Top-10 NBA MVP narratives, from Giannis to Simmons

In today’s social media-driven NBA, MVP candidates don’t just need the numbers, they need an accompanying narrative to take home the MVP award. Just ask James Harden. 

Three seasons ago, Harden finished second to Russell Westbrook in the MVP vote despite averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds and leading the Rockets to 55 regular-season wins. Westbrook edged Harden because he had the best narrative: Westbrook was the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson and  the superstar who stayed in OKC even after Harden and Kevin Durant had left

The next season, however, Harden beat LeBron James for the award, despite having inferior statistics, because he had the better narrative: It’s about time we recognize Harden’s greatness and reward him because he probably should have won last season.

Last season, Harden finished second to Giannis Antetokounmpo because people had crowned Giannis as the best two-way force in the league and the next face of the NBA. As Harden so aptly put it in a GQ interview, “[I had] a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games… and all the talk was about [Giannis]? There’s no way. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen?”

Narratives matter in the MVP race. So, as a primer for this season’s MVP race, here are the top-10 MVP contenders and their accompanying narrative (in italics) entering the season (in alphabetical order):

May 19, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shoots the ball as Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) defends in overtime in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Based on the past two seasons, it’s clear Giannis is on a LeBron James-Kevin Durant kind of career trajectory. That being the case, we should expect Antetokounmpo to ascend even higher in this, his seventh season, in the middle of his athletic prime. Giannis’ MVP narrative will be one of dominance, a season where he erases any doubt as to whether he’s the best player in the world. Look for him to improve his game in some obvious way this season -– the most obvious hole in his game is his jump shot (26 percent from three-point land last season) -– but he could also double-down on his already one-of-a-kind post game or become a better playmaker.

Jun 7, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball against Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) during the third quarter in game four of the 2019 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steph Curry, Warriors

Steph has a chance to remind everyone that he’s still the toughest player to game plan for in the league … and maybe ever. He’s back to being the unquestioned best player on his team and the player who won back-to-back MVP awards before taking a step back to make way for Kevin Durant

After having the second-highest usage percentage in the NBA during his record-setting 2015-16 MVP season, Curry finished the next three Durant seasons at 11th, 10th and 13th. With no Durant and no Klay Thompson for most of this season, Curry’s usage rate should easily jump back into the top-five again. Thus, his stats will almost certainly mirror his stats from that 2015-16 MVP season, when he averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds and made an NBA-record 402 three-pointers. If the Warriors are near the top of the West, and Curry leads the league in scoring and flirts with breaking his own three-point record, he’ll be right in the mix for MVP.

Sep 27, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis listens to a question during the Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, CA. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis, Lakers

Like Shaquille O’Neal before him, AD is hitting his prime and poised for a Hall of Fame leap as the two-way centerpiece and next great big man for the Los Angeles Lakers

If he plays anything like he did during the second half of the 2017-18 season, when he averaged 31 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.4 blocks and 2.1 steals over the last 27 games of the season, he’ll probably be a frontrunner for his first MVP award. And if he is playing like that, you can bet your bottom dollar that LeBron and Klutch Sports start campaigning for AD to take home the MVP award. In fact, you don’t even have to read between the lines from the Lakers’ media day to see that James is already doing that.

May 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts after scoring against the Toronto Raptors during the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid, 76ers

Embiid’s narrative began shortly after Kawhi Leonard’s fourth bounce fell through the basket in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The world saw Embiid crying as he left the court, exhausted from a grueling seven-game series. If Embiid plays his way into the MVP conversation, it will mean he spent the offseason getting into the best shape of his life, vowing that he’d never lose another playoff series due to fatigue. He’ll have realized that few people on this Earth have been blessed with his size and athletic prowess, and he decided it’d be a travesty if he didn’t maximize those God-given gifts. It’s time to do what Shaq and Wilt and all the other historic NBA centers did before him: dominate

With Jimmy Butler taking his talents to South Beach, Embiid will have ample opportunities to show off his newfound conditioning as the closer for the Sixers.

