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The Five Best Teams Who Can Trade For Kevin Durant

Nearly 24 hours later, the NBA world is still in shock over Kevin Durant’s trade request from the Brooklyn Nets. The two-time NBA Finals MVP is likely to generate the kind of interest rarely seen by any player that’s suddenly available, but the questions are who will be pursuing him and at what price?

And while there’s no doubt about Durant’s ability to play at a high level— he was placed on the All-NBA second team after averaging 29/7/6 this season– it does exist regarding his soon-to-be former team. Even during this era of player empowerment and movement, the Brooklyn Nets can’t get forced to trade Durant to his chosen place.

With four years remaining on his contract and a desire to either compete for a title or land a massive haul for him, the Nets and Durant could stay together beyond this summer. But what are those odds?

Below are the five best teams who can trade for the accomplished superstar.

Phoenix Suns

After the initial shock of Durant’s trade request, another one came in the form of his most- preferred trade destination: the 64-win and No. 1 seeded Phoenix Suns.

Upon looking at their roster and assets, there’s an immediate offer that makes sense– Mikal Bridge, Cam Johnson, Deandre Ayton, and an assortment of first-round picks. The only thing to be discussed is if the Nets trade Ben Simmons elsewhere. Under the Designated Rookie rule, a team can’t have more than two players who signed four or five-year extensions after their rookie deals, and only one can be acquired through a trade.

This rule is huge because Simmons signed a massive five-year extension in Philadelphia before being traded, and Ayton is in line for a massive contract this summer.

Miami Heat

Like Phoenix, Miami is another title contender that ranks high on Durant’s list of trade destinations, yet; they have a critical asset that can’t get traded to Brooklyn because of the Designated Rookie rule (Bam Adebayo). But is that enough to stop a deal?

If anything, the Heat could offer a package of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, and a third player attached with first-round picks unless the Nets decide to trade Simmons elsewhere, as mentioned in our Suns discussion.

Memphis Grizzlies

Could you imagine if KD returned to the Western Conference as a Grizzlie? It’s certainly possible given the team’s salary cap situation, their immensely talented, young superstar in Ja Morant, and a trade package headlined by dynamic-two-way big man, Jaren Jackson Jr.

Golden State Warriors

Talk about what would be a full-circle moment? But when looking beyond the jokes and chaos Durant’s return would create, the Warriors could offer a fair exchange for their former superstar— the newly-motivated Andrew Wiggins, a certified bucket in Jordan Poole, and 2020 No. 2 overall pick, James Wiseman.

Toronto Raptors

Hey, you better not sleep on the Raptors in these trade discussions. Besides the brotherhood Durant has with superstar musician and Raptors ambassador Drake and Masai Ujiri being an incredible dealer, the Eastern Conference competitor has several attractive trade assets.

Anyone between All-NBA forward Pascal Siakam, reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, and OG Anunoby could start a return for the Nets– especially with various picks involved.

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How Steph Curry and the Warriors Reclaimed Their Crown

The greatest compliment you can give Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors is that they made this seem pretty ordinary. Over the last few seasons, the Warriors have been as snakebitten as any team in the league, felled by injuries and unable to muster enough serotonin to muscle through mid-winter midwestern road trips. But as the Warriors polished off the Boston Celtics with a 103-90 Game 6 win, all that seemed to melt away—the ghosts of previous disappointments were finally able to pass through to the other side. 

In this sense, when Klay Thompson is pumping in dagger 3s, it’s easy to forget that he missed two full seasons and over 900 days with a torn ACL and a ruptured Achilles; there was once a world where Gary Payton II was prepping to join the Warriors as a video coordinator and Andrew Wiggins was a flighty near-bust, but it feels far removed from the one we live in now.  For most teams, a championship requires some elusive potion of talent and luck; for the Warriors, winning seems like kismet. They were great and then they were bad and now—will you look at that!—they’re great once again. In its first post-COVID season, the NBA’s new normal looks a lot like its old normal. Real 2015 vibes, indeed.

“These last two months of the playoffs, the last three years, these last 48 hours—every bit of it has been an emotional roller coaster on and off the floor,” Curry said after the game. “And you get goosebumps just thinking about, you know, all those snapshots and episodes that we went through to get back here, individually, collectively. And that’s why I said I think this championship hits different. That’s why I have so many emotions, and still will, just because of what it took to get back here.”

While this Warriors’ championship run is painted as a story of transformation, every scintilla of Golden State’s success was enabled by Curry’s constancy. Yes, their sclerotic supporting cast from 2019 turned over and gave way to a new cast of contributors, but the Warriors reemerged as a powerhouse because of what stayed the same. Namely, everything works because Steph Curry, just as he’s done for years, makes everything work. 

