Kevin Durant (6'9''-G/F-88, college: Texas) was just three minutes into his 10-minute session with reporters Wednesday when he grew a bit testy.
Of the first seven questions lobbed at him, Durant was forced to field five about the San Antonio Spurs.
And he didn't like it. Didn't like it one bit.
Once that fifth question came - a reasonable query about what he anticipates from the Spurs defensively against him - Durant tried to supply an answer but soon found himself swerving off scrpt.
'I'm just going to play my game', Durant started. 'I can't really think about how those guys are going to defend me. Theyre a tough defensive group. But every question is about how the Spurs are going to come and how the Spurs are going to play. But you got to ask me how were going to come at them. Were a tough team as well. We come out and play hard. We have a lot of weapons as well. I know theyre the No. 1 seed, theyre a tough group and they havent lost in a couple of months but I think that we bring another dimension to the table as well. And we can come out and compete.'
Durant has a point.
Most every question players and Thunder coach Scott Brooks faced Wednesday was about how they were going to stop the Spurs. Not once did anyone, including yours truly, inquire about how they Spurs would stop them.
Of course, theres a reason for that. As Durant said, the Spurs are a tough group. Theyre the No. 1 seed and the hottest team in basketball. And they just so happened to trounce the Thunder twice long before they got rolling in the final month of the regular season.
Wednesdays media session was nothing more than a microcosm of the basketball worlds widespread belief in the Spurs. Few will pick the Thunder to win this series. Oklahoma City, to many, just seems to be out-manned.
Still, the Thunders unwavering confidence was on full display Wednesday, with Durants brief retort representing his teams self-belief.
Durant wanted questions about his team, so I asked about his team.
What makes you confident, I asked, against the Spurs? Where do you feel like you have the advantage?
I just think we play hard, Durant said. Were athletic. I didnt say we were going to come out and dominate those guys. But I said that we can compete, of course. We can move the ball. I think cutting down on turnovers has been great for us these last couple of series. Also, just getting out and getting stops and trying to get easy points.
All good answers.
But none are quite good enough to keep the Thunder from walking into the Western Conference Finals on Sunday night in San Antonio as the underdog. Must be a rude awakening for Durant. In the span of three weeks hes seen his team transform from the darlings of the postseason and a heavy favorite in its prior two series to second fiddle. Its as if he senses that few outside of Oklahoma believe the Thunder can win.
Before walking over to local reporters, Durant had just finished a sit-down interview with TNT, which sent bulldog sideline reporter Craig Sager to town as part of its coverage team. No telling what was asked in that closed-door meeting. But theres a good chance Sager stuck a mic on Durant and inquired about everything from the Spurs regular season series win over the Thunder to San Antonios history of excellence.
Maybe thats what the Thunder needs going into this West final: a chip, an edge, a supply of just a little more motivation.
And maybe all of it might stem from mounting skeptics now gushing over the Spurs.