Sep 27, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) poses for a picture during media day at Post Oak Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden, Rockets

The Beard knows first-hand how a narrative can swing an MVP vote. He believes he got robbed of the award last season. He has a point. And that means that Harden’s narrative this season will be one of revenge against the voters who wronged him out of capping off a historic season with no MVP trophy. Revenge against the people who think he isn’t the best player in the league. Revenge against the people who don’t think he can lead the Rockets to a title. 

An MVP season for Harden might not include the same massive scoring as last season (36.1 points per game) now that his high-usage buddy Russell Westbrook is in H-Town. But if his isolations and pick-and-rolls remain two of the most highly efficient plays in basketball and his assist numbers go back to what they were in previous seasons (10.0 per game from 2016-17 to 2017-18), Harden will have another crack at MVP.

LeBron James, Lakers

This is the most obvious narrative: LeBron’s “Forgot About Dre” season. LeBron is coming off of a miserable first season with the Lakers in which he suffered his first major injury and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. However, missing the playoffs means that he finally got an extended rest after eight straight trips to the NBA Finals. 

He’s also undoubtedly been listening to the media mock his team the past 12 months and declare that he’s no longer the Best Player on the Planet. It’s all set up perfectly for LeBron to come out and have a G.O.A.T. kind of season to remind the basketball world that he’s still the King.

An MVP season for LeBron won’t be his typical 27-7-7 season –- voters are too bored of that. Instead, look for him to average double-digit assists now that the Lakers have Davis, but a dearth at point guard.

Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

The Joker’s narrative is mostly tied to his team’s success. If the Nuggets, who should have some of the best chemistry in the league, are the best team in the Western Conference and flirt with winning 60 games, Jokic will get plenty of MVP votes and his narrative will sound something like this: Jokic is doing it all alone as the lone superstar in a conference loaded with superstar tandems. He flashed his true potential as a franchise centerpiece in last season’s playoffs, averaging 25.1 points, 13 rebounds and 8.4 assists. That performance has carried over into the 2019-20 season as he has Denver at the top of the league earlier than anyone would have imagined. 

September 29, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard speaks with media during media day at LA Clippers Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard, Clippers

After last season’s playoff run and subsequent free-agency power flex, Kawhi is the Alpha Dog of the NBA, and he isn’t ready to relinquish that title just yet. In fact, as a little more of Kawhi’s personality has come to the forefront, it has become apparent that he relishes destroying opponents the same way MJ and Kobe did, albeit in a less expressive way. 

With Paul George out at the beginning of the season, the Clippers will need Playoff-Kawhi (30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds on 49-38-88 shooting splits) to keep them near the top of the Western Conference until George returns, which should force Kawhi to get rolling a lot earlier than last season’s load-managed season.

May 12, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts following the win over the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Lillard’s MVP narrative is similar to Jokic’s in that it’ll be tied to the Blazers’ record this season. Most analysts seem to think that the Blazers will finish closer to .500 than the 53 wins the team had a season ago. Thus, if Lillard leads Portland to another top-three finish in the West, and with his typical Curry-lite numbers (25.8 points, 6.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds with 44-37-91 shooting splits last season), and none of the other candidates on this list are having other-worldly seasons, Lillard could start to garner some late season MVP buzz. 

He’s the best leader in the league, the superstar who chose to stay when most would have demanded a trade –- he’s as important to his team as any player in the NBA. Isn’t that everything you can ask for from an MVP candidate?

https://www.yardbarker.com/nba/articles/yardbarkers_top_10_nba_mvp_narratives_from_giannis_to_simmons/s1_13132_30133574

By: Pat Heery

One-On-One: The NBA Finals and the aftermath

Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week’s topic: the NBA Finals and the future of the Warriors dynasty.

Heery: Sean,  the Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions. That six-game series was equal parts exciting, bizarre and sad. Game 6 was an NBA classic. We witnessed Kyle Lowry come out like a bat out of hell, scoring 21 points and recording six rebounds and assists in the first half. We saw Klay Thompson put on a Finals performance of the ages before getting injured, then getting carried into the locker room, then coming back out of the tunnel Willis Reed style to make his free throws, then being ruled out for the rest of the game. (He left in a brace and crutches and was eventually diagnosed with a torn ACL .) Finally, we got to hold our breath in the last seconds as Steph Curry got a decent look in the last 10 seconds in a one-point game.

