JR Smith gets Flagrant 1 for pushing Al Horford in the back while airborne (VIDEO)

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: NBA officials made a questionable call regarding a player ejection in a meaningful playoff game.

On Tuesday night, Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith was given a Flagrant 1 for pushing Boston Celtics big man Al Horford during an alley-oop attempt. Smith made no attempt to make a play on the ball, and Horford was sent careening under the basket near the stanchion.

That caused Marcus Smart to get in Smith’s face, with the two pushing until they were separated.

Both players were impotently assessed a technical foul, and Smith was given a Flagrant 1.

Via Twitter:

Just for fun, let’s review the definition of a Flagrant 2, via the NBA website.

A flagrant foul-penalty (2) is unnecessary and excessive contact committed by a player against an opponent. It is an unsportsmanlike act and the offender is ejected immediately.

The NBA prides itself on making sure players aren’t making dangerous plays toward each other, especially in the playoffs. The league made an entire rule about landing space after Zaza Pachulia injured Kawhi Leonard in the playoffs.

That refs allowed Smith to continue playing is embarrassing to the league. Smith’s foul was a textbook example of a Flagrant 2, and the double-tech after was a bit of an insult.

Smart and Celtics took Game 2, but no doubt the league should be looking at Smith’s dangerous actions further in the coming week.

At least Boston fans got a chant going to help assuage their feelings (NSFW):

Golden State looks vulnerable. Can Spurs do anything about it?

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Steve Kerr has been frustrated in recent weeks with his team’s effort. Very frustrated. Walk into the shower, throw a bunch of bats on the floor and call them “lollygaggers” frustrated.

Golden State coasted the last month of the season, much of it without Stephen Curry, and went 7-10 in their final stretch of games. However, the Warriors problems go deeper than a lack of focus and being without Curry — Shaun Livingston has been banged up and not right, Andre Iguodala’s efficiency has dropped this season, and Draymond Green is still shooting just a tick above 30 percent from three. To name just a few things.

The Warriors look vulnerable.

But can the Spurs do anything about it?

Probably not. San Antonio (without Kawhi Leonard, it would be a surprise if he came back now) doesn’t have the athletes. We saw it last year when these teams met in the playoffs and Leonard went down after Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper, at that point the Warriors ran away with the series. The Spurs are not going to beat themselves, they will defend well and make smart plays, the Warriors are going to have to earn it — but Golden State should take the series fairly quickly.

Should. That’s the key, as Kerr said Friday (via Mark Medina of the Mercury News).

“They’re going to bring out the best in us or they’re going to completely expose us,” Kerr said after Friday’s practice. “One way or another, that’s probably a good thing for us.”

It’s probably going to be the former — expect the Warriors to flip the switch.

Here are the things you’ll see Saturday at 3 ET (on ABC) if the sleeping Warriors have awakened.

• Defensive energy and focus. This is what the Warriors have lacked mostly over the past six weeks — since March 1 the Warriors have allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions, 16th in the NBA. Not terrible by some standards, but last season the Warriors allowed just 101 points per 100, best in the NBA. In February of this season, when the Warriors focused for a while, they allowed just 102.3.

The defensive change needs to start from the team’s leaders — Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Durant played fantastic defense in the Finals last season, and remember on Christmas Day he did it again against the Cavaliers (leading to some around the team to try and promote him for the All-Defensive team). Then he seemed to check out on that end. He needs to bring his focus back, create some turnovers with his length, and protect the rim a little.

Green has been good but not dominant this season defensively, but that brings us to our next point…

• Draymond Green needs to take charge of this series. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One ties into our first bullet point above — he is the emotional leader of the Warriors. If they are going to snap out of their malaise, it starts with him. If he brings the defensive effort, others will follow.

More than that, Green has vital roles in this series.

Defensively, he will be matched on LaMarcus Aldridge for key stretches — and with Leonard out the San Antonio offense runs through Aldridge (and occasionally Pau Gasol). While Aldridge can shoot fadeaways or little hooks over the top of Green, historically he has struggled to do that efficiently against Green’s physical defense. It also just isn’t going to be one-on-one because the Spurs don’t have enough shooting to space the floor out and scare the Warriors if Aldridge passes out. If Green (and Zaza Pachulia, and David West) can make Aldridge work for his buckets, it becomes difficult for the Spurs to score enough.

On offense, the Warriors need playmaking Green to return and take on a bigger role. He needs to grab rebounds and push the tempo in transition, in the half court they need him to roll down the lane with the ball then kick-out to the open shooters. He’s more than capable of this, we’ve just seen less of it this season.

