Author: Ben Rohrbach

Cavaliers-branded 'Eastern Conference champions' gear went on sale after Game 4

The Cleveland Cavaliers came from behind on Tuesday to beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4 and take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, leading just about everyone to conclude the series was over, even before Thursday’s Game 5 in Boston. Dick’s Sporting Goods took that conclusion to another level.

The sporting goods giant began presumptuously selling Cavaliers-branded “Eastern Conference champions” and “NBA Finals” gear on its website following Cleveland’s 112-99 victory. As of midday on Wednesday, the Cavs apparel remained for sale on dickssportinggoods.com. The company has since removed the page from its retail site, but the wonders of Google cache have kept it alive much longer.

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Kudos to friend of the program and HERO Sports writer Joel Beck, a Massachusetts transplant living in Ohio, who on Wednesday morning was treated to a Dick’s advertisement for official “2017 NBA Finals” Cavs clothing, including a “THE LAND RULES THE EAST” T-shirt. He sent along a screenshot of the ad:

@brohrbach Seriously, why is this ad on my phone? Karma, anyone? pic.twitter.com/bdY64K8lpB

— Joel Beck (@Joelbeck76) May 24, 2017

A quick search of the inter-webs brought me to the still-live “Cleveland Cavaliers 2017 Eastern Conference champs” page on the Dick’s website, and sure enough — Cavs gear everywhere:

Get your Cleveland Cavaliers
Get your Cleveland Cavaliers “2017 NBA Finals” gear early. (dickssportinggoods.com)
While you're at it, grab another Cavs
While you’re at it, grab another Cavs “Eastern Conference champions” pennant. (dickssportinggoods.com)
And don't forget to get that
And don’t forget to get that “THE LAND RULES THE EAST” T-shirt. (dickssportinggoods.com)

It’s always seemed super lame to sell anything less than “NBA champions” apparel, but if someone was desperate enough to order a “2017 Eastern Conference champions” pennant in the 12-plus hours they were for sale by Dick’s Sporting Goods after Game 4, you’ll have to wait until at least Game 5.

Of course, Boston fans will recall it was a Georgia-based Dick’s Sporting Goods that prematurely began stocking shelves with Atlanta Falcons “Super Bowl champions” gear when they led the New England Patriots by a 28-3 margin in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, and we all know how that shook out.

Dick’s Sporting Goods in Buckhead getting the Super Bowl Champion shirts ready. Doors open after the game. #SuperBowl #falconsonfox5 pic.twitter.com/OLNQVHhbyl

— Doug Evans (@dougevansfox5) February 6, 2017

We’ll have to wait and see if the Cavs can avoid the dreaded Dick’s curse, which, if the C’s were to win after losing the first two games of the East finals by 9,362 points, would be as painful as it sounds.

Also, if I remember correctly, Joel Beck is the only person I know who correctly predicted the Cavaliers would come back from their early deficit against the Golden State Warriors to win the 2016 NBA Finals:

See: Someone did actually believe LeBron James could pull it off. (Facebook)
See: Someone did actually believe LeBron James could pull it off. (Facebook)

Unfortunately for Boston fans, he’s not ready to pencil the Celtics in for a comeback. Join the club.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

The NBA All-Star Game is back on in Charlotte after partial repeal of discriminatory HB2 law

NBA commissioner Adam Silver will allow the All-Star Game to return to Charlotte. (AP)
NBA commissioner Adam Silver will allow the All-Star Game to return to Charlotte. (AP)

After stripping Charlotte of the 2017 All-Star Game over concerns about North Carolina’s HB2 law, which broadly discriminated against the LGBT community, the NBA announced on Wednesday the city will host the 2019 All-Star Game following the state’s partial repeal of the so-called “bathroom bill.”

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“We have decided to award NBA All-Star 2019 to Charlotte based on this deep connection and the belief that we can honor our shared values of equality and inclusion,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, “and we are excited to bring the All-Star Game back to Charlotte for the first time in 28 years.”

“While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law,” added Silver. “Additionally, it allows us to work with the leadership of the Hornets organization to apply a set of equality principles to ensure that every All-Star event will proceed with open access and anti-discrimination policies. All venues, hotels and business we work with during All-Star will adhere to those policies as well.

“Sports have a long history of helping to change attitudes around important social issues. We believe holding our All-Star activities in Charlotte will be a powerful way for the NBA to continue this tradition.”