All the adjustments and improvements that helped lift the Warriors out of the NBA’s working class can be traced back to Curry. Even during their listless playoffs-less season last year, Curry’s individual brilliance kept them philosophically coherent, giving the likes of Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins the time and space to adapt to the Warriors’ scheme; it’s hard to imagine Wiggins morphing into an elite glue guy or Jordan Poole doing a solid Steph Curry impression without last season serving as a protracted rehearsal dinner. Curry isn’t a system player; he’s a system, player

If Curry last year provided the Warriors with a nurturing floor, his efforts in the Finals showed just how high he can raise their ceiling. Save for a Game 5 stinker, Curry was at his imperial best against the Celtics, averaging 31.2 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and taking home his first Finals MVP as a result. Pitted against the upper-case Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and a historically dominant Boston defense led by Robert Williams (the actual, lower-case defensive player of the year), Curry made them all look like chumps. Boston hung back in drop coverage against the pick-and-roll, daring Curry to beat them with pull-up threes—so he did. 

This was peak Curry, blending the kinetic cutting that kick-started the Warriors’ dynasty and the on-ball assertiveness that has sustained it; he was simultaneously the best off-screen shooter and the best pull-up shooter in the playoffs. To their credit, Boston mounted an admirable effort to stem Curry’s scoring alluvia. Still, Curry is so deadly that he ensures that any minor success is a qualitative, rather than quantitative one. As Boston discovered, it doesn’t really matter if you contest shots and force Curry to hoist prayers over a seven-footer from a furlong away from the hoop because he’s still going to make them. 

Accordingly, the Warriors won Game 6—and the Larry O’B—by breaking Boston in quotidien, cumulative ways. On a second by second basis, playing the Warriors is exhausting, equal parts three-card monty and boot camp obstacle course. With Curry and Thompson and Poole scampering about, defenders must be able to instinctually communicate and download instructions, toggling assignments between all five players on the fly. It’s tricky enough to do that once, let alone six times on one possession, let alone on 100 possessions during an entire game. To wit, the Warriors’ super power is their ability to compound minor mistakes into game-ending runs—a few minutes of sloppiness is enough to spark a 21-0 Golden State run; a couple of botched assignments and Curry will put you to bed with a title-clinching 13 point fourth quarter.  

Now that Steph Curry has earned his first Finals MVP and secured the last piece of meaningful hardware that’s eluded him, it’s naturally time to reconsider his place in the NBA’s pantheon. At the very least, he’s graduated from some spot in the nebulous top ten discussion and entered the Secret Beef Room of true greatness alongside Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain (conversely, Klay Thompson made room for very public beef of his own). Whereas matters of “legacy” and things of that nature are a distracting sideshow, every Warrior seemed acutely aware of how important this series was to them. It was a matter of revenge against the doubters, but also redemption for both the team’s principles and its principals. 

“There were a lot of tears shed,” said Thompson in a post-game interview. “I knew it was a possibility. But to see it in real time, holy cannoli.”

How sweet it is.  

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The Golden State Warriors Prove Their Toughness, Win Game 5

In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors played badly—they went 9-40 from behind the arc and got doubled up on the offensive glass; Stephen Curry ended the game without making a single three-pointer, snapping a streak of 132 consecutive playoff games (and 233 consecutive combined playoff and regular season games) with at least one triple. For the most part, the Celtics’ defense has befuddled the Warriors, taking away the automatic advantages that jumpstart Golden State’s whirligig attack. And yet, the Warriors are now one win away from their fourth title in eight years, stealing a 104-94 win from the Boston Celtics to take a 3-2 series lead. 

More than anything, this toughness has been the foundation of the Warriors’ dynasty, even if it’s been obscured by their flashy offense and near-untouchable runs with Kevin Durant. In 2015, Golden State steeled themselves against Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers teams that tried to arm-bar them into submission; in 2018 and 2019, they beat the Houston Rockets, who designed their team with the express purpose of gunking up the Warriors’ offense. And now, against the Celtics, the Warriors are once again refusing to be punked by a bigger, more physical team. Just as Robert Pattinson is a pretty-boy actor with surprising artistic depth, the Warriors are a finesse team with a hidden store of grit. 