Kawhi Leonard was spectacular all playoffs and took home the title, his second Finals MVP, and some would argue, the Best Player in the World Belt. Fred VanVleet was one of the best five players in this series. Pascal Siakam, who won the Raptors Game 1 by going 14-of-17 from the field and 32 points, had a clutch Eurostep in the final 30 seconds and scored 26 points and grabbed 10 boards in 46 minutes. Lowry and Serge Ibaka were great in the last four games.

Sean, give me your eulogy for the Warriors’ injury-riddled Finals run this season and your thoughts on last night’s game.

Keane:  It’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda kind of ending for the Warriors, who through the playoffs dealt with KD’s Achilles, Boogie’s ruptured quad tendon, Kevon Looney’s shattered collarbone and the injury gods’ repeated assaults on Klay Thompson’s ankle, knee and hamstring. Yet they still had a chance to force a Game 7 with the greatest three-point shooter of all time firing away as the game ended.

If you were trying to make the super-team Warriors interesting and sympathetic again, this is how you’d do it. Take away an All-Star, then take away another one, and see how they react. They managed to beat the Rockets on the road short-handed, came back from double-digit leads against the Blazers and almost pulled out Game 6 with Quinn Cook and Shaun Livingston on the floor.

The weirdest part of the run was their near lack of home-court advantage at Oracle Arena — they were 6-5 at home and 8-3 on the road. It’s almost as if they wanted to pay tribute to the main thing that happened over the years at Oracle — lots and lots of losing.

Pat, what does this mean for the future Raptors and their fans? And is Kawhi going to stick around to be a part of it?

Heery: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this means that about 72 hours after catching flak for cheering the KD injury, Toronto is back! Not sure there are any JR Smith-type parade guys on the Raptors, so get ready for a lot more Drake during the parade.

As for Kawhi, I feel like the postgame celebration revealed a lot about him: There’s actually some personality in there once you peel back the layers, and he clearly has developed a bond with his Raptors teammates, especially Lowry. I now think he stays for at least another year in the Six to defend his crown. If he leaves, which would be unprecedented for a Finals MVP, he might have a built-in excuse if Masai Ujiri takes the money and runs to the Wizards, who are apparently about to back up the Brink’s truck with a $10M/year deal.(He’s worth it too, especially considering Jordan Clarkson makes $12M.)

Speaking of free agency, poor KD and Klay — both free agents this summer and both out for the majority, if not all, of next season with severe injuries. What are some of the ripple effects these injuries have on these two, the Warriors and the rest of free agency?

Keane: It’s likely the Warriors still offer KD and Klay their max deals, but it’s unlikely either plays before the All-Star Game. And if these Finals have proved anything, it’s that rushing back from injuries can have dire consequences, as does not paying the market rate for your training staff. The capped-out Warriors are looking at a season with Draymond Green, Curry and not a lot else. That’s a team that is contending for the six seed, not an NBA title. It could also be a chance for the Warriors to tank load manage their stars, who have played 100-plus-game seasons for five years, get a decent draft pick for the first time since 2012 and reload for a full strength 2020-21 year.

Regardless of what happens, a devastated Warriors team and an uncertain Raptors future means the road to the NBA championship is wide open, and the pool of available free agents is down two Hall of Famers. Milwaukee went all in last year and figures to be 110 percent all in this year. (That math works, right?) Philly is likely to pay all their free agents, after being one crazy Kawhi shot and one Joel Embiid hand wash away from knocking off Toronto. Even though he insists he won’t re-sign there, Boston might be tempted to trade for Anthony Davis anyway — a one-year rental of a guy who wants to play in Los Angeles just worked out great for Toronto!

Davis may be a Laker by the time you read this, and LeBron-plus-The Brow alone may be a legitimate contender in the Warriors-free West next year, provided the team signs better players than Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson this time. To me it also says that Bradley Beal is extremely available now, particularly if Ujiri accepts the Wizards’ giant offer of $10M and his choice of national monuments. It also says that Chris Paul should be unavailable. Two weeks ago, Daryl Morey threatened to trade anyone on his roster. Now the team that beat him four of the last five years has crumbled, and his team is poised to flop its way into the Finals.

What should the Warriors do in this impossible situation? And are there other teams that should be pushing their chips in this summer?