A new bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper this past March repealed portions of HB2 that restricted people from using bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth. However, critics of the new bill argue it did not go nearly far enough to prevent businesses from discriminating against the LGBT community. So, it strikes many as strange that, while the NBA acted swiftly and strongly against HB2, the league appears OK with a dulled-down version.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James had 'a little bug' and 'was so lethargic' in Cavaliers' only playoff loss

A
A “lethargic” LeBron James warms up with “a little bug” in Game 3 against the Celtics. (AP)

After a blazing 10-0 start to the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers required a supernova effort from Kyrie Irving in Game 4 to avoid losing two straight at home and heading back to Boston tied 2-2 with the Celtics. It was a remarkably stark turnaround from Games 1 and 2 of the series, when LeBron James picked the No. 1 seed apart, handed the C’s their worst playoff loss in franchise history and led the Cavs to a 2-0 lead that seemed destined for a third straight sweep.

Then, things got weird. After averaging 34.3 points on 56.9 percent shooting to go along with 8.5 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game through the first 10 games of the playoffs, LeBron submitted one of his worst playoff performances ever in Game 3, before picking up four first-half fouls for the first time in his career and sitting out the final 6:46 of the second quarter in Game 4.

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Reactions ranged from Hey, even superstars can have off nights once in a while to MICHAEL JORDAN NEVER SCORED FEWER THAN 15 POINTS IN A PLAYOFF GAME! Everyone else in between just wondered what was up with LeBron, and Cavs teammate Richard Jefferson spilled the beans after Game 4:

“You have to do things to try and get guys in rhythm, and it’s OK — LeBron’s allowed to not be in rhythm,” Jefferson said on his regular “Was It Something I Said” segment with Fox Sports Ohio. “And it’s so funny, I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shot: Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug — just really lethargic, had no energy — and I think that’s what Bron had.

“And sometimes these little bugs can go around, and that’s really why. He was like, dude, when Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head, because for him, it was more of like, ‘I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy. I had nothing.’

“So, these little things happen. It was no panic. Look, he was lethargic, they hit a bunch of tough shots, and if Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, we’re not even talking about it.”

So, there you have it. LeBron James had “a little bug” and “was so lethargic” in that Game 3 loss to Boston on Sunday. Otherwise, maybe he too would be undefeated in the playoffs, just like the Golden State Warriors. We should probably also mention James played all but three minutes of Game 3.

Even LeBron’s 34 points, six assists and five rebounds in Game 4, despite playing with those aforementioned four fouls in the second half, seemed like a subpar outing for the four-time NBA MVP, since it was Irving who sparked the comeback from a deficit as large as 16 in an eventual 112-99 win. That effort falling short of expectations should speak to how highly we regard James at his best.

But Jefferson’s revelation that LeBron’s 11-point, six-turnover performance in Game 3 was due to lethargy will do nothing to silence those who hold so little regard for James at his worst. If people will drop false equivalents like, “Jordan never had anyone close to a Kyrie,” they will surely cite MJ’s 38 points in his epic Flu Game from the 1997 NBA Finals in comparison to LeBron’s not-so-epic Little Bug Game in Game 3 on Sunday. Which is probably why, as Jefferson said, James didn’t use it as an excuse.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Report: NBA, NBPA nearing deal that will make Chris Bosh a free agent and grant the Heat cap relief

Two-time champion and 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh could be a free agent soon, but at what cost? (AP)
Two-time champion and 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh could be a free agent soon, but at what cost? (AP)

It seems the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh are nearing a conclusion to a contract situation that has become increasingly complicated over the past year due to their contrasting views about his health.

The NBA and its players’ association are nearing a deal that would grant the Heat permanent salary cap relief from Bosh’s contract, even if he signs elsewhere, per the Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman.

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The Heat essentially declared Bosh’s career over in Miami this past September, when the 11-time NBA All-Star failed his physical and the team’s medical staff reportedly feared potentially “catastrophic” repercussions from the blood-clotting issue that prematurely ended his 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

A month later, Bosh declared, “That does not mean my NBA career is over,” and he’s maintained that stance despite sitting the entirety of the 2016-17 season. While working as an analyst for TNT’s “Players’ Only” broadcasts, the 33-year-old said he’s “still staying ready” for a comeback, and when asked by Larry King last month if he believes he will play again, Bosh responded, “Yeah, I think so.”