With their offense largely throttled by Boston’s defense, Golden State ratcheted up their defense, simply deciding to no longer let Boston score. Although Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been able to sustain the Celtics’ attack with their shot-making chutzpah, the Warriors preyed on the duo’s sloppy ball-handling. Golden State tried to confuse Boston in the first four games of the series by sending late help to try to disguise their rotations, but made a conscious effort to clog gaps on the perimeter in Game 5. Every Boston drive thwarted before it could really begin, repelled by waves of prying hands. Visibly frazzled by the Warriors’ new-found aggression, Tatum and Brown combined for nine turnovers and just eight assists. Collectively, the Celtics coughed up the ball 18 times, dropping to 0-7 in the postseason when they turned the ball over more than 16 times. 

Beyond forcing Boston into crushing, momentum-swinging gaffes, Golden State turned nearly every Boston possession into a series of minor indignities. After granting Boston switches without too much protest to start the series, Golden State labored to protect Steph Curry and Jordan Poole more from Tatum and Brown in Game 5. Save for Boston’s scintillating third quarter, the Celtics struggled to target Curry and Poole, wasting precious time in the process; the Celtics only took 12 shots with more than 15 seconds left on the shot clock—for reference,  Golden State generated 28 early looks. 

If being able to consistently create an advantage is the most elemental aspect of being a good offense, the Warriors clamped the Celtics by stemming any potential problem before it could arise. A comprehensive list of things Boston couldn’t do: score in the paint, score in the midrange, score in isolation, score in transition, create shots for each other. A comprehensive list of the things they could do: bomb semi-contested threes and suffer. 

As such, Golden State’s defensive effort was as necessary as it was impressive. While the Warriors offense wasn’t quite as toothless as Boston’s, Curry’s uncharacteristic stinker still required them to recalibrate on the fly. Gone were the heliocentric, Steph Curry spread pick-and-rolls that proved to be such fertile offensive ground in Game 4; in its place, was a more egalitarian approach featuring contributions from the slightly lesser lights like Klay Thompson (21 points, five three-pointers), Draymond Green (11 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Gary Payton II (15 points on 6-8 shooting) and Andrew Wiggins (26 points and 13 rebounds???). 

Accordingly, Game 5 marked the latest chapter in the ongoing Wiggins renaissance. Tasked with slowing Tatum and Brown, he provided pressurized on-ball at the point of attack—on the 47.8 possessions that Wiggins matched-up with Tatum, Boston managed just 29 points as a team. Offensively, he overwhelmed Boston with his athleticism, nailing 12 of his 17 two-point field goal attempts and racking up a team-high 26 points. Wiggins’s Maple Jordan nickname has always been a misnomer—he’s Maple Pippen, an athletic stopper who offers as much offense as he needs to. Despite sharing the court with Brown, Tatum, Curry, Green and Thompson, the former 2014 #1 pick was clearly the best player on the court. Here was a game as surreal and odd as a Sopranos dream sequence—a fish talks, a horse is in the living room, Andrew Wiggins can’t be stopped. 

If the Warriors can close out Boston, they won’t be a particularly convincing champion, but that’s irrelevant. What they lack in raw talent, the Warriors make up for with their resolve. Stick-to-it-ness, spunk, feist, guts, whatever you want to call it: they have it. The Golden State Warriors are one win from a championship because they’re totally unphased by being one win from a championship.

Whereas Boston melted into a puddle of nerves and neuroses in the fourth quarter of Game 5, the Warriors were unmoved. Draymond Green rebounded from his Game 4 benching and returned to his destructive ways; Andrew Wiggins shed the sluggishness that harpooned his Minnesota tenure and dominated the biggest game of his career. Steph Curry had the worst postseason game of his career and the Warriors still withstood a second-half comeback from a more athletic and more talented team because, of course, they did; this is just what they do. For the Warriors, success is a (Golden) state of mind. 

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Steph Curry Can Be A Conventional Superstar, Too

Stephen Curry is not like those other stars. He’s not Lebron James, dictating the movement of the other nine players on the court like a traffic cop; he’s not Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, who turned isolation scoring into high-stakes morality plays. In his game, there’s none of the dribble-dribble-dribble burden that James Harden and Luka Doncic carry, nor the rimward aggression that’s made Giannis Antetokounmpo the reigning Finals MVP. Instead, Curry’s signature play is him running around, playing tag with his defender until he finally gets open enough that Draymond Green passes him the ball, which he then almost immediately shoots. 

Whereas other stars usually provide every signal and cue for their team, Curry has never really had to shoulder that same ball-dominating load. Playing alongside Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Green, Curry was long able to follow his bliss, the hardwood version of a trust-fund kid being free to become an artist or a public defender or, uh, a sports blogger rather than joining a money-making, soul-sucking corporate machine.