Full Article

By: Pat Heery and Sean Keane

 

Why Raptors are on verge of delivering knockout blow to Warriors

Before the Warriors dynasty, the two most famous teams of the 21st century, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and LeBron-Wade Heat, had their historic runs end by way of a 4-1 drubbing in the Finals against an underdog. This iteration of the Warriors is on the verge of suffering the same fate, and the similarities don’t stop there.

In 2014, facing a 3-1 Finals deficit against the Spurs, James told his Heat teammates to “follow my lead ” and threw an absolute haymaker at the Spurs in the first quarter. San Antonio barely flinched and went on to dismantle Miami. Kind of reminds you of what happened to Steph Curry in Game 3 against the Raptors, doesn’t it? Curry unleashed an all-time haymaker on the Raptors, and Toronto was barely bothered by it, easily winning by 14 points.

In 2004, Kobe Bryant guaranteed the Lakers would win Game 5 after falling behind 3-1 to the Pistons. Kobe assumed his team could summon a championship effort out of thin air, and Detroit proceeded to smash LA in Game 5. Kind of reminds you of Draymond Green telling the media the Warriors would win in six after losing Game 3, doesn’t it? In Game 4, the Warriors tried to summon a championship gear they suddenly don’t have, and the Raptors stoically showed them the exit to Oracle Arena, bringing about what appears to be an end to the Kevin Durant era in Golden State.

What am I getting at here? Dynasties in the NBA have a way of ending abruptly. The signs often are right in front of us, but we don’t believe what our eyes tell us. For anyone who still thinks the Warriors can win this series without Durant, you haven’t been watching the same series as the rest of us.

How did we arrive at this point?

“The board man gets paid”

I’m not sure there has been a more on-point story about a superstar than the oral history of Leonard in college by Jayson Jenks of The Athletic. It included a great anecdote about Kawhi’s obsession with grabbing rebounds. He clearly had the right mindset then, but who could have predicted he’d be the best player in the NBA someday?

The “board man” is putting the finishing touches on a playoff masterpiece — he has averaged 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists on 50-39-89 shooting. He’s firmly in Bill Simmons’ 42 Club (add up points, rebounds and assists per game in the playoffs, and if it equals or surpasses 42, that guy is having a pantheon-level postseason).

On the way to the Finals, Kawhi dragged the Raptors through a series against the more talented 76ers with two “ice in his veins” shots — a contested go-ahead three in the final minute of Game 4 with the Raptors down 2-1 in the series and a memorable walk-off series winner in Joel Embiid’s face. Then, just when it looked as if  Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were ready to run away with the Eastern Conference Finals, Kawhi put the clamps on him. He held Giannis to 21 points in Game 6 and 43.5-percent shooting in Games 3 through 6 -– all wins by the Raptors.

The Finals have been more of the same. Kawhi has averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block (and shot 45-40-94) through the first four games. Despite the gaudy numbers, Leonard waited until Game 4 to really put his Klaw imprint on the series. With his teammates playing one of the worst halves they have played all season, Leonard scored 14 of Toronto’s 17 first-quarter points to keep the Raptors within striking distance of the emotionally charged Warriors.

On the first two possessions of the second half, Leonard “came out and hit two big eff-you shots,” as Fred VanVleet so aptly put it, to give the Raptors their first lead. Leonard finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and four steals on 50-56-100 shooting. His net rating per 100 possessions was a freaking plus-54! He made all the right reads when the Warriors doubled and trapped him on pick-and-rolls. He gobbled up all of the rebounds that Green is usually able to tip-out to teammates. And he did it all with the same Terminator-like, emotionless demeanor that seems to have infected his teammates. Did I mention that he’s doing all this while clearly being hampered by his lingering quad injury?

You shouldn’t conflate Kawhi’s heroics as a failure on the part of Curry and the Warriors though.

These guys are still “eff-ing giants”

Steve Kerr’s quote about the Steph-Klay-Draymond core after the Game 5 win against the Rockets earlier these playoffs still rings true, especially as it relates to Steph and Klay. Curry’s 47-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist effort was damn near as impressive as LeBron’s iconic Game 1 in last year’s Finals (and that was the greatest 48-minute stretch of basketball I’ve ever seen). Even though Curry got gassed a bit in Game 4 (and kept double-clutching on some of his three-point attempts), he has nothing to hang his head over. He’s averaging 34 points, six rebounds and six assists on 45-40-94 shooting in the nine games without Durant this postseason. The Raptors employed a box-and-one defense on him. I can’t think of higher praise than a team playing a gimmicky high school defense on a player in the NBA Finals.

