NBA

Golden State Warriors stars Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are dueling for Finals MVP

Jay Asser 8/06/2018
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Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have each had their moment in the Finals.

The only suspense left in the NBA season is whether Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry will walk away with Finals MVP.

After three games, the two Golden State Warriors stars each have a case for the coveted honour, so it could come down to who performs better in Game 4 (if the Warriors clinch the title with a sweep).

Before breaking down the case for each player, let’s get this out of the way first: LeBron James should not win Finals MVP. Has he been the best player in a series in which he’s leading all players in scoring and assists with averages of 37.7 points, 10.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 52.5 per cent shooting? Yes. No one’s going to dispute that – or they shouldn’t, at least.

But to earn Finals MVP as a player on a losing team, you have to be so head and shoulders beyond the rest of the field that it’s criminal to not get the trophy. There’s a reason only once in NBA history has a losing player been the Finals MVP and that was the first ever edition of the award, given to Los Angeles Lakers icon Jerry West back in 1969.

If LeBron was doing what he did in Game 1 – 51 points, eight assists, eight rebounds and 59.4 per cent shooting – every night in this series, then sure, he would probably get the award. But he hasn’t and there are two players on the team that’s actually winning who are deserving.

Before Game 3, it seemed like Curry was comfortably on the way to securing his first Finals MVP – an achievement that has eluded him while he’s stocked with trophy cabinet with two championships and two regular season MVPs.

Curry’s career probably won’t be looked at any differently whether he has a Finals MVP to his name or not, but from a historical perspective, it would be fitting for a player of his stature and standing among the league’s all-time greats to have at least one on his resume.

After splashing down a Finals record nine 3-pointers and scoring 33 points in a signature performance in Game 2, Curry looked in line for the award. But the combination of him mightily struggling in Game 3 and Kevin Durant having his own memorable night has likely put Curry behind his teammate.

It’s not just that Curry was bad in Game 3, it’s that he had one of the worst shooting nights of his career, hitting just 3-of-16 from the field, including 1-of-10 from deep.

Durant, meanwhile, lit it up with 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists. Like last year, he also hit what may end up being the most memorable shot from the series with his clutch 3-pointer in the final minute.

Here are Curry and Durant’s averages up to this point in the Finals.

Curry: 24.3 points, 7.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 3.0 turnovers, 38.5 per cent overall, 39.5 per cent on 3s
Durant: 31.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 55.9 per cent overall, 47.4 per cent on 3s

There’s no doubt whose averages look better on paper. Durant is not only putting up more numbers than Curry, he’s doing it more efficiently with ridiculous shooting percentages.

He also has recency bias working in his favour, with his best game so far having been after Curry’s. Plus, however you want to account for defence, Durant has the edge in that department as well.

It’s fair to say if both players have somewhat similar performances to one another in Game 4 and the Warriors win, Durant will walk away with the hardware.

But it’s too late for Curry to jump back into pole position. Obviously if he plays well in the clincher and Durant struggles, the odds shift in his favour. But one thing working to his advantage is his importance to Golden State’s offensive identity, meaning that when he’s clicking, the Warriors attack is at its best. Compare that to Durant, who is more or less a backup option and a high-volume scorer only when the rest of the Warriors aren’t completely in rhythm.

Curry is the face and soul of the Warriors, so if he can dominate in such a way in Game 4 that the rest of the team feeds off that – like in Game 2 – then it might not matter what Durant does.

This is all based on the idea Golden State finish off this series with a sweep. The longer this goes, the more unpredictable the MVP choice will be.

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NBA

Bryan Colangelo resigns from Philadelphia 76ers after his wife admits to operating Twitter burner accounts

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Bryan Colangelo has resigned from his role with the 76ers.

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager Bryan Colangelo resigned on Thursday after his wife admitted to operating Twitter burner accounts that were uncovered more than a week ago in a report by The Ringer.

The five Twitter accounts were used by Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, to defend him, while also criticising team members and releasing sensitive, team-related information.

Bottini admitted to operating the accounts, which was corroborated, along with Colangelo being the source of the information, through the findings of the investigation by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“When interviewed, Ms. Bottini admitted establishing and operating the accounts. Forensic evidence corroborates her admissions,” the law firm said in a statement.

“Our investigation revealed substantial evidence that Mr. Colangelo was the source of sensitive, non-public, club-related information contained in certain posts to the Twitter accounts. We believe that Mr. Colangelo was careless and in some instances reckless in failing to properly safeguard sensitive, non-public, club-related information in communications with individuals outside the 76ers organisation.”

Colangelo refuted the information came from him, though he did call into question his wife’s actions.

“I vigorously dispute the allegation that my conduct was in any way reckless” Colangelo said in a statement. “At no point did I ever purposefully or directly share any sensitive, non-public, club-related information with her.

“Her actions were a seriously misguided effort to publicly defend and support me, and while I recognise how inappropriate these actions were, she acted independently and without my knowledge or consent. Further, the content she shared was filled with inaccuracies and conjecture which in no way represent my own views or opinions. While this was obviously a mistake, we are a family and we will work through this together.