For the first time since the beginning of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty in 2014/2015, Curry is playing the exact style that he’s long eschewed. While a simple Curry pick-and-roll has always been the Warriors’ ace-in-the-hole, it’s been shelved only for the most important moments—abusing it would be indecorous, if not downright gauche. But piloting a barren roster against a historically great Boston Celtics’ defense that’s daring Curry to beat them on his own, he’s ramped up his pick-and-roll volume to career-high levels. During his virtuosic Game 4, Curry ran 45 pick-and-rolls, after ending just 6.7 possessions as a pick-and-roll ball-handler during the regular season. In doing so, Curry poured in 43 of the most impressive points in NBA history.

The thing that makes Curry such a dangerous pick-and-roll player is that he turns normal defensive schemes into utter nonsense. NBA defenses are calibrated to address a specific list of possible problems, none of which are relevant against Curry. Trying to guard Curry the same way you’d guard DJ Augustin or Chris Paul is about as effective as trying to defeat an earthquake with karate; there’s not much you can do once your entire team is dragged out onto unsteady, shifting ground. 

If most teams focus on limiting Curry at the expense of letting his costars run amok, the Celtics have done the inverse. Accordingly, they’re the first team in recent postseason memory to play drop coverage against Curry and the Warriors, albeit a bastardized version of drop coverage where the big man still ventures way out beyond the three-point line. This is not only a bet on their personnel to hold their own against Curry, but that it’s not humanly possible to win a playoff series with a heavy diet of vertiginous 30-foot pull-up jumpers. It just can’t be, right?

So far, the answer is that it might be. On a macro-level, the Celtics are holding the Warriors’ offense to just 110.5 points per 100 possessions, down from 117.8 points during their first three series. Through four games, Boston has more or less excised once-dangerous guys like Draymond Green and Jordan Poole from the run of play; the Celtics have refused to cede the space behind Curry that the other Warriors need to thrive.

On a micro-level, the Celtics are getting torched by Curry—his 34.3 points per game and 66.3 percent True Shooting have him on pace to claim his first Finals MVP, whether Golden State wins a ring or not. No matter how far out Boston sends its bigs to pick up Curry, they leave him with too much space. By the very nature of playing drop, the big man has to backpedal as Curry approaches, creating a window for Curry to fire.  

Over the last eight years, the Warriors have played unlike any other team in the NBA. Within their own little walled garden around Curry, the Warriors have shut out the headwinds of heliocentrism and spread pick-and-rolls. Under Steve Kerr, Golden State plays a unique, beautiful and inimitable style of basketball because they have Curry and nobody else does. Curry’s mastery of the extraordinary won the Warriors the Western Conference; his comfort with the ordinary has them in position to win the Finals. 

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The Boston Celtics Keep It Simple, Win Game 3

The NBA Finals, like everything else now, is just another culture war. It’s the newly-dynastic Warriors against the 17-bannered Celtics. This is a showdown between the technocratic nouveau riche and the Boston Brahmin, savvy and skill versus size and athleticism, collectivism versus individualism, art versus science.

For the first two games, the Warriors dictated the terms of engagement—the Celtics may have stolen Game 1, but they aped the Warriors’ small-ball, trigger-happy lineups in the process and rode 9 fourth quarter threes to victory. In Game 2, the Warriors held serve because they’re the Warriors, buoyed by the world-building greatness of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. During their 116-100 Game 3 victory, though, the Celtics rediscovered what made them the best team in the NBA, bludgeoning the Warriors by becoming the truest distillation of themselves.

From the game’s opening tip, the Celtics unveiled a streamlined, more economic vision of their offense. Golden State’s defense may thrive on its ability to resist decision fatigue and navigate chaos, but Boston blitzed the Warriors for 33 first quarter points by simplifying their offense to only its most essential components; Boston’s already vanilla menu of sets was pared down even further. Namely, the Celtics trained their crosshairs on Curry, daring him to stop guys he patently isn’t able to stop. After guarding just 18 drives and 22 pick-and-rolls in the first two games combined, Curry guarded 18 drives and 15 pick-and-rolls in Game 3 alone. The formula was simple and repeatable: let Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum pick on Curry and give them the room to unleash the dawg in them. 

Accordingly, both Brown and Tatum had their best game of the series, alternately creating and capitalizing on advantages—Brown paced the team with 27 points, highlighted by a 17 point masterclass in the first quarter; Tatum finally shook loose for 26 points and a game-high nine assists. As a result of the Warriors telegraphing their rudimentary coverages, Brown and Tatum became the playmakers that they’re often maligned for not being, attracting help defense and then spraying the ball to shooters. Even a brutish offensive player like Marcus Smart got some kicks in, hanging 12 of his 24 points on Curry.  