So, the two sides remained at the same crossroads they found themselves at this time last year, with the two-time champion wanting to play and the team he won those rings with unwilling to clear him.

As a result, the Heat seemed increasingly fearful that, should Bosh be released, he could sign with another team, meaning the two years and $52.1 million remaining on the max contract he signed in 2014 would stay on their salary cap through 2019. This complicates the team’s rebuilding plans after both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade departed for their hometown teams over the past three years.

Further complicating matters, as the Heat enter this stalemate citing concerns about Bosh’s longterm health, he considers it a business decision by team president Pat Riley, who could have roughly $35 million in cap space this summer should the franchise clear its highest-paid player from the payroll.

Under the current collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players’ association, Bosh’s $25.3 million salary next season and the $26.8 million he is owed in 2018-19 would count against the Heat’s salary cap for the next two years if he played as few as 25 games for another team.

A provision in the new CBA signed this past January and going into effect on July 1 allows for an injured player’s contract to come off the salary cap if medical personnel conclude he can no longer play without serious risk to his health. Because Bosh’s blood-clotting issues were pre-existing, the NBA and NBPA had to reach an agreement if this stalemate between he and the Heat were to end.

All sides are working toward a deal that would allow for “a one-time allocation” to guarantee Bosh his remaining salary, but erase that figure from the salary cap before the draft, free agency and the new CBA goes into effect over the next two months, according to Winderman. It’s unlikely another team would face a similar scenario before July 1, especially with such significant cap implications.

As a result, the Heat could pursue draft-day trades and high-priced free agents without worrying about whether Bosh will ultimately sign elsewhere and send Miami’s luxury tax sky-high. This also presumably frees Bosh to resume playing, should another team’s medical staff be willing to clear him.

And there’s the rub. While the financial complications seem to be nearing a resolution, Bosh’s health issue remains unsettling. If the Heat’s medical concerns are as sincere as they seem, and Bosh is willing to play if he’s cleared by less risk-averse doctors, should we fear the worst? As much as I’d like to see Bosh finish his career on his own terms, I don’t want to know the answer to that question.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Warriors owner Joe Lacob wants the Cavaliers again this year, still thinks the Warriors 'were the better team' last year

Joe Lacob has all the humility of a man with $400 million. (AP)
Joe Lacob has all the humility of a man with $400 million. (AP)

Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob infamously said, “We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team,” roughly two months before his franchise blew a 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. And the venture capitalist still isn’t ready to admit he may have been mistaken.

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Following his team’s sweep of the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, Lacob made clear his preference to face the Cavs in a Finals three-match, while maintaining the Warriors “were the better team,” despite relinquishing the title in a Game 7 at home, per San Jose Mercury News columnist Marcus Thompson.

Joe Lacob said he wants Cleveland: “We were the better team but they did win. We need a chance to go in there and prove that.”

— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 23, 2017

An argument can be made the Warriors were the greatest regular-season team in NBA history after winning a record 73 games last season. And you might even believe Golden State would have defeated Cleveland in 2016 had Draymond Green not been suspended for Game 5. But to maintain you were “the better team” after watching LeBron James obliterate you in the final three games of that series, leading the Cavaliers to the greatest comeback in Finals history, it comes off as slightly disingenuous.

But don’t worry, Lacob provided the Cavs plenty more bulletin-board material, via The Mercury News:

How much redemption you feel is on the mind?

“A lot. I kind of honestly feel that we’re on a mission. We’re not done. We got to go back and get some of what kind of feels taken from us last year. I’ll just leave it at that.”

[…]

At this point, Cleveland looks like they’ll probably be the East champions. Do you want it to be Cleveland?

Honestly, I don’t really care who we play (shoots a sly grin). Ok, maybe a slight preference for Cleveland. Only because I feel we have some unfinished business from last season.”

The complete disregard for the Boston Celtics — who Lacob grew up rooting for in New Bedford, Mass., and the team he co-owned from 2006-10, until he bought the Warriors — is the least flippant part of his comments. Boston’s Game 3 comeback against the Cavaliers sans Isaiah Thomas was remarkable and sliced its Eastern Conference finals deficit to 2-1, but few expect the Celtics to advance, and even fewer would like to see anything but a Finals rubber match between Golden State and Cleveland.

Oddly enough, these Warriors could do what last year’s edition couldn’t: prove Lacob correct in that boastful New York Times Magazine interview. As a refresher, he said in April 2016, “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team. We’re light-years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things. We’re going to be a handful for the rest of the NBA to deal with for a long time.”

