Chris Paul

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Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

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NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: ‘Our time is going to come’

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This past summer (and during the season), Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s front office made some money-saving moves that kept the team from paying the luxury tax. The most prominent of those was not bringing back Trevor Ariza and replacing him with James Ennis (who didn’t fit for Houston but has blossomed these playoffs in Philly), plus taking a flier on Carmelo Anthony. Fertitta himself said the team needed to be careful with the league’s luxury tax, which he called a horrible hindrance. The moves worked, the Rockets shed payroll and will not be taxpayers this year.

The impact of those moves on the court was felt in the six games it took the Warriors to eliminate the Rockets from the playoffs this season.

After Houston’s punch-to-the-gut loss to Golden State Friday night, Fertitta sounded fired up and said the Rockets will be back.

“I’m upset right now. They kicked our ass on our home court. They beat us by 10 points in the fourth quarter. It’s unacceptable, OK? We just have to be better. I know that we’re going to rise to the occasion and our time is going to come. You know James [Harden] is 30 years old [Note: He will be in August]. Michael [Jordan] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [Note: Actually, 28]. Hakeem [Olajuwon] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [actually 31]. I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here. We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”

Fertitta added this, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I’m a fighter,” said Fertitta, who has owned the franchise for two seasons. “That’s my culture, and I think the longer that I own this team, they’re going to pick up more of my culture. We had [the Warriors]. We should have stepped on their throat the other night and cut their throat. It’s not, ‘Let’s make a few shots and win.’ It’s step on their throat and let’s take it back to Houston and end it in six. We’ll pick up a few Tilman-isms along the way in the next few years.”

That sounds good, it’s what Rockets fans wanted to hear, but actions will speak louder than words.

The Rockets don’t have much cap space to work with this summer, basically just the mid-level exception. The reason is Harden and Chris Paul are maxed out, while Clint Capela will make $16.4 million and Eric Gordon will make $14 million. Rockets GM Daryl Morey will need to get creative, and he is one of the best in the league at that. But can he spend into the tax?

There have been some Rockets fans calling for the team to move Chris Paul, who at age 34 seemed half a step slower this season. The problem is CP3 is owed about $124 million over the next three seasons (the last season a player option at $44 million you can bet now he will pick up), and not many teams would be willing to take on that salary. The Rockets might have to throw in a sweetener.

Chris Paul chased Stephen Curry off court Thursday, Curry made him pay Friday

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Chris Paul played a little gamesmanship with Stephen Curry on Thursday.

Curry didn’t forget Friday. Don’t make Curry angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Curry dropped 33 on the Rockets in the second half Friday night, pick-and-rolling Houston right out of the playoffs. Coming off the court, Curry was thinking about what CP3 had done the night before. Marcus Thompson II had the story at The Athletic.

Draymond Green stood outside the visiting locker room at the Toyota Center, greeting teammates as they came in. When Stephen Curry made his way through the crowd, he looked straight at Green — before they slapped hands and bumped chests — and screamed, “Kick me off the court again, boy!”…

On the eve of Friday’s Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, Curry wanted to get some shots up at the Toyota Center. The Warriors’ do-it-all manager, Eric Housen, booked the court from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. so Curry could work on his shot. Somehow, Rockets’ guard Chris Paul got wind. He decided to go to the Toyota Center to get shots up, nixing Curry’s reservations. The Warriors’ point guard offered to stick to half a court, but Paul wasn’t having it. Curry was kicked off the Toyota Center court.

Hence: “Kick me off the court again, boy!” And Green replied to Curry’s taunt by screaming, “Kick him off! Kick him off!”

Not that Curry needed more motivation, but like all the greats they will turn slights into fuel for the fire, and when Curry’s fire got lit on Friday the Rockets got burned.

Note to Denver and Portland: If Curry wants to get up some shots in the arena, let him.

Warriors core needs to follow old blueprint to advance past Rockets

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There was something familiar, almost nostalgic, about the Warriors’ offense in the fourth quarter Wednesday night, after Kevin Durant limped off the court with a frightening-looking non-contact leg injury.

Stephen Curry had the ball in his hands, running some pick-and-roll out high and using his gravity — the fear of his shot — to pull defenders to him and stretch out the defense. Behind that players were cutting, setting back screens, there was a whir of constant movement and energy. The floor opened up, the ball flew around, guys were getting and hitting shots, including Curry, who had 12 points and was 2-of-3 from three in the fourth quarter.

Golden State looked more like the 2015-16 version of themselves — the pre-Durant version that was every fan’s second favorite team to watch because of the style and joy with which they played.

That blueprint of success still hung on the walls in Oracle — and it worked, the Warriors won a tight game down the stretch Wednesday, beating the Rockets 104-99 to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now they need to win one of their next two games without Durant — who will be re-evaluated in a week due to a right calf strain — to advance to the Western Conference Finals. It will mean a bigger burden for the Warriors core four from the previous era — Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala — but blueprint on how to do that is still ingrained in this Warriors team.