Beyond exposing Curry’s defensive flaws, the Celtics limited Draymond Green’s defensive brilliance. Rather than let Draymond Green freestyle and meander his way to the exact right place to blow up a play, the Celtics prescribed Green to specific, predictable rotations. Instead of being a destructive genius, Green became an ordinary help defender rotating as the low-man or digging from the strongside corner—the two-time Defensive Player of the Year transformed into just another defensive player. Rattled by the weirdly personal “fuck you, Draymond” chants from Brookliners and Newtonites cosplaying as Southies, Green fouled out in the fourth quarter, getting an early start on prepping for his podcast. 

Just as the Celtics succeeded by stripping down their offense, they bottled up the Warriors’ offense by forcing the Warriors’ offense to play a basic, constrained style as well. If most NBA offenses try to collapse defenses from the inside-out, the Warriors stretch their opponents out, the mere prospect of Curry getting provoking the same response as when a poodle gets loose from the dog run. Jordan Poole is the only Warrior with a bag much bigger than a fanny pack, but Curry routinely demands double-teams from the court’s outer rim and allows his teammates to attack hectares of open space all the same.  

As such, the Celtics put together their best defensive performance of the Finals by, uh, letting Curry do whatever he wanted. Despite a splendid game from Curry (31 points on 22 shots), Boston was chilling; Al Horford and Robert Williams hunkered down in drop coverage even as the Warriors ripped off one of their patented third quarter heaters. It worked: the Warriors’ buzzsaw never got going and their 22 assists were their lowest mark of the postseason. Opting to play Curry’s pick-and-rolls straight-up, Boston demonstrated their pain tolerance; it sucks to watch Curry go nuclear against a back-pedaling Al Horford, but letting Curry and Green and Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole run you into oblivion sucks way more. 

Although Boston’s actual game plan wasn’t so different than it was in Game 2, Robert Williams looked healthy for the first time all postseason. Like Walton Goggins or a saxophone in a rock song, Williams makes things better. The one true Defensive Player of the Year, Williams put the screws to Golden State during his 26 minutes. By dint of being huge and able to jump extremely high, Williams added some bite to Boston’s conservative defense; his four blocks were a game-high and he snagged three steals from a skittish Curry in the fourth quarter. 

While Al Horford (or, as Mark Jackson says, Owl Haawfud) is an excellent defensive center in his own right, he lacks a certain fear factor; Curry had no qualms about launching pull-up threes over Horford’s contests. Conversely, Williams is terrifying; his wingspan is nearly eight-feet long! He creates anxiety—open shots are sabotaged by sideways glances, contested shots are swatted. With Williams, drop coverage isn’t so much a concession as it is a threat—just try to shoot over me, he taunts. An elite shot-blocker, Williams cordons off the interior—the Celtics notched twice as many points in the paint as the Warriors (52 to 26) and out-rebounded them by 16 (47 to 31). Unsurprisingly, the Celtics outscored Golden State by 21 points when Williams was on the court.

Through three games, the Finals have carried the sense that the Celtics are in control—they aren’t necessarily the “better” team, but it’s their effort that determines the outcome of each game. Whereas the Warriors precisely combine and recombine, a golden spiral sketched out on a basketball court, the Celtics are variable and raw. Each game, the Warriors offer up a riddle that’s up to the Celtics to find ways to solve. For now, at least, the Celtics seem to have cracked the Warriors’ code because they’re the bigger, stronger, faster, more adaptable team. Simple as that. 

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Draymond Green Can’t Be Stopped

When Draymond Green gets a tech, he’s not going to get a second. No ref—not Tony Brothers or Zach Zarba or even Scott Foster—is going to do shit about it; the juice of tossing Green isn’t worth getting squeezed by a Chase Center full of wannabe LinkedIn influencers.  Whereas other players would tread lightly, Green is going to howl and inveigh and be a jerk with impunity, safe in the knowledge that he’s absolutely above the law. He’s Logan Roy, commandeering a shareholders’ meeting; Tony Soprano, seeing his goomah. So, yeah, he’ll try to pants Jaylen Brown and get in Ime Udoka’s face and flex and preen around because who’s going to stop him? 

“For me, you know, you have to send a message,” Green said after Game 2. “Guys follow me on [the defensive] side of the ball. If I’m not sending a message, who is sending that message?”

In Game 1, Green more or less followed convention, guarding Al Horford and Robert Williams for about 60 percent of the defensive possessions he played. This makes sense—as Green inches towards becoming a full-time podcaster, he’s no longer quick enough to pursue quicker players on the perimeter, but his massive super brain still makes him a devastating help defender. The problem: every Warrior defender got dog-walked by Brown and Jayson Tatum, who repeatedly breached the first line of defense and then swung the ball around the compromised defense for an open 3. 