Thompson deserves recognition for his gutsy Game 4 performance as well. Klay scored 28 points on 11-for-19 shooting in 42 minutes despite being hampered with a hamstring injury that was so bad, the team wouldn’t let him even suit up for Game 3. Every time he goes down with an ugly injury, he finds a way to not only tough his way through games, but play at a high level, too. Unfortunately for the Splash Brothers, sometimes you just run into a buzzsaw in the Finals and there’s nothing you can do, no matter how well you play.

There are 82-game coaches, and then there are 16-game coaches

Coaching in the Finals is all about making the right adjustments. By that measure, Nick Nurse is having one of the finest Finals coaching performances since Rick Carlisle in 2011 for the Mavericks.

Nurse’s strategy in Game 1 didn’t get much recognition because of Pascal Siakam’s dominance. Thus, the first major sign of Nurse’s brilliance came in Game 2, when he ran a box-and-one defense that held the Warriors scoreless for five minutes, 32 seconds in the fourth quarter (until Iguodala’s dagger-three with seven seconds left).

After losing Game 2 basically because of an 18-0 blitz by the Warriors to start the second half, Nurse decided to start VanVleet over Danny Green in the second half of Games 3 and 4 because of FVV’s ability to chase and deny Curry. Toronto outscored Golden State by a combined 21 points in those two third quarters. Nurse’s emphasis on speeding the tempo in Game 4 -– the Raptors were even pushing the ball off made baskets -– was genius, too, as it led to inefficient shots and undisciplined defense by the depth-less Warriors. (Watch Curry gamble and leave Green wide open on this fourth-quarter three.)

Sticking with the vets

Another coaching move Nurse deserves credit for is sticking with Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry through their early-series struggles.

Ibaka had a horrendous first half in Game 3, highlighted by him inviting an on-fire Steph to dribble into multiple wide-open three-pointers as though he’d never played against him before. He was also out of sorts and clumsy on offense. The stage seemed too big for him. His next six quarters were probably the best six quarters of his life. He had five blocks in the second half of Game 3 and added two more in Game 4. Moreover, he played like an all-star on offense in Game 4, finishing just about everything in the paint, making smart reads while catching the ball on the move in the pick-and-roll, and even hitting a step-back off-the-dribble and a three-pointer just for kicks.

Much like Ibaka, Kyle Lowry struggled a bit early in Games 3 and 4, but was brilliant in the second half of both games. In Game 3, his excellent play was evident in the box score as he had 23 points and nine assists. In Game 4, it was less about his statistics and more about the constant pressure he put on the Warriors’ defense by pushing the pace and driving into the lane, leaning his large backside into defenders and finding open shooters. His fourth quarter was a special display of point guard wizardry -– none of the four assists in this highlight will win an ESPY, but they probably won the Raptors the title.

I said “probably” because …

Poetic Justice 

While I question whether Durant will even be 70-percent healthy if he plays Game 5, this series has broken perfectly for him to write a storybook ending to a confusing, albeit brilliant, three-year run with the Warriors. The layers of irony run deep. He never would have joined the Warriors had the Thunder not blown a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in 2016. He never would have joined the Warriors had they not blown a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers the next series. The basketball community has spent the better part of three years complaining that Durant was the personification of an embarrassment of riches. And Green even told him earlier this season, “We don’t need you. Leave.”

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By: Pat Heery

 

Raptors roar: Winners and losers from Game 1 of the NBA Finals

The long-anticipated 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors tipped off Thursday night in Canada.

Coming into the series, Toronto found itself as the overwhelming underdog. Though, Kawhi Leonard and Co. were favored to win the opener at home.

From pretty much the start, Toronto played like the better and more hungry team. Pascal Siakam dominated all four quarters. Leonard came through when it counted the most.

Meanwhile, the Warriors couldn’t get any secondary scoring behind Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson struggled and was visibly frustrated. Draymond Green found himself in foul trouble.