“Although I am not directly responsible for the actions, I regret this incident occurred and understand that it has become a distraction for the team. Therefore, the organisation and I have mutually agreed to part ways.”

The 76ers accepted Colangelo’s resignation, saying in a statement it had “become clear Bryan’s relationship with our team and his ability to lead the 76ers moving forward has been compromised”.

Sixers coach Brett Brown will now handle basketball operations on an interim basis.

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NBA

Kevin Durant eviscerates Cleveland Cavaliers to give Golden State Warriors complete control of NBA Finals

Jay Asser 7/06/2018
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Kevin Durant hit another clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of the NBA Finals.

Kevin Durant delivered two daggers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, both piercing the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hearts – his deep 3-pointer in the final minute to seal a win and his performance as a whole to effectively end the series.

This was the type of game the Cavaliers needed to get back on track at home. Their role players stepped up, they killed the Warriors on the glass, Klay Thompson was a non-factor and, perhaps most importantly, Stephen Curry had one of the worst shooting nights of his career.

And yet none of it mattered in the end because Durant’s transcendent performance washed over everything like a tidal wave engulfing everything in its path.

As the best player on the floor in Game 3, Durant scored a career playoff-high 43 points on 15-of-23 shooting, while adding 13 rebounds and seven assists to take complete control of the Finals.

His unstoppable nature was on full display throughout as he rose over defenders from beyond the arc and in the mid-range to score effortless bucket after effortless bucket.

All of that culminated in Durant’s 3-pointer with 49.8 seconds left to give the Warriors a six-point lead.

It was nearly the same shot – from almost the same spot on the floor – that Durant hit in Game 3 of last year’s Finals, which also helped give Golden State a 3-0 lead.

This one, however, was even deeper and came from 33 feet out, making it one of four triples Durant hit in the game that were from 30-plus feet. He had previously made only one shot from that distance in any single game, regular season or playoffs, in his career.

The Cavaliers simply had no answer for Durant. LeBron James defended him for stretches and took on the responsibility at the end of the game, but the Warriors threw off the match-up by setting a screen and forcing a switch. Thanks to his combination of length and shooting, Durant is ungradable as it is, but when he’s firing on all cylinders like he was in Game 3, no defence can slow him down in a one-on-one setting.

Durant has been the Warriors’ fail-safe since he joined in the summer of 2016 and while a high volume of shots by him doesn’t usually translate to the offence playing their preferred brand, he significantly raises their floor as a security blanket on nights when Curry and Thompson are misfiring.

Game 3 was one of those nights and in the pre-Durant days, it would have almost certainly been a loss against a LeBron-led team. But against this version of Golden State, you need all three of their offensive stars to have an off game to ensure victory. They can each cover for one another – something James doesn’t have the luxury of anymore with Kyrie Irving on longer around.

James could have used one of those sidekick-becomes-the-hero performances Irving used to provide so often in Game 3. Even though he had a triple-double with 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, it wasn’t a great game by James’ standards.

He appeared dead set on getting his teammates involved from the jump as he turned the corner on drives with the intent of finding open shooters. The strategy worked initially as Cleveland’s role players found a bit of rhythm, but by the end when shots weren’t falling, James hadn’t established enough of a scoring rhythm himself and couldn’t get a bucket at will like he could in the series opener. He also settled for 3-pointers far too often on a night his jumper wasn’t falling, going 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.

For the Cavaliers to have any chance of beating the Warriors, James has to bring his A-game every night. The key difference between the teams is that Golden State can get away with only one of Durant, Curry or Thompson bringing theirs.

It’s a trap

Speaking of Curry, it would be easy to say from looking at his stat line – 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting and 1-of-10 from deep – that Cleveland figured out how to shut him down by employing an aggressive trapping scheme.

The reality, however, is that the Cavaliers’ use of the trap benefitted them only in one way and that was getting the ball out of Curry’s hands more. His rough shooting night was more a result of him missing shots he normally drains and at times pressing the issue whenever he encountered single coverage.

The trade-off for that was countless easy dunks and layups for the Warriors in 4-on-3 situations. With Durant or Thompson spotting up near the corners and Curry handling the ball, that allowed one of Golden State’s non-shooters to set a screen and the other to be Curry’s outlet at the top of the key – usually Draymond Green – after getting trapped. The result was Green getting a pass in open space and playing 2-on-1 with his defender, who was stuck in the middle between him and the screen-setting roll man. With the Cavaliers hugging up on Durant and Thompson, there were no help defenders to deter easy dives to the rim.

The screens set were more touch-and-go leading to slips, which got the Warriors attacking downhill quicker and left the two Cleveland defenders trapping on Curry with an impossible foot race to win to get back in the play.

There are no right answers for the Cavaliers on how to defend the Warriors. Either they trap and get sliced up like they did in Game 3, or switch everything and leave someone like Kevin Love on an island with Curry.

Cleveland don’t have the versatile and switchable personnel Houston do, so they can’t come close to fielding the ideal defence required to consistently bother Golden State.

Sometimes, the other team is just that much better and there’s nothing you can do.

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