Barnes' late basket, steal put Mavs past Clippers, 97-95 - 13 hours ago
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Harrison Barnes (6'8''-F-92, college: N.Carolina) thrived in a new position on Thursday night, and so did the Mavericks. Barnes made the go-ahead basket, then stole the ball from Blake Griffin(6'10''-F-89, college: Oklahoma) with 3.9 seconds left as Dallas beat the Los Angeles Clippers 97-95. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle started a big lineup, with Barnes moving from power forward to small forward. ''I have a little bit more energy from not banging with as many bigs,'' Barnes said. Barnes... [read more]
Harrison Barnes (6'8''-F-92, college: N.Carolina) thrived in a new position on Thursday night, and so did the Mavericks. Barnes made the go-ahead basket, then stole the ball from Blake Griffin (6'10''-F-89, college: Oklahoma) with 3.9 seconds left as Dallas beat the Los Angeles Clippers 97-95. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle started a big lineup, with Barnes moving from power forward to small forward. ''I have a little bit more energy from not banging with as many bigs,'' Barnes said. Barnes made a 14-foot jumper with 1:06 remaining for the game's 11th lead change, making it 96-95. After he stripped Griffin, Wesley Matthews made a free throw with 0.9 seconds to play before J.J. Redick (6'4''-G-84, college: Duke) missed a 3-point attempt that would have won it at the buzzer. His shot bounced off the far side of the rim. ''We had a great shot on the last play,'' Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. ''That was great execution, and it was a 3, would have been a game-winner. Make, miss, we will live with that.'' Griffin scored 21 points, including nine in a row in the fourth quarter, but he missed his last three shots and turned the ball over four times in the game. ''I got to take care of the ball on the last play of the game,'' Griffin said, ''if you trust me with the last play of the game.'' Dallas expected Griffin to have the ball. ''I have to give credit to our coaching staff,'' Barnes said. ''They scouted that play well before the game. We knew it was coming to Blake. I just tried to play good defense, and I was in the right spot and the right time.'' The Clippers had their three-game winning streak snapped. Dallas, battling from behind for a playoff berth, had lost four of six. ''I don't care about the race,'' Rivers said. ''I care about how we play.'' Seth Curry (6'1''-PG-90, college: Duke) led Dallas with 23 points. Barnes finished with 21 and Dirk Nowitzki had 14. The new lineup had Nerlens Noel (6'11''-F-94, college: Kentucky, agency: Pro Partner Sports Management) starting at center and point guard Yogi Ferrell on the bench. Curry started at point guard and had four assists. ''We're going to give this a look,'' Carlisle said. ''It may be the rest of the year, it may not.'' Noel finished with 12 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals, including one in the final minute. DeAndre Jordan (6'11''-C-88, college: Texas A&M) had 14 points and 18 rebounds for the Clippers. Chris Paul (6'0''-PG-85, college: Wake Forest) scored 15 points and Austin Rivers had 13. The Mavericks led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter. But after trailing 44-32, Los Angeles finished the first half on a 22-4 run for a 54-48 halftime lead. Paul had 13 points in the first half, and Jordan already had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Nowitzki and Curry each had 10 points for the Mavericks. Dallas started the third quarter with a 13-2 run to regain the lead at 61-56. The Mavericks took a 79-77 lead into the fourth quarter. Courtesy of: cbssports.com
Spurs drop Grizzlies in potential playoff preview - 13 hours ago
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The Memphis Grizzlies got into the Spurs defensively, pushing San Antonio around and making every possession a fierce fight. The Spurs enjoyed it, especially their defensive-minded coach. LaMarcus Aldridge (6'11''-F/C-85, college: Texas) scored 23 points, Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) added 19 and San Antonio beat Memphis 97-90 on Thursday night in a possible first-round playoff preview. "It's good for the team and myself that we're seeing this early instead of being... [read more]
The Memphis Grizzlies got into the Spurs defensively, pushing San Antonio around and making every possession a fierce fight. The Spurs enjoyed it, especially their defensive-minded coach. LaMarcus Aldridge (6'11''-F/C-85, college: Texas) scored 23 points, Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) added 19 and San Antonio beat Memphis 97-90 on Thursday night in a possible first-round playoff preview. "It's good for the team and myself that we're seeing this early instead of being hit in the playoffs," Leonard said. San Antonio opened a four-game homestand by moving two games behind idle Golden State for the league's best record. The Spurs (55-16) close the homestand against the Warriors (57-14) next Wednesday. Memphis (40-32) is seventh in the Western Conference, which would result in a first-round