Here are the biggest winners and losers from Toronto’s 118-109 Game 1 win over the defending champs in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Winner: Marc Gasol 

A lot was made of Gasol’s struggles on offense in the Eastern Conference Finals. He also didn’t seem to have a great matchup against Golden State’s bigs in the NBA Finals. If Game 1 is any indication, that was nothing more than narrative.

Gasol led Toronto in scoring with 14 points in the first half, finishing that span plus-11 in the process. Showing improved defense, his all-around game was excellent. In the end, the borderline future Hall of Famer scored 20 points and grabbed seven boards before fouling out.

Loser: Klay Thompson

 With Kevin Durant out of action, it was rather apparent that Thompson needed to step up behind Stephen Curry. That certainly wasn’t the case in Game 1.

Klay just didn’t have it on either end of the court. His frustration boiled over with a dumb technical in the final stanza. Thompson was ultimately minus-10 on the court and didn’t show the same long-range sniper ability that has defined his career. Maybe he should start listening to Drake music again.

Winner: Danny Green 

This NBA champ entered Game 1 having hit on just one of his past three 15 three-pointers. But proving himself to be the solid veteran we saw in San Antonio, Green did not hesitate to take big shots at big times.

Still getting the starting nod for Nick Nurse, Green drained 3-of-7 three-point attempts and played some absolutely great perimeter defense against the likes of Curry and Thompson. Green could very well be an X-factor moving forward in the series.

Loser: Draymond Green

The aggressiveness we saw from Green during Golden State’s four-game sweep of Portland in the Western Conference Finals just wasn’t there Thursday night. He attempted three shots in the first half, committing as many fouls and turnovers in the process.

Green might have finished the evening with a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists), but he was not the same overall presence we’ve seen through the playoffs. That’s magnified by the performance Siakam put up on him offensively.

Winner: Pascal Siakam 

Not enough can be said about this youngster. He might not be the best player in Toronto, but Siakam continues to perform like a king. Thursday night’s action was no different.

At one point that spanned the final three quarters, Siakam hit on 11 consecutive shots. He did so with elite defenders such as Draymond and Kevon Looney on him. With Kawhi laboring a bit, Siakam’s 32 points were the difference in this game.

Loser: Warriors other bigs

While DeMarcus Cousins was performing well in limited action, the likes of Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell did not do their thing. Bell got the start over his counterparts, playing a combined 12 minutes and scoring two points. Meanwhile, a previously impressive Looney scored nine points but was negative-four in 28 minutes of action.

We’re highly intrigued to see how Steve Kerr employs his bigs in Game 2. The rotations clearly did not work Thursday evening. There’s now a good chance that Cousins will get the start over the others Sunday evening.

Winner: Stephen Curry 

Pretty much the only member of the defending champs to do anything on offense Thursday night, Curry was hassled by both Toronto’s defense and some bad officiating. Despite this, the two-time former MVP was still able to do his thing.

Curry scored 34 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including a ridiculous 14-of-14 mark from the free-throw line. He continued to display aggressiveness while not settling for threes. That’s what the Warriors need with Durant sidelined.

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By: Vincent Frank

 

Top takeaways from Warriors’ series-clinching overtime win over Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers needed a win to stay alive in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4. They did not get it.

A high-scoring first quarter (36-35 in favor of Golden State) set the tone for what would be an exciting night of fast-paced basketball. At halftime, the Blazers led by the score of 69-65 thanks in part to a breakout game from Meyers Leonard.

The second half featured more of the same breakneck pace, and heading into the fourth quarter, Portland held a tenuous eight-point lead. With the season on the line, the Blazers felt their nerves a bit, and at the end of regulation, the score was tied 111-111.

Overtime beckoned in the NBA playoffs for the second night in a row.

In overtime, Golden State once again showed its championship mettle, outscoring the Blazers 8-6 for the clean sweep.

Here’s a look at the top takeaways from the Warriors’ crushing victory over the Trail Blazers in Game 4.

Who are you and what did you do with Meyers Leonard?

