• The defending champs are officially on the ropes. The Houston Rockets beat the Golden State Warriors 98-94 at Toyota Center on Thursday night, taking a stunning 3-2 lead as the Western Conference Finals shift back to Oakland with the season on the line.

    Houston’s victory is even more impressive than it appears on the surface, and perhaps even more so than the one it got 48 hours earlier, given the struggles of James Harden and Chris Paul. Harden scored just 19 points and had more turnovers than assists, shooting 5-of-21 from the field and missing all 11 of his attempts from beyond the arc. Paul didn’t have a field goal in the first half, but finished with 20 points on 6-of-19 shooting and 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. He also had seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and no turnovers, an especially notable feat in a game marred by errors from both teams. Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points, coming up huge in another epic fourth quarter marked more by grit and hustle than offensive heroics.

    The Rockets shot 37.2 percent overall, and connected on just 13-of-43 from long range. They had 12 assists and two fast break points, paltry numbers owed as much to Golden State’s defense as the labors of Harden, Paul and spot-up shooters. None of it mattered in the end. Houston, for a second straight game, defended the Warriors better than anyone thought possible.

    Kevin Durant scored a game-high 29 points, but shot just 8-of-22 and didn’t notch an assist, frustrated by the Rockets’ perfectly-timed help defense. Klay Thompson, shaking off a leg injury sustained on Tuesday, was excellent on both ends, making Harden’s life hard while netting 23 points on 14 shots. Steph Curry had 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, putting up a respectable fight defensively but never finding a consistent rhythm on the other end. Draymond Green stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 15 rebounds and four assists. Golden State’s stars had 15 turnovers between them, though, six of which were owed to Green – including a fumble in the open floor as the Warriors tried to tie the game in its waning moments.

    Unlike Game 4, this one was close from the beginning. After Houston jumped out to a 6-0 lead by virtue of sloppy Warriors turnovers, the first half was ultimately played to a 55-55 draw despite Harden and Paul failing to produce offensively. The latter came out like gangbusters after intermission, though, draining three triples in the first five minutes of the third quarter and taking control of the Rockets’ offense.

    After his final three of the third quarter, right over the top of Curry, Paul gave his longtime rival a taste of his own celebratory medicine.

    Paul’s third-quarter scoring binge hardly put Golden State away. On the contrary, it was Houston, with Harden invisible, that needed every point it could muster to keep up. The Warriors had a one-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, but it quickly became apparent the late-game struggles they endured on Tuesday hadn’t entirely gone away.

    Golden State shot 7-of-17 from the field and 3-of-8 from three in the fourth quarter, respectable numbers against an elite defense – one specifically designed to beat them. But when it mattered most in crunch time, the Warriors routinely devolved into isolations and post-ups that the Rockets were mostly able to thwart with strong individual defense and textbook help elsewhere. Durant missed all four of his shots in the fourth quarter, bothered by the physicality of Gordon, often switched onto him, and the activity of Houston’s help.

    Good things happened on Thursday night when Golden State moved the ball and got into its offense quickly. But again without Andre Iguodala, still nursing a left leg injury, the Warriors sorely lack the sense of calm and comfort needed to consistently find cracks in an ironclad defense like the Rockets’.

    “I feel great about where we are right now,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “That may sound crazy, but I feel it.”

    Golden State definitely has ample reason for confidence. Iguodala should be back by Saturday’s game, and the Warriors were better offensively than they were in Game 4 despite another loss and pedestrian box-score numbers. Clean up some errors, and the reigning champions should come away victorious at Oracle Arena. There’s Paul’s health to consider, too, after he injured his hamstring in the final seconds and was forced to watch the finish from the bench.

    It’s not over, basically. But after the Rockets out-gritted them to come within a game of the NBA Finals, it’s also officially time for the Warriors to worry. Let’s see how they play under pressure on Saturday.

Fantasy News

  • Todd Withers
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons have signed Todd Withers to an exhibit 10 contract.

    Withers will join the Pistons for training camp to compete for a roster spot. The best outcome for Withers is being signed to a two-way contract for this upcoming season. There is no fantasy impact from this signing.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter

  • Marcus Smart
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart has been selected to participate in Team USA training camp.

    Following the news of six players dropping out of contention for the USA roster for the FIBA World Cup, the team has decided to add Smart to the list of participants. Don't be surprised if we hear of more additions in the coming days.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Tim Duncan
    PF-C, San Antonio Spurs

    Tim Duncan will join Gregg Popovich's coaching staff as an assistant with the Spurs.

    Duncan played all 19 of his NBA seasons under Popovich. He became one of the league's most dominant big-men of all-time. In regards to the hiring, Popovich joked "It is only fitting, after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor." The NBA will welcome having Duncan back in the league.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Josh Okogie
    SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Josh Okogie will join Al-Farouq Aminu in representing Nigeria at the FIBA World Cup.

    Okogie broke the news Monday on Twitter. He will be playing with at least a few other current or former NBA players in China.

    Source: Magic PR on Twitter

  • Gerald Green
    SG, Houston Rockets

    The Rockets have officially re-signed Gerald Green to a one-year contract.

    Green will come back to the Rockets for his third straight season. He will continue to be a 3-point specialist off of the bench for this high-powered offense.

    Source: Jonathan Feigen on Twitter

  • Tobias Harris
    SF, Philadelphia Sixers

    Tobias Harris has decided to withdraw from Team USA training camp.

    Harris is the sixth player to withdraw from the Team USA training camp. The roster will be cut to 12 players heading into the FIBA World Cup which starts at the end of August.

    Source: Keith Pompey on Twitter

  • Darius Miller
    SF, New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans have officially re-signed Darius Miller to a two-year deal.

    Miller will be playing behind a plethora of young assets at the Pelicans' disposal. Given that the team has entered a full-blown youth movement, it is unlikely that he will earn enough meaningful minutes to make a splash in fantasy in 2019-20.

    Source: Pelicans on Twitter

  • Bonzie Colson
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    The Bucks have waived Bonzie Colson.

    Colson only played 98 minutes during his rookie season, but when he played he was a DFS favorite. Colson could play multiple positions and is young enough where a few teams would likely be interested in taking a flier on him.

    Source: Eric Nehm on Twitter

  • Kostas Antetokounmpo
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kostas Antetokounmpo has signed a two-way deal with the Lakers on Sunday.

    The Mavericks waived Antetokounmpo last week and most knew the younger brother of last season's MVP would not last long before another team took a shot on him. He is still a developmental player, but he should have ample opportunity playing for the Lakers' G-League team, the South Bay Lakers.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    When asked by Chicago Tribune reporter K.C Johnson on how he'd feel about wearing a Bulls jersey someday, Anthony Davis said that "If the opportunity ever presents itself and when that time comes, I’d definitely consider it.”

    The chances of that time coming is more likely for 2025 than 2020, but still, until Davis is firmly committed to the Lakers long-term speculation of his future will remain. It's nice to know if you're a Bulls fan that he imagines playing for his home town at some point, but don't expect him bolting LA for them after one season.

    Source: Chicago Tribune