from ages 0 to 12 for basic necessities. This week, Leonard started giving away backpacks to the Moreno Valley Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Inglewood Unified school districts. Leonard went to school in the Moreno Valley system as a kid.

Via the OC Register and Twitter:

“Going to the NBA, this is what I wanted to do; I wanted to give back to my community,” said Leonard, who started his day in Moreno Valley, where he brought backpacks to Cloverdale Elementary, his old school. “That’s why I’m so happy to be back home.”

“With the Clippers, just want you to know we got you guys’ back, as long as you work hard and have a goal set,” said Leonard, who Tuesday was working to fulfill one of his own.

“That’s a goal of mine for this year, being great on and off the court,” he said. “And I felt like this was a great way to start.”

This is an extremely cool and directly effective way to give back to the community. Helping disadvantaged kids in need directly has a ripple effect on their lives, and anything players like Leonard can do to help is a huge win for the children in these districts.

Clippers reportedly add Tyronn Lue to coaching staff

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Tyronn Lue will be coaching in Los Angeles this upcoming season, but it won’t be for the Lakers.

News broke on Tuesday that Lue had accepted a job on Doc Rivers’ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers. Lue is yet another big-name addition to a squad that already added players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this offseason.

Lue was a championship-winning coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, and he has an innate understanding about how to deal with star players in the NBA.

Via Twitter:

It’s also important to understand what kind of culture Rivers, Steve Ballmer, and the rest of the Clippers front office is trying to build in Los Angeles. In addition to their proposed new stadium in Inglewood, the Clippers are trying to take over L.A. one big-name at a time. That includes everyone from players to coaches, even ones who won championships as the head honcho.

There’s no doubt that Los Angeles is striving for the Finals this season, and adding a guy like Lue to the bench is yet another reiteration of that fact.

Rumor: Stephen A. Smith is coming to ESPN’s NBA broadcasts

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National NBA broadcasts are about to get a little bit different this upcoming season.

We already got word that Michelle Beadle would not be on NBA Countdown on ESPN for the 2019-20 NBA calendar year. In her place will be Rachel Nichols, a favorite of most thanks to her work on The Jump, and Maria Taylor. And apparently ESPN’s studio show is about to get an analyst boost as well.

According to the big lead, Stephen A. Smith will be added to the analyst panel for ESPN studio show, likely on Wednesday nights. The bombastic First Take host will give his NBA takes either to the delight or dismay of fans nationwide.

Via The Big Lead:

Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.

Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.

People lost their collective minds on Twitter this summer when it was announced that ESPN had given another huge contract to Stephen A. to continue to do… whatever Stephen A. does. Namely, yell and act incredulous in a way so insincere it’s hard to believe anyone is entertained by it, much less could take it at face value.

No doubt Smith will fill the role, aesthetically, that Charles Barkley does for TNT. He’ll talk in big, wild soundbites that get Twitter all riled up, thereby allowing some VP at the network to pitch his superiors about “leverage” and “engagement” from Smith’s appearances.

Good luck to everyone watching the NBA on national TV this year. Maybe locate where the mute button is on your remote now so you know where it is come autumn.