Both teams got off to a torrid start offensively, but if not for Meyers Leonard blowing up with 14 points in the first quarter, things would have gone a lot differently. It was a really fun environment watching Leonard hitting from pretty much anywhere he wanted — minus his one embarrassing faux pas at the rim. His 25 halftime points marked a career high in any game — both as a pro and at college.

All told, he racked up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Just an incredible breakout performance from this former No. 11 overall pick out of Illinois.

To be completely fair, Leonard didn’t completely come out of nowhere, having scored 16 points in 31 minutes a game prior. But this is a guy who averaged 5.5 points per game in the playoffs before Game 4. And the way he jumped out with a dominant performance early set the tone for the Blazers and gave them a chance.

Third-quarter Dubs? Not this time

The Warriors’ hallmark has long been their ability to absolutely blow teams away in the third quarter. Portland experienced this firsthand, having been outscored 68-37 the previous two games in this period.

Coming out of halftime, it seemed like Golden State was primed to make another big run, down by just four despite some insanely hot shooting by the Blazers. Instead, Portland came out of the locker room with incredible focus and intensity to outscore the Warriors by four points in the third and go into the final period up eight.

Steph stayed hot with legendary performance

Without Kevin Durant, and with Andre Iguodala also watching from the bench with a sore Achilles, the Warriors were extremely shorthanded in Game 4. Thankfully for Golden State, Stephen Curry continued to put up points in bunches.

Curry was unbelievably hot in the first half, hitting 7-of-9 from the floor and 5-of-7 from three with 25 points. Scoring wasn’t the only thing Curry was doing well on Monday night, either. He kept putting the ball into the hoop to finish with a 37-point triple-double, adding 12 rebounds and 11 assists.

Just a phenomenal overall performance by a legendary player who will one day have a place in the Hall of Fame. The only real negatives were that his legendary free-throw streak finally was snapped, and his sloppy travel with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Portland’s backcourt was phenomenal

Lillard hasn’t looked like himself in this series. Of course, separated ribs would have something to do with his sub-par performances. We knew that if Portland was going to stay alive with a win in Game 4, he’d need to figure out a way to get going, regardless.

Portland’s star point guard did just that on Monday night. Putting together his finest performance in this Western Conference Finals, he scored 28 points, dished 12 assists, hauled down four rebounds and was responsible for the most entertaining highlight of the game (and some broken ankles for one poor defender).

Backcourt teammate CJ McCollum was also effective as we’ve seen throughout the series. He scored 26 points and added seven assists. Combined with Leonard, these guards presented the Warriors with a three-headed monster all night long.

Draymond Green = X-factor

One of the more underrated players the Warriors have relied on during their current dynasty, Green rose up with a virtuoso performance in Game 4.

He did the little things all night long. He dished an incredible 11 assists en route to a gritty triple-double that included 18 points and 14 rebounds.

And then, with the game on the line late in overtime, he hit his first three-pointer of the game.

Full Article

By: Jesse Reed

Steve Kerr addresses Stephen Curry’s place in rotation

One of the most consistent elements of the Golden State Warriors’ run with Steve Kerr as coach has been the minutes and rotation of Stephen Curry and the rest of the stars.

That’s changed some this season. And prior to Saturday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, Kerr addressed Curry’s change in minutes.

“We’ve tried a lot of different things this year in the beginning of the second, beginning of the fourth. We’ve tried KD in that spot, we’ve tried Klay, now we’re trying Steph. This is the one that has looked the best. That has felt the best. It’s ironic. People are talking about Steph’s fourth quarter minutes. Well, now he plays 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. He used to play six minutes.”

Curry’s overall minutes are up. He’s averaging 34.9 minutes a game. If that holds, it’ll be his highest total since averaging 36.5 in 2013-14, the year before Kerr’s arrival.

Of course, this may not hold.

Kerr also noted that the season is still relatively young and that things could again change.

By and large, things have worked out OK. While the Warriors aren’t having quite the dominant season we’ve grown accustomed to, they are 26-14 — the second best record in the Western Conference. Curry, meanwhile, is averaging 29.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds a game and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 45 percent on threes and 91 percent on free throws.

Original Article

By: Michael Dixon

NBA Power Rankings: Week 6

The Clippers climb into the top-10, and the Bucks bounce all the way up to the top spot in this week’s updated NBA Power Rankings.