• Kevin Durant needs to lead — and that’s as much defense as offense. Last season during the Finals Durant was a defensive force, that won him Finals MVP as much as his offense. That continued through the first part of this season up through the Christmas Day game against the Cavaliers — he was playing so well some around Golden State tried to push him for Defensive Player of the Year (or at least a spot on the All-Defensive team). However, after that Durant seemed to coast a little on defense. He wasn’t the same. The Warriors need the earlier Durant back.

On offense, he’s going to get all the touches and shots he wants, Durant just needs to be efficient and a playmaker.

• Other scorers step up besides Durant. KD is going to get his, and Klay Thompson will knock down threes and put up numbers as well, but when the Warriors are clicking the ball moves, guys are cutting, and the role players get clean looks and join in the scoring.

Will a fresh and rested Andre Iguodala get some buckets on hard cuts to the rim? Will David West knock down some midrange jumpers? Can Quinn Cook continue to impress? Will the center by committee group of Pachulia/JaVale McGee/Kevon Looney/Jordan Bell pitch in buckets?

The Warriors will need them because the Spurs can still defend and will make life challenging for Golden State’s big three.

Report: Kevin Durant to opt out of contract, restructure deal with Warriors

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Kevin Durant is going to be a free agent this summer.

That is just a technicality, however. Unlike LeBron James or Paul George or DeAndre Jordan — free agents whose landing spots this summer are to be determined — Durant isn’t going anywhere. He wants to stay a Warrior.

However, after doing the team a favor and not bleeding them dry last summer in a new short-term deal (allowing the Warriors to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston), Durant now is going to opt out negotiate something longer-term and for more cash, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

A nine-time All-Star and the reigning NBA Finals MVP, Durant will be turning down a salary of $26.2 million, a figure well below that for a player of his caliber, in order to restructure a new deal with the Warriors, sources said.

It has yet to be decided what contractual route Durant will take, sources say, but there are no real incentives — for himself or for the team — to take such a drastic reduction in pay this time around.

Maxed out, Durant can make north of $35 million next season, with his contracts going up from there. The Warriors will pay him whatever he asks, the only question is how deep it will take the Warriors into the luxury tax. Even without Durant on the books, Golden State has about $102 million in salary locked in for nine roster spots. The salary cap is estimated to be about $108 million, with the luxury tax line at about $130 million — with Durant the Warriors will be into the tax, and they will still have to round out the roster with four or five (likely at a minimum salary). Their free agents include David West, Kevin Looney, Zaza Pachulia, Nick Young, and JaVale McGee.

Durant could get a four-year deal worth around $158 million (final numbers will depend on the final salary cap number), or take a shorter deal that gets him out sooner and into the free agent market again. As a third option, he could sign four-year with player options after the first two or three years, which would let him jump back in the market sooner.

He also could take less money again, but don’t bet on it. KD has earned the right to get paid.

Warriors waive wing Omri Casspi to create roster slot for Quinn Cook

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When Omri Casspi signed with the Warriors last summer for the minimum — turning down more money and potentially more minutes with the Nets — I was in the group that thought this would be great for both sides. The Warriors added another shooter on the wing to their roster, and Casspi had finally found a place where he would shine because the playing style (uptempo with a spaced floor) would fit his game.

Casspi was solid, but often battled injuries and didn’t really take off. He appeared in 53 games for the Warriors and averaged 5.7 points per game, shooting 45.5 percent from three. However, recently it looked more and more like he would get waived as the Warriors solidified their playoff roster, and Saturday night that happened.

Why? Because with Stephen Curry out for the first round and Quinn Cook playing well on his 10-day contracts as a reserve point, the Warriors need to sign Cook and that meant creating a roster spot. Someone had to go, and it wasn’t going to be a big, as Marc Stein of ESPN noted.

Each of those big men — Zaza Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee, Kevin Looney, and Damion Jones — bring a little something different to the table, and coach Steve Kerr said before Saturday’s loss to the Pelicans he may well use every one of them in different situations.

So if a big wasn’t going, Casspi was.

Casspi cannot be picked up by another team at this point for their playoff roster, that would have had to happen by March 1. He is a free agent this summer.

Report: NBA won’t punish Zaza Pachulia for fall onto Russell Westbrook

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Russell Westbrook called Zaza Pachulia dirty after the Warriors center fell onto him. Kyrie Irving called on the NBA to look into Pachulia.

Apparently, the league did and… found nothing punishable.

Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post:

Did Pachulia intend to hurt Westbrook? Was Pachulia reckless? Clumsily knocked over by slight contact from teammate Nick Young?

I don’t know, and I’m OK with the league not issuing punishment when it’s unclear. Perhaps, Pachulia is just taking advantage of that plausible deniability, and that would stink. But the NBA should need more than an educated guess to issue suspensions and fines.

Pachulia’s reputation won’t get him any of the benefit of the doubt. Especially with the league not punishing him, it’s only a matter of time until opposing players use these plausibly deniable dirty tricks on Pachulia himself.