Despite his characteristically modest stats (nine points on three shots, five rebounds and seven assists), Green dominated Game 2 from a vibes-based perspective. After Boston punked Golden State in the fourth quarter of Game 1 to steal home court advantage, Green took it upon himself to reanimate Golden State’s lagging defense.

Accordingly, Green assumed a larger share of Brown-duty in Game 2 and acquitted himself well; Boston scored just 17 points during Green’s 23 possessions on Brown, compared to 53 points during the 41 possessions Klay Thompson matched-up with Brown in Game 1. While Klay Thompson is firmly in the grim late-stage Obi-Wan Kenobi portion of his career, Green bothered Brown with his savviness and handsiness, rebuffing Brown’s drives and contesting his jumpers. 

Brown may be a superlative athlete and shot-maker, but he dribbles like a kid playing outside at recess after it just rained and the ball is gross and he doesn’t want to get his hands all dirty. As such, Green’s grinding defense prevented Brown from feeling comfortable with the ball. Struggling to rev up to full-speed, Brown couldn’t manifest his physical , ensuring that the matchup would be played on Green’s terms. Although Brown found early success and scored 13 first quarter points, Green hectored the All-Star guard into 1-11 shooting for the rest of the game. 

With Brown taken out of commission by Green, Boston’s offense became uncomfortably unimodal. Even at its best, Boston’s offensive approach can be boiled down to give the ball to one of the two really good guys and hope they score. In this sense, when one of their two really good guys has no hope to score—yikes. Beyond just Brown riding the struggle bus, Boston couldn’t conjure up catch-and-shoot opportunities—Game 1 hero Al Horford scored two points on 1-4 shooting. During the Warriors’ apocalyptic third quarter run, the Boston offense shriveled up entirely and mustered just 14 points. 

In this sense, Game 2 was proof that the Warriors are as much Green’s team as they are Steph Curry’s. He gives them an imperial dickishness that can only be formed by years of continued dominance—over the last eight seasons, Golden State has won 21 of the last 22 playoff series when Curry, Green and Thompson are all healthy. It’s Draymond Green’s Draymond Green-ness that creates the space for Curry to shake free, that engenders the confidence for Jordan Poole to pull-up from 30 feet, that produces the energy for Kevon Looney and Gary Payton II to tussle with more-heralded Celtics.

Playing against a younger, bigger, and, frankly, better team, Green fueled the Warriors to a blow-out win through sheer force of will. When he loses Game One, everyone knows Draymond Green isn’t going down 0-2—he’ll orchestrate the Warriors’ attack and put the Celtics’ offense in a headlock and make himself unmissable. Who’s going to stop him? 

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The Golden State Warriors Are the Same, But Different

For the sixth time in eight years, the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals. Despite the best efforts of Lebron James’s itinerant media circus, this is the defining dynasty of the last decade, a charming revolutionary that’s grown into the league’s loathsome establishment. The principle characters are largely the same as they’ve always been: Steph Curry is still shimmying; Klay Thompson is still drilling threes with a stoned zen while Draymond Green does the opposite of that; Steve Kerr is still the NBA’s cool uncle. Even with a largely new supporting cast—Andrew Wiggins! Jordan Poole! Jonathan Kuminga?—the Warriors’ stars have created such a resilient culture and vibe that it’s persisted through the franchise’s lean times.

Whereas they were a pitiable, sympathetic team last year, they’re back at their hate-able near-best. Rather than anything they do on the court, the Warriors are unpopular because of the way that their own mythology seemingly contradicts reality. Like a basketballing answer to Elon Musk, the Warriors are bullies who are incredulous that anybody would dare to consider them bullies; the team with three sons of NBA players wants you to think they’re the scrappy underdog that nobody believed in. When Steph Curry showboats in ways that would make Trae Young blush, he’s presented as a humble god-fearing father who’s overcome with joy. 

Listen to them enough and you’d believe the Warriors were little engine that could, as long as you forget that their starting line-up houses three All-Star starters and the best defensive player of this generation. Beyond merely winning games and demoralizing opponents, there are scores of petty squabbles to settle and weird grievances to air out. It’s not enough to be dominant; the Warriors need to be loved, too. In other words, after two seasons in the wilderness, the Warriors are once again the Warriors.

While the Warriors are pretty loathsome in the composite, their component parts are surprisingly likable. Everybody likes Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson is a cult hero because he seems like a chill guy. Instead, theirs is an institutional villainy, one that absorbs and assimilates anything in its orbit. 