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 11-4
The Bucks are balling. They boast the league’s most effective and efficient offense. Milwaukee leads the NBA in Offensive Rating, averaging 115.3 points per 100 possessions. They also are near the top in Defensive Rating, allowing 104.4 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks are the only team in the league to rank in the top-five in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. Unsurprisingly, Milwaukee leads the NBA in Net Rating by a wide margin, outscoring their opponents by 10.7 points per contest.

2. Toronto Raptors
Record: 13-4
Despite losing three of their four games last week, the Raptors have already notched 13 wins this season. No other team in the Eastern Conference has more than 11. Kyle Lowry exited Saturday’s blowout victory over the Bulls in the third quarter and did not return to the contest. However, coach Nick Nurse downplayed the severity of the injury when speaking with reporters after the game.

3. Golden State Warriors
Record: 12-6
The Warriors have lost five of their last seven games, which is the team’s worst seven-game stretch under Steve Kerr, and are now 12-6 on the season. In 2016-17, Golden State didn’t lose their sixth game until January 6th. In 2015-16, the year before Kevin Durant arrived, when they won an NBA-record 73 games, they didn’t lose their sixth game of the season until March 6th! Nonetheless, Steve Kerr said that the team would be “very cautious” bringing Stephen Curry back from his groin injury. Draymond Green is also ailing. He missed this past weekend’s game due to a nagging toe injury.

4. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 11-5
The Blazers .688 winning percentage is tops in the Western Conference. Portland is the middle of an arduous six-game road trip; after playing the Knicks on Tuesday, the travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks Wednesday night and then face the Warriors in Golden State on Friday.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 10-5
Prior Saturday night, Russell Westbrook had missed each of the Thunder’s previous five games due to an ankle sprain. However, Westbrook was able to take part in practice on Friday, including part of the contact portions, and went through shootaround on Saturday. Then, Westbrook’s wife gave birth to twins over the weekend, and Russ left to be with his family. Coach Billy Donovan said that they didn’t know if Westbrook would’ve been physically able to play on Saturday if he was there and they never got to the point where they tried to test him to find out. Russ is listed as out for Monday’s game vs. Sacramento. Nonetheless, the streaking Thunder has won 10 of their last 11 games. That 10-1 record is the best in the league over that stretch.

6. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 11-7
Jimmy Butler has only been a Sixer for a week, but he’s already made quite an impression. Butler was incredibly clutch late in overtime on Saturday to carry Philly past the Hornets in Charlotte. With less than 15 seconds remaining in the game, Butler blocked Kemba Walker’s final field goal attempt and saved it inbounds to a teammate. Then, Jimmy Buckets came down the other end of the floor and drilled a game-winning dagger 3-pointer with less than a second left on the clock. Welcome to Philadelphia.

7. Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 10-5
The Clippers are rolling right now. They have won six of their last seven, with three of their most recent victories coming against the Bucks, Warriors and Spurs. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams are all averaging over 19 points per game. The only other teams in the league with a trio over players averaging over 19 ppg are the Warriors and Pelicans.

8. Boston Celtics
Record: 9-7
The Celtics notched an important victory on Friday, when they knocked off the Raptors in overtime, behind 43 points courtesy of Kyrie Irving. However, they scored just 86 points in a home loss to the Jazz on Saturday. Boston’s offensive struggles this season have been puzzling. They are currently averaging fewer than 104 points per 100 possessions and rank 27th in the league in Offensive Efficiency, ahead of only the lowly Suns, Bulls and Hawks.

9. Indiana Pacers
Record: 10-6
Victor Oladipo (right knee) was a game-time decision on Saturday night but did end up starting. However, just four minutes into the game, he tumbled into the front row after a foul and reaggravated his right knee injury. He has been ruled out of Monday’s game vs. the Jazz, but, fortunately, it doesn’t sound like it will be a long term issue. “A little sore, but I’m good,” Oladipo told reporters Monday morning.

10. Houston Rockets
Record: 8-7
The Rockets are back over .500 after stringing together a four-game winning streak, which included victories over the Pacers, Nuggets and the Warriors in Golden State. During this four-game surge, James Harden is averaging 30.8 points, 7.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 4.5 triples and 2.3 steals.

Full List

By: Tommy Beer