(Did we mention two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry was drafted in 2009, before Lacob’s arrival?)

The 2017 Warriors own a 12-0 playoff record through three rounds, the best record for any team after that many postseason games. A big reason for that was their ability, despite believing they “were the better team,” to reconfigure the roster in order to add Kevin Durant to a lineup that already featured Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It’s hard not to think you’re “light-years ahead” when you’re rolling them out on a nightly basis, but thinking it and saying it are two different things.

Then again, Lacob never seems afraid to say what he thinks. More from his media session on Monday:

Is this team better than last year’s?

“I think it is. Honestly. I think we’re better. It’s hard not to be better when you have a guy as good as Kevin Durant on your team. We were awful good last year. The one difference is Steph was hurt, as we all know. How much we can debate. But he was not what you see out there now. Then of course we had some other issues in the Finals. With Kevin, this is a very, very good team. The opposition is going to be good in the Finals. So not taking anything for granted.”

While it is true Curry played the 2016 Finals through the after-effects of a knee injury he suffered earlier in the playoffs, Lacob failed to mention the Cavaliers were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for the majority of the 2015 Finals, when the Warriors won their first and only title of the Lacob era.

By Lacob’s logic, if the Warriors are better this year than last, they must also be that much better than the Cavs in 2017. And he may be right. But that still doesn’t mean they were the better team in 2016.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Ex-NBA All-Star Cliff Robinson is taking his marijuana crusade from Oregon to Connecticut

Clifford Robinson is open about his marijuana use. (UncleCliffy.com)
Clifford Robinson is open about his marijuana use. (UncleCliffy.com)

A self-described “longtime consumer” of marijuana, former NBA All-Star Clifford Robinson has long been an advocate for legalized weed in Oregon, even selling the substance under the name “Uncle Spliffy” (a take on his hoop nickname Uncle Cliffy) and now he’s taking that fight to Connecticut.

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The former UConn star has joined the state’s Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, according to a press release on his website, UncleCliffy.com. The news comes a week after Robinson lobbied alongside Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in support of a bill that would pave way for marijuana lounges in Oregon.

“I have seen the failures of cannabis prohibition in Connecticut firsthand,” Robinson said in a statement. “Cannabis prohibition disproportionately harms minority communities wherever prohibition exists, and Connecticut is no exception. The citizens of the great State of Connecticut deserve a better policy like the one that the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana is proposing. Other states have made similar moves with great success. Legalization clearly works and it’s beyond time for the Connecticut Legislature to step up and do what is right.”

Robinson has promoted marijuana use for medical and wellness purposes. He has also lobbied for legalization in an attempt to rid the justice system of “unnecessary encounters with law enforcement,” increase revenue for the government and combat the cartels and gangs who “control the market.”

Robinson twice faced marijuana charges from police during his playing career and thrice was suspended for violations of the NBA’s substance-abuse policy. The 1993 Sixth Man of the Year and 1994 All-Star sells pre-rolled “Uncle Cliffy” joints, among other branded items, in Oregon dispensaries.

Clifford Robinson branded joints might be coming to a store near you. (UncleCliffy.com)
Clifford Robinson branded joints might be coming to a store near you. (UncleCliffy.com)

Two-thirds of NBA teams currently play in cities that feature legalized marijuana in some form, and the league seemed headed for a tipping point in the discussion after Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and New York Knicks president Phil Jackson spoke out in favor of the substance’s benefits this past winter. Given a chance to address the policy in the new collective bargaining agreement that was signed in January, the NBA and its players’ association failed to address the burgeoning issue.

Count Robinson among those who believe the benefits from marijuana — ranging from calming nerves to treating the aches and pains that come with being a professional athlete — outweigh any negative repercussions it might have on a player’s career, particularly when compared to alcohol consumption.

A second-round pick by the Portland Trail Blazers out of UConn in 1989, Robinson played for five teams over 18 seasons in the NBA, including the first 12 as a standout on the Blazers and Phoenix Suns. He last played 50 games for the New Jersey Nets as a 40-year-old during the 2006-07 season.

Robinson joins a growing list of members on the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana, including former law enforcement members, medical personnel, politicians, clergy and academics.