matchup with San Antonio if the standings remain. "I thought both teams played good defense," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "As usual, making some shots down the stretch matters, but overall I thought we moved the ball pretty well and we didn't turn it over too much. We played a pretty good game." Mike Conley had 22 points and six assists for Memphis, which fell 1 games behind Oklahoma City for sixth place. Marc Gasol (7'1''-C-85), who had 13 points, was the only other Grizzlies player in double figures. San Antonio lost the first two meetings, both in Memphis, by a combined 23 points. "They were more clear on their plan defensively," said Marc Gasol, who outscored his brother, Pau, by four points. "They did a good job. We didn't really run. They moved the ball, they made a lot of shots." Aldridge reached 15,000 career points with his final basket, a 13-foot jumper that gave San Antonio a 90-81 lead with 2:10 remaining. The 11-year veteran is averaging 21.4 points in five games since returning from a two-game absence after being diagnosed with a minor heart arrhythmia. "I don't know, I'm just trying to play basketball, really," Aldridge said. "Trying to be more dominant out there. I'm just trying to take my shots and play in the flow. I'm not being as passive as I was earlier in the year. It's working out for me." Leonard finished 7-for-15 from the field while battling the aggressive hands-on defense of Tony Allen (6'4''-G-82, college: Oklahoma St.) and James Ennis (6'7''-F/G-90, college: Long Beach St.) III. Leonard responded with his own defense to preserve the win. The 6-foot-7 forward sprinted in front of Allen to tip away a pass and leapt out of bounds to save the ball to Aldridge. The play led to a three-point play by Patty Mills after he was fouled on a 3-on-1 layup for an 88-80 lead with four minutes remaining. Mills was 3-for-6 on 3s, finishing with 15 points. "Our effort was fantastic," Memphis coach David Fizdale said. "We really competed defensively. It was stretches there where we had our mental lapses, but that's the Spurs." Courtesy of: usatoday.com
DeRozan gets 40, Raptors rally again to beat Heat 101-84 - 13 hours ago
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Down by 15 early, the Toronto Raptors had no reason to panic. Trouble brings out their best. DeMar DeRozan (6'7''-F/G-89, college: USC) scored 40 points - doing that back-to-back for the first time in his career - and the Raptors clamped down defensively in the final three quarters to beat the Miami Heat 101-84 on Thursday night. Toronto has now won 19 games this season after trailing by at least 10 points, more than any team in the NBA. "It talks about toughness, heart," Raptors coach Dw... [read more]
Down by 15 early, the Toronto Raptors had no reason to panic. Trouble brings out their best. DeMar DeRozan (6'7''-F/G-89, college: USC) scored 40 points - doing that back-to-back for the first time in his career - and the Raptors clamped down defensively in the final three quarters to beat the Miami Heat 101-84 on Thursday night. Toronto has now won 19 games this season after trailing by at least 10 points, more than any team in the NBA. "It talks about toughness, heart," Raptors coach Dwayne Casey said. "Our give-a-crap level is pretty high, and it's one of those things where when you count us out, we find a way. My thing is just find five men who are going to play hard." Playing with 13 stitches in his right hand and some padding and bandages to protect the injury, Hassan Whiteside (7'0''-C-89, college: Marshall) had 16 points and 14 rebounds for Miami. Whiteside seemed a bit limited - his first two shots were rather gentle dunks, not his usual make-the-backboard-shake variety. His injury situation even got worse: Whiteside sprained his left ankle late in the game. "Very inspiring, just to see him out there battling," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. Even with one good hand at the start and one good ankle at the finish, Whiteside was one of Miami's lone offensive bright spots. Rodney McGruder (6'4''-G-91, college: Kansas St.) and Goran Dragic (6'3''-PG-86) each scored 13 for Miami, which shot 39 percent and tied its second-lowest scoring total of the season. "No one's going to feel sorry for me," said Whiteside, who had a bag over his cut hand, two icepacks on his knees and a wrap on his newly injured ankle as he sat at his locker postgame. DeRozan needed 38 shots to score 42 points against Chicago on Tuesday. He was much more effective in this one, shooting 14 for 25 from the field and 12 for 13 from the line. "I was just trying to be aggressive and try to pick it up on the defensive end as well, not just trying to go up there scoring," DeRozan said. "We slowly started getting into it and started playing like we wanted to play." Neither team moved in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Toronto (43-29) remained in the No. 4 spot, pulling within a half-game of No. 3 Washington. Miami (35-37) stayed No. 8, now just a game ahead of No. 9 Chicago and No. 10 Detroit. Courtesy of: abcnews.com
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