“I think we obviously turn to Steph to generate most of our offense down the stretch,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s not like we’ve gone completely away from that over the years. It’s just that with Kevin we have the ultimate weapon. So we’ve sort of mixed in different styles and different offensive starting points for our team over the last few years. We’ve had different rotations. We’ve had different ways to attack.

“But the one good thing here is that we do have experience from before Kevin was here with Steph, Klay, Draymond, Andre, Shaun, our core guys. So we’ve been successful. That’s not to say it’s the same. That was a few years ago. But we’re comfortable that we can be successful with that group.”

Kevin Durant has been the best player in these playoffs, cementing his status as the best player in the world right now. The two-time Finals MVP had averaged 34.2 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting overall in the playoffs, but since his “I’m Kevin Durant, you know who I am” pronouncement he has been an unstoppable force averaging 36.9 points per game while shooting 41.9 from three, not to mention the 5.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists a night.

For the Rockets, Durant being out feels like a reversal of fortune from a season ago when Houston was up 3-2 on these Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and Chris Paul went out with a hamstring injury. The Warriors won the final two games of that series and went on to win an NBA title. These Rockets are going to come out with a level of desperation in Game 6 Friday night, not only to keep their season alive but also sensing an opportunity.

However, those Rockets will now need to play defense against a different-looking Warriors team and style. They struggled to do that in the fourth quarter of Game 5, the Warriors put up 32 points and got plenty of clean looks. With a couple days to watch film and adjust, will the Rockets be ready?

Because we know Golden State will be ready — this team has shown it plays its best when challenged. When backed into a corner.

The Warriors core — Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala — are not as young as they were back in 2015, and they do not have the same depth around them, but they also do not have to sustain that 2015 level for an entire playoff run. They need to beat the Rockets in one of the next two games, then starting next Tuesday hold their own against either Denver or Portland. Within a couple of weeks, Durant should be back.

Green yelled “we don’t need you” at Durant during a very-public argument earlier this season.

That’s not true — to win a title this season, they will need him.

However, they can survive for two weeks and advance without him.

“The one thing I think everybody understood and understands as a whole is not one person is going to fill that role,” Green said. “We’re going to have to collectively do that. I think down the stretch, Jonas [Jerebko] hit a big three, I was able to hit a three, Klay hit a three. We really used each other.

“We really have to rely on each other to search and find great shots. We did that down the stretch. That was the difference in the game for us.”

It needs to be the difference in Games 6 and (potentially) 7. Kevon Looney came up big with Durant out, and he likely gets the call as the starter. Shaun Livingston has struggled this series but needs to find the fountain of youth for a couple of games. Iguodala needs to fight through and handle a heavier minutes load than he or Kerr would prefer.

But the Warriors know what is needed. They have the blueprint.

“[Durant has] been phenomenal. So it’s obviously a huge loss,” Kerr said. “But our team has a lot of confidence. They trust each other. They’ve won championships together. So we come out and we give it our best shot, and we try to mix and match some lineups and find some minutes and some contributions where we haven’t had them so far in this series. Guys will get opportunities who haven’t had an opportunity yet. It’ll be a little different.

“But no reason why we can’t go get a win.”

NBA says it’s inconclusive if Klay Thompson stepped out of bounds late in Game 5

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Of course there was an officiating controversy, it’s Houston vs. Golden State. There has to be some.

Rockets fans (and players) claimed that with :11 seconds to go in the game, with the Rockets down three, Chris Paul and James Harden trapped Klay Thompson on the sideline, and as Thompson leaned back to find room to throw a pass he stepped out of bounds with the ball in his hands. You can see the play in the video above, and screenshots from it make it look like Thompson steps out of bounds with the ball in his hand. The call would have given the Rockets a chance to tie the game.

The NBA didn’t see it that way, calling it inconclusive in the Last Two Minute Report:

Paul (HOU) and Harden (HOU) trap Thompson (GSW) against the sideline and Thompson jumps backwards to find an opening for the pass. After reviewing the play from multiple angles and frame-by-frame, there is no conclusive angle that shows the ball touching Thompson’s (GSW) fingertips as he lands before releasing the ball on his pass attempt.

The league did say Eric Gordon should have been called for a loose ball foul in the scramble after Thompson’s errant pass because of how Gordon ran into Shaun Livingston.

The L2M report also said Thompson should have been called for a reach-in foul on Gordon with 1:26 left in the game (Gordon regained control of the ball after it was knocked away).

Two quick thoughts.

First, while the official was standing right next to Thompson as he tries to make that pass that referee is really not in a good position to make that call — there’s no way he can see the release of the ball and the foot at the same time from his vantage point. He was too close.

Second, this call is not why the Rockets lost. Houston gave up 32 points to a Golden State team without Kevin Durant in the fourth, that is why it lost. It’s never one play, one thing, or one call.