His press release cited a Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University study that suggests 63 percent of the state’s voters support the legalization of marijuana. If put to the vote and passed, Connecticut would join fellow New England states Massachusetts and Maine in legalizing recreational marijuana.

Robinson suffered a “minor brain hemorrhage” this past March and released a statement soon afterwards alerting fans and friends, “I’m doing well and in the process of getting better.” The 50-year-old’s recent increase in public support of legalized marijuana suggests that recovery is going well.

(h/t Reddit NBA)

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Kevin Durant doesn't plan on leaving Golden State, and Oklahoma City has heard that one before

Kevin Durant chooses the noise he wants to hear. (AP)
Kevin Durant chooses the noise he wants to hear. (AP)

One year after sending shockwaves through the NBA with his decision to join the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant could become a free agent again and do it all over again this summer.

The way he tells it, though, Warriors fans can rest easy about his 2017 player option. In an interview with The Undefeated after Sunday’s practice in San Antonio, the 2014 NBA MVP said, “I made the 100 percent correct decision, win or lose,” and, “I don’t plan on going anywhere else.” The key exchange:

Will you be playing for the Warriors next season?

Durant: “Yeah. I love it here. I love my teammates. I love the city [of Oakland]. I love the organization. I love it here. I don’t plan on going anywhere else.”

Well, then, no need to worry. Except, this is precisely what Durant told the good people of Oklahoma City a year before leaving the Thunder for the rival Warriors in July 2016. Here he is on OKC in 2015:

“I love it here, man. I love my teammates, I love the city, I don’t really think about anywhere else. I hear it all the time, don’t get me wrong, and once you hear it you’re kind of like [looks up, thinking]. But for me, I love staying in the moment, and I’m one of those guys that would love to stick it out with one team my whole career.

“Kobe [Bryant], Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki type. That’s awesome,” he said. “But you never know what the future holds sometimes and how teams may feel about you after a while, but I love it here and I would love to get my jersey retired here.”

Of course, those comments came roughly 15 months before Durant left the Thunder in his dust, and his latest pledge of allegiance to a city is only a little more than a month away from his next big decision — whether to pick up his $27.7 million option for 2017-18 or opt out and sign a max contract starting at roughly $36 million next season, in Golden State or elsewhere. Durant is a 28-year-old who can do whatever he damn well pleases with his life, but it would be an even bigger kick in the you-know-whats to leave town so soon after professing his love for Oakland, so we’ll take him at his word.

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And that’s really the crux of the whole debate about Durant. Folks in Oklahoma City figured he would stay, not only because the Thunder had nearly upset the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals, but because he had given them little indication he was planning to leave the city. This seems like the very reason Russell Westbrook still holds a grudge against his former friend and teammate.

So, while Durant tells The Undefeated, “This is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life,” forgive Oklahomans for rolling their eyes and not seeing that quote’s source as completely credible.

Listen, sane people should be happy for Durant when he says Oakland is “a great spot for me to be,” because even the most diehard fan should not want someone playing for their team if he’d rather be somewhere else, but it’s baffling he remains “confused” about why people were so upset at him.

Here’s more from Durant with The Undefeated on the reaction to his 2016 decision:

“I was more so confused. You can say whatever you want about my decision or who you think I am. The only thing that matters is in between the lines. I respect the game. I work hard. I came in and respect my teammates. I respect just the competitiveness of the game of basketball. That’s in between the lines. I try to play the right way and handle myself the right way. I am just confused as to why that stuff doesn’t matter more than what happens on Twitter or whatever the topic of discussion is each day. I think it takes away from what is most important: that ball and that basket, everything in between the lines.

“I don’t expect anyone who has never been there before to understand that. They have nothing else to talk about because they don’t really know what it is or what it feels like to be on the court in an NBA game. I don’t hold it against them. That’s why I am not mad.

“I’m just more so confused that you can be an analyst or an expert, and I want to talk to the people who disrespect what goes on in between the lines. I respect a lot of people in [the media] business who really appreciate how hard it is to get to this point. So, I’m more so confused that [select media] doesn’t talk about the game of basketball more so than narratives and gossip around basketball. That’s what I’m more confused about.”

I’m not sure in what world Durant thinks basketball fans should sit at home and think, “Hey, I’m not mad he left my team to go play for the team that just beat us, because he really respects the game.” And I don’t think talking about the drama behind his departure from the Thunder is disrespectful to the game of basketball, because a) it is, after all, just a game, and 2) by this logic, Westbrook, who knows exactly “what it feels like to be on the court,” is no less disrespectful than the “select media.”