In fact, it’s this quality that’s propelled them to their first Finals appearance since 2019. For the eighth straight year, the Warriors have played basketball that’s so flawless and entertaining that it is, frankly, super annoying. Off-ball movement and egalitarian, tiki-taka ball movement is objectively more aesthetically pleasing than the halting rock-fights that have dotted the Celtics’ playoff run, but the Warriors have somehow managed to play fun basketball without actually being fun. When the Warriors blaze through a 15-0 run to start the third quarter, it’s hard to tell if it’s more impressive or irksome.

As such, the Warriors’ success this year has turned their stubbornness into something close to prescience. At  any point over the last two years, the Warriors could have ditched their patented motion offense in favor of something simpler and—probably—more effective. By sticking to their guns, they insisted on playing the long-game even when their stars’ dwindling prime seemingly demanded more urgency; they probably cost themselves a playoff appearance by indulging James Wiseman rather than spamming Curry-Green pick-and-rolls. 

But now, that self-belief has been rewarded—Jordan Poole spent two years internalizing the Warriors’ basketball sensibilities and has morphed into Curry’s mini-me; Wiggins has dropped his Maple Mamba delusions to become a game-changing role player. Accordingly, the Warriors’ offense has leveled up, scoring 117.8 points per 100 possessions. 

The team may never reprise the highs of the Kevin Durant years, but their attack is still as variegated as any in the league. In the playoffs, Golden State has four players averaging more than 15 points per game while Draymond Green contributes over six assists. In particular, Poole’s emergence this year has juiced their offense in unpredictable ways. Attacking the gaps that Curry and Thompson create, Poole offers some off-the-dribble peppiness that the team has never had while Wiggins is the most athletic wing they’ve had during their dynasty. Curry still provides the overall architecture of this singular offense, but the team has spent the last two years reupholstering the furniture. 

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Andrew Wiggins Does It All

By now, the Golden State Warriors are hardly breaking new ground. Whereas their offense felt radical when it was unveiled in 2015, it’s now an institution unto itself. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson running through split actions together, Draymond Green ricocheting around the court to guard all five guys on the other team at once, the face-melting scoring sprees that end the game by the first media timeout of the third quarter: this is just what springtime basketball has looked like for most of the last eight years. It’s this constancy that not simply allowed the Warriors to withstand the roster attrition and churn that naturally occurs over eight years, but what has turned Andrew Wiggins from a churlish gunner into an all-purpose dynamo. 

In the Warriors’ 112-87 dog-walking of the Dallas Mavericks in game one of the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins was the primary Luka Doncic-stopper. He acquitted himself well—Doncic easily had his worst postseason performance of his career, with just 20 points (on 6-18 shooting) and four assists. While the Warriors mixed in their usual array of blitzes and switches and pre-rotations to unsteady the Mavs, their defensive gameplan was predicated on the belief that Wiggins had the right cocktail of strength and quickness to bother Doncic. 

Unlike the Suns who let Doncic window-shop for his preferred matchup, the Warriors labored to prevent Doncic from dictating the terms of engagement. Instead of simply granting the switch, the Warriors hedged Doncic into oblivion, forcing him to retreat while Wiggins scrambled back into position. In total, Wiggins matched-up with Doncic for about 10 minutes of game time, holding Doncic to 12 points and forcing three turnovers. On a larger, more impactful level, the Mavs were able to squeeze just 39 points from the 43 possessions that Wiggins spent on Doncic—after averaging 1.14 points per possession in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Mavs could only muster .906 points per possession when Wiggins was sicced on Doncic. 

During the Warriors’ playoff run, Wiggins has been the unseen suture that’s held the team together. Although Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson are the offensive engines and Green is a one-man defensive game-breaker, the team has thrived because of the way that Wiggins can toggle between different matchup-specific roles. In the Western Conference Finals, Wiggins cosplays as a perimeter stopper; against Memphis, he attacked the offensive glass with never-before-seen vigor, grabbing 3.33 offensive rebounds per game despite averaging just 1.2 offensive rebounds for his career; for the Warriors’ first-round romp against the Nuggets, Wiggins was a capable floor-spacer and shot nearly 54 percent from beyond the arc. 

As a Minnesota Timberwolf, Wiggins was derided as a glory-boy monotasker who had internalized the shot selection of Kobe Bryant without any of Kobe’s competitive sicko-ness. People only cared about the delta between what he could’ve been—an epoch-defining superstar—and what he actually was (i.e. something far short of an epoch-defining superstar). But now, on a Warriors’ roster that’s devoid of much depth, Wiggins is so valuable because of his malleability; he can plug whatever gap pops open. Even if there was some initial consternation about how Wiggins would fit within the Warriors’ incredibly specific ecosystem, his fit now is clear: Andrew Wiggins is whatever you want him to be. 