There’s a reason more people care about the beef between Durant and Westbrook than a breakdown of why a Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll broke down. These are the things people discuss when the game is on at the bar. Fans and media members can understand why Durant made his decision, but they don’t have to like it. And they certainly shouldn’t have to withhold their thoughts about it.

Seriously, would you rather discuss the nuances of a third-quarter defensive switch or whether Durant is merely ring-chasing in Golden State. If it’s the former, then we might as well watch robots play basketball. The personalities and the drama behind the game often turns the entertainment up a notch, and for Durant, a title will be that much sweeter because of the story behind how he got there. You can’t pick and choose which storylines you want people to root for. It’s all part of the show.

It shouldn’t be that confusing. Then again, Durant is the same guy who recently said of the NBA’s lackluster playoffs thus far, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,” so one could make the argument his perception of the fans’ viewing experience is as far off as he believes the fans’ perception is of him.

And now I’m just as confused as Durant.

Regardless, no matter how guaranteed it seems that Durant will remain a Warrior for the longterm, there will always be that thought in the back of everyone else’s mind that he will eventually bolt Golden State, too — until “I don’t plan on going anywhere else” is proven to be more than lip service.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Gigi Datome's man bun is dead, long live Gigi Datome's man bun

Pero Antic performs the celebratory cutting of the man bun. (@EuroLeague on Twitter)
Pero Antic performs the celebratory cutting of the man bun. (@EuroLeague on Twitter)

During the Celtics’ surprise run to the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed in 2015, Luigi “Gigi” Datome became of a cult hero in Boston, if only for his man bun, pregame pension for a hot cup of coffee, extremely chill vacation destinations and Jimi Hendrix vinyl collection. But mostly for the man bun.

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Seriously, this dude rocks a sweet mane:

A throw-in by the Detroit Pistons in Boston’s 2015 trade deadline salary dump of Tayshaun Prince, the Italian sharpshooter became a metaphor for that team’s surprising success, serving as a human version of “Gino Time” — the bearded and long-haired dancer from an old “American Bandstand” clip that the Celtics play on the Jumbotron during the fourth quarter of blowout victories at TD Garden.

In much the same way they celebrated Brian Scalabrine before him, Boston fans chanted Gigi’s name during garbage time, and he even impacted a few key wins down the stretch for the Celtics two years ago, including a 22-point outing in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks to close out the regular season.

The 29-year-old Datome is even more beloved back across the pond, where he’s served as a starting wing for Istanbul-based Euroleague team Fenerbahce since fulfilling his NBA dreams from 2013-2015.

Today with a cool head I want to write some thoughts about the former season, my 12th as a pro, which ended yesterday….

Posted by Luigi Datome on Monday, April 27, 2015

He and a slew of other former NBA players, including ex-Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic, led Fenerbahce to the franchise’s first-ever Euroleague championship over the weekend, and Datome’s world-famous man bun became the center of attention during the postgame celebration.

Gigi had promised Pero he could cut off the man bun if they won the title, and true to his word after scoring 11 points on five shots in the 80-64 victory against Olympiacos Piraeus, Datome sat courtside as Antic struggled for what seemed like ages to cut through the Italian stallion’s luscious locks:

Datome didn’t mind, partly because the haircut came out pretty decent, and mostly because he had a trophy to catch the tears of joy he shed in celebration of his first major championship as a player:

@GigiDatome About last night… #F4GLORY pic.twitter.com/PdIdCYSqhB

— EuroLeague (@EuroLeague) May 22, 2017

Meanwhile, Antic rejoiced with his own trophy in hand — the sawed-off man bun:

Pero Antic with Datome’s hair ???? pic.twitter.com/dMU0Sakfrc

— Fener Int (@fenerint) May 21, 2017

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge rejoiced in the man bun’s demise, holding out hope it might inspire Kelly Olynyk, who has carried Boston’s man bun torch since Datome’s departure:

@danielrainge @KellyOlynyk @ESPNForsberg thank you Danny! Congrats for yesterday and good luck! I’ll be always cheering for you guys!

— Gigi Datome (@GigiDatome) May 22, 2017

Meanwhile, Datome found another way to keep the leftover lettuce out of his face, donning a straight-brimmed championship hat that led one genius Twitter user to share the newest Gigi doppelganger:

@GigiDatome Datome vs Forrest Gump
Congrats Gigi ???????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/IbJXZTPOLp

— Mutia Ekin (@mutia_ekin) May 21, 2017

Never fear, dear man bun fans, as Gigi took to Facebook Live on Monday to reveal the only thing more unstoppable than Fenerbahce: Datome’s hair. Incredibly, he still had enough left for a mini man bun:

Posted by Luigi Datome on Monday, May 22, 2017

As ever, the best part about this video was when Datome, the chillest man in basketball, still holding the championship trophy some 16 hours later, told his his fans, “Jim Morrison say hi”:

Gigi Datome wasn't about to leave Jim Morrison out of his championship celebration. (Facebook)
Gigi Datome wasn’t about to leave Jim Morrison out of his championship celebration. (Facebook)

Never change, Gigi. Also, here’s hoping noted nightclub fan Pero Antic didn’t lose Datome’s man bun somewhere. The next logical destination for that sweet tuft of hair is the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Marcus Smart's career night and Avery Bradley's game-winner saved the Celtics

Marcus Smart was all sorts of fired up in Game 3. (AP)
Marcus Smart was all sorts of fired up in Game 3. (AP)

After two straight blowouts to begin the Eastern Conference finals and the news that inured Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas will miss the remainder of the series, the Cleveland Cavaliers entered Sunday’s Game 3 as 17-point favorites — a spread you’ll rarely even see so high in the regular season.

It took all of 23:39 for the Cavs to build a lead big enough to cover that 17-point margin, and they led by as many as 21, but Thomas’ replacement in the starting lineup, Marcus Smart, scored a career-high 27 points to lead a remarkable comeback. It all culminated in Celtics teammate Avery Bradley drilling a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining in Boston’s stunning 111-108 victory in Game 3.

“Everybody had to step their game up tonight, especially with one of our brothers down,” Smart, who added seven assists, five rebounds and two steals, told TNT’s David Aldridge after the game. “Our love and support goes out to Isaiah. We wish he could be here, but we understand. We just kept fighting. Everybody did their part. … We all fought, we chipped away, and we came back for the victory.”

The Celtics entered the game having never led in the series, and the basketball world had penciled in a Cavaliers-Warriors three-match in the NBA Finals after Cleveland blew them out in Boston by 44 in Game 2. The C’s led 3-2 and 6-5 in the opening minutes, but the Cavs quickly took control and led by 21 on a Tristan Thompson put-back with 6:39 left in the third quarter. Everyone smelled the sweep.

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Except for the Celtics. Boston got seven 3-pointers and 8-of-14 shooting overall from Smart — a career 36 percent shooter — inspired play from reserve forward Jonas Jerebko in the second half and another late scoring flurry from Kelly Olynyk to take their first lead since the early going with 4:21 remaining.

The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, and a J.R. Smith 3-pointer tied the game at 106 with 36 seconds on the clock. A Jerebko 22-footer early in the shot clock gave Boston a two-point lead and, just as importantly, a second possession once Kyrie Irving answered with a layup on the other end.

All of that set the stage for Bradley’s rim-rattling 3-pointer on the final possession. Still facing an uphill battle, the Celtics cut Cleveland’s series lead to 2-1 entering Tuesday’s Game 4. And they did it while holding LeBron James to his worst playoff performance in a long time (11 points on 13 shots).

The Celtics actually had their most competitive first quarter of the series, which is saying something, since they still trailed 35-24 when it was through. Cavs forward Kevin Love made his first four 3-point attempts and five of his first seven shots from distance to finish with 15 points in the opening frame.

Irving added three 3-pointers of his own and was fouled on a fourth attempt to score 12 points in the first quarter. He also assisted on four of Cleveland’s incredibly efficient 11 field goals on 17 shots (including 9-of-13 on 3-pointers) in the opening 12 minutes. All this despite LeBron James committing more turnovers (2) than he made shots (1) in the first quarter. This was the Cavaliers on cruise control.

Love added a pair of 3’s on two more attempts in the second quarter, finishing the first half with seven triples on 10 tries — just one shy of Vince Carter’s playoff record of eight 3-pointers in a half and four short of Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson’s playoff record of 11 3-pointers for a game.

J.R. Smith’s 3 with 21 seconds left gave the Cavs 14 treys on 22 attempts and pushed their lead to 18, before a Marcus Smart layup before the buzzer trimmed Cleveland’s advantage to 66-50 at the break.