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From January 3rd-9th

With the holiday season and the wave of Covid disruptions (hopefully) behind us, the first week of 2022 delivered some thrilling NBA action, Klay Thompson played in his first game in two and a half years and looked as if he never left. The Memphis Grizzlies and Ja Morant and bulldozed their competition, stretching their win streak to nine consecutive games. Down below are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action.

Thompson’s return elevates a already-great Warriors team

For the first time in 941 days, Steph Curry’s fellow Splash Brother returned to action, and it seemed like the old times again. In his first game since the 2019 Finals, Klay Thompson rediscovered his rhythm and scored 17 points in 20 minutes as his Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-82.

As previously mentioned when discussing what to expect from Thompson in his return, the All-Star shooting guard the Warriors’ offense a new dimension. He was fluid in his movement without the ball, successfully drove to the basket (even punctuating his return with an uncharacteristic dunk in traffic), and was sound on defense.

The Grizzlies are entering the conversation of title contenders

It’s becoming a distant memory when some people thought of the Memphis Grizzlies as a playoff team, who would be fodder for an exciting yet predictable first-round exit. Instead, the Grizzlies, who are three and a half games out of first place in the Western Conference, are forcing their way into the conversation about the league’s title contenders.

Led by rising MVP candidate Ja Morant, the Grizz succeed because their depth and athleticism have produced the league’s No. 1 defense over the past six weeks (Allowing 101.8 per 100 possessions).

Don’t count out the Heat to lead the East

Despite experiencing many injuries and a schedule that had them play 25 of their first 41 games on the road, the Heat are the third seed in the Eastern Conference– only two and a half games out of first. So what can happen next? A realistic run to the NBA Finals.

With Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo eventually making their return to the starting lineup, the Heat have all the necessary talents and coaching to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown, just as they did in the Bubble over a year and a half ago.

The Nets get Kyrie back but are still struggling

Even if the season debut of Kyrie Irving (who will only play road games because of NYC’s vaccination mandate) reignites the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets, it doesn’t fully erase their struggles over the last two-plus weeks. their struggles over the past two-plus weeks. Besides a rousing fourth-quarter comeback against the Pacers or rookie Cam Thomas’s game-winning floater against the Spurs on Sunday, the Nets have been fairly listless, losing four out of their previous six games.

And although every team has stretches where they play below their standard, it still feels as if we haven’t watched the Nets play their best basketball yet. But, with Irving now in tow and Durant still in MVP form, maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

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Sports Strength

What We Learned From This Year’s NBA On Christmas Games

Amidst all the concerns about rising COVID cases and player entries in their health protocols, the NBA managed to have another star-studded and exciting day of Christmas Day games. Whether it was Kemba Walker achieving a first-time accomplishment to both of the last-minute thrillers that occurred in Phoenix and Los Angeles, here are our three biggest takeaways from this year’s NBA on Christmas games.

Kemba is making the most of his return to action

There was an ongoing discussion regarding Kemba Walker and his career for three weeks due to his surprise benching by New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau— who attributed Walker’s benching to his lack of aggression. But over the past week, the former All-Star guard is not only playing again, but he’s making history in the process.

During the team’s 101-87 victory against their close rival Atlanta Hawks, Walker produced a triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists) and became the first Knick to accomplish that feat on Christmas. “It’s kind of hard to put it into words, to be honest,” Walker said after the game. “It was special, just to be home, with that New York on my chest … a New York City kid, born and raised. It felt amazing.”

Giannis proves why he’s the best player in the world

Even though the conversation about who is the best player will always exist, there are times where there’s a clear answer. Last Saturday, Antetokounmpo presented an open and shut case for his claim as the best player in the league via his spectacular second-half performance against the Boston Celtics.

When looking beyond the reigning Finals MVP’s stat-line (36 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists), Antetokounmpo’s impact on both ends of the floor became a massive obstacle for the Celtics to overcome, despite leading by double digits throughout the game, including with five minutes remaining in regulation.

The Warriors and Nets proved their toughness in last-minute thrillers

During primetime matchups such as the Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns or the Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, the idea of a measuring test existing between either team comes to life. And while there was much to observe in both of those two games, one thing was for sure. The Warriors and the Nets are the best teams in their conferences.

Even with several key contributors and stars out of action and playing in challenging environments, the Nets and Warriors relied on their toughness and “next man up” mentality to secure a pair of big wins. At this point of the season, speculation could be created for a potential Finals matchup between these two teams.