Brad Stevens reminded his team they’d seen bigger deficits than that against the Cavs, and even when Tristan Thompson bumped Cleveland’s lead to 21 midway through the third quarter, Boston’s coach continued telling his C’s they could make a run, so long as they played harder than their opponent.

Smart and Jerebko must’ve been listening. With Jerebko serving as an energetic instigator against Love, Deron Williams and any other Cavalier who crossed his wiry path during the second half …

“Stop flopping..” ???????????? pic.twitter.com/xMv42lcNy2

— KWAPT (@KWAPT) May 22, 2017

… and Smart enjoying the night of his life, Boston closed the gap to five on a 26-10 run to end the third quarter. Smart’s seventh 3 tied the game at 95 with 5:44 to go in the fourth quarter, and a short Olynyk jumper two possessions later gave Boston its first lead since three minutes into the game.

Thompson’s offensive rebounding and unlikely 12-of-15 free-throw shooting kept the Cavs afloat as the Celtics made their run, but Boston made clutch play after clutch play — a 3-pointer and a jumper by Al Horford sandwiched around a pair of Smart free throws — to prove they weren’t about to play dead, even after a 44-point loss, despite losing Thomas, and regardless if the series still seems over.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Zaza Pachulia says Gregg Popovich is partially to blame for threats against his family

Zaza Pachulia reacted with surprise to being whistled for a foul on Kawhi Leonard. (Getty)

After Zaza Pachulia injured Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard’s ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, the Golden State Warriors center’s children’s school reportedly required increased security due to social media threats, and Pachulia says Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is partially to blame.

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In an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Pachulia discussed the alleged fallout from Popovich’s tirade about the 7-foot Georgian’s extensive history of “dangerous” and “unsportsmanlike” play:

“I don’t blame everything on Pop, but what he said had a lot of influence (and) you had a lot of people where, unfortunately, you can’t control what everybody’s intelligence is,” Pachulia told Amick on Sunday. “(Fans) just hear the message, and it’s, ‘Ok, Pop said so and now let’s do this.’ It’s just wrong. You’ve got to think, and realize. Threaten me, but don’t threaten my wife or say something about my kids. It’s just wrong.

“Me as a person, as a man, I don’t mind dealing with it. But I hate to see my family deal with it. My wife and my kids who have nothing to do with it, who are very innocent. … I just hate my family going through that. They don’t deserve that. … I’m not blaming everything on (Popovich), but he was a very big part of it.”

Following the Game 1 loss, in which the Spurs blew a sizable lead after the injury, Leonard told reporters he did not believe Pachulia intentionally stepped under his ankle, and Pachulia called anybody who thinks he did it on purpose “really stupid.” But Popovich took issue with the nature of the play —  a controversial close-out the coach once defended when former Spurs player Bruce Bowen was accused of similar dirty antics in 2006 — whether Pachulia intended to injure Leonard or not.

“Because [Pachulia has] got this history, it can’t just be, ‘Oh, it was inadvertent. He didn’t have intent,’” Popovich told reporters a day after the Game 1 defeat. “Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail, I think, when you’re texting and you end up killing someone. But you might not have intended to do that. All I care is what I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.”

A Spurs fan made headlines by filing a lawsuit against Pachulia, claiming he “intentionally and maliciously invaded the landing zone of an opposing athlete,” but the Warriors center says far worse was threatened against his family on Instagram, where he has posted many pictures of his wife and three children — two sons, ages 7 and 8, and a four-year-old daughter. He has since turned off comments on the account, and he told Amick his children’s school stepped up security as a result.

გილოცავთ ახალ წელს. Happy new year. 2017????????????????

A post shared by Zaza Pachulia (@zazapachulia) on Jan 1, 2017 at 12:18am PST

Pachulia stressed that Popovich wasn’t solely responsible for the actions of a few people on social media and conceded the threats were most likely empty ones. But he does believe Popovich fanned the flames and figured it best to take extra precaution. “Even though I’m pretty sure nothing is going to happen,” he told USA Today, “still when you get this kind of threatening messages, you don’t know.”

Leonard has not played since re-injuring the ankle he originally hurt against the Houston Rockets and remains doubtful for Game 4. Pachulia bruised his right heel in Game 2 and sat out Game 3. The Warriors won the first three games of the series and can sweep the Spurs in San Antonio on Monday.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach