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9:12AM

Curry ‘blacked out,’ then was bleeped out

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The volcano had to erupt. The pressure was building. Boom. Run for your lives. Run to the opposite basket. The lid had blown for Steph Curry.

He knew what they were saying about him, asking about him: “What’s wrong with Steph?” In Game Two of the Western Conference finals, the Houston Rockets were all over him. Then the media was all over him.

In Game Three on Sunday night, in the opening two quarters, Curry was only marginally better, even if as a team the Warriors, playing their signature defense, were much better. At halftime Steph was 1-for-7 on threes, scoring 8 points. Maybe the critics were right. Maybe he had lost his touch. Or maybe, as we ultimately found out, they had lost their minds.

Greatness doesn’t slip away just like that. Curry knew it. His teammates knew it. Swoosh. 5:07 left in the third quarter. Swoosh. A 30-footer. Yes. An outburst.

“This is my bleeping house,” he could be seen mouthing on TV — but fortunately could not be heard since the word wasn’t “bleeping.” 

And whatever the obscenity, it is Curry’s house, Oracle Arena, the Roaracle. And, after their outrageously one-sided 126-85 victory over the Rockets, the Warriors’ house.

Eighteen points for Steph in the third quarter, 7-of-7 on field goal attempts, 2-of-2 on the precious threes. Normalcy, certainty, and in the third quarter, naturally, the Warriors' quarter.

Steph would end up with 35 for the game. He was back, dominant and exultant, and the crowd, tentative at the start, was fully involved and loud enough to shatter an opponent’s eardrums, if not a cocktail glass.

Strength in Numbers. That’s the team slogan. Yet fans need individuals to idolize and cheer. And Curry, the two-time MVP, the guy who throws in the jumpers we as kids could only dream of making, is the choice.

“Steph definitely got it going,” said Draymond Green, who with 17 rebounds is to defense what Steph — and yes, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson — are to offense.

“I think it was very important for him to get to the basket,” Green said of Curry’s earlier maneuvering, “Once he got to the basket, all of a sudden the threes opened up, and they started to fall.”

Like boulders shot from a volcano.

This best-of-seven series is far from decided. Yes, the Dubs have a 2-1 lead, and Tuesday they have the next game at home where they’ve won an NBA record 16 straight playoff games stretching back to their championship year of 2016-17. But the way the Warriors came back at Houston after getting squashed in Game Two is a hint of the way the Rockets, with a better regular-season record, could come back against the Warriors.

“It’s a huge game,” Steve Kerr said of the next one. “It’s kind of the swing game of the series. We’re right where we want to be, but we’re not naïve enough to think what happened tonight will happen in a couple of days.”

They are, however, confident enough that Curry, the Curry we remember, the Curry who hits threes without hesitation, is present and accounted for.

“Steph is underrated for the toughness factor,” Kerr insisted. “But you don’t become a two-time MVP just by shooting a bunch of threes. He’s got unbelievable stamina, physical toughness, mental toughness. Everybody’s been talking about him. What he did tonight didn’t surprise any of us, because that’s who he is.”

He’s a polished athlete, one who understands the problems that that involves and how to correct them.

“It was big,” Curry said of that three that finally found the net. “It was frustrating moreso because I had the right intentions in the first half and got — I think I got like five wide open threes and only one of them went in. I say you never lose confidence. I knew to keep searching in the right ways to find some openings and some things that work, obviously.

“Got the first play of the third quarter and got to the free throw line, and one and one, saw the ball go in. From there I just was in the right place at the right time ... from there it was an avalanche, and it felt good.”

Even if his vocal outburst might not have sounded good — if it could be heard.

“I already know,” he protested. “I blacked out. I blacked out.”

More accurately, he was bleeped out.

6:40PM

Giants offense may be as good as they hoped

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Only one game, but what a game. A game that might lead to a trend and, at the least, stopped a three-game losing streak. A game in which the offense that the Giants hoped they had, an offense the Giants needed, was alive and well.

This Giants lineup is supposed to be good, perhaps outstanding. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford already were there. Then they added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, and the days of losing 2-1 or 3-2 — or, worse, 1-0 — were supposed to be over.

Technically, they were, but in the previous three games before Saturday the Giants scored, in order, three runs, three runs and one run, a total of seven. And they lost all three.

But finally, everything clicked. Balls were flying into the corners. Players were flying around the bases.

Brandon Crawford had a home run, double, single and four runs batted in. The other Brandon, Belt, had two hits and an RBI. McCutchen had two doubles and a single. Miguel Gomez, the fill-in second baseman (and in the ninth inning, an outfielder), had two hits and two runs scored.

And most importantly, the Giants had a 9-4 win over the Rockies at AT&T Park, where the wind was reminiscent of Candlestick Park and the victory reminiscent of those World Series years.

“It takes time,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of the team's hitting. “These guys are good, but this is what we were expecting. They’re good hitters.”

In the early part of this ’18 season, Belt has been an excellent hitter. He has 10 home runs. He’s hitting .308. He has 26 RBI.

“I thought this is where I could be,” said Belt, 30, in his eighth season with San Francisco. “But until now, it hasn’t been the case. I feel comfortable at bat.”

Belt worked on his swing during spring training. He’s always been a patient hitter, as that record 21-pitch at bat against the Angels showed recently. Now he’s more aggressive.

Surely having Buster Posey (.307 after two hits Saturday) ahead of him in the lineup and Even Longoria after him (although Longoria so far has to match what people were hoping) has aided Belt.

You look at the Dodgers, Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig and once again Justin Turner, and you find power and consistency, what seemingly the Giants lacked and a reason L.A. finished 40 games ahead of San Francisco a year ago.

But now, the Giants have some punch.

“We’re better this year,” said Bochy, “and we’re not there yet. We haven’t hit our stride.”

Crawford, the All-Star shortstop, is hitting his — and hitting the ball. He was 3-for-5 Saturday with a home run and four RBI.

Nothing is permanent in sport. A kicker may change his steps on field goals, a golfer the angle of his swing. Unintentionally, of course. Crawford said he got advice from teammates, including Pablo Sandoval, and raised his bat ever so slightly. His batting average has been raised more than slightly, to .302.

“And our bullpen has been really good,” said Bochy, knowing full well in the end that pitching wins games. On Saturday, Will Smith, back after a year following Tommy John surgery, Pierce Johnson, Sam Dyson and Tony Watson didn’t give up a run after they followed starter Chris Stratton, who went five innings and gained the victory.

After Sunday, the Giants go on the road. They’ll be around the .500 mark. Madison Bumgarner is throwing again. Jeff Samardzija appears to have regained his touch. 

Maybe there’s a summer of success on the horizon.

7:57AM

Bochy has a new view of McCutchen and Longoria

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — The thinking last year, misled as it might have been, was that the Giants would sign Giancarlo Stanton, the free agent with the big bat. But of course he went to the Yankees, so San Francisco ended up trading for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, who, well, aren’t Giancarlo Stanton.

But as Giants manager Bruce Bochy explained, they have attributes that, from the opposing dugout, were not as apparent as they have turned out to be.

Numbers were only part of the equation, said Bochy on a Monday night when the Giants returned from an awful road trip — they were almost zero for Pennsylvania — and, in un-Giants-like style, got home runs, doubles and a 10-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

McCutchen, obtained from Pittsburgh, had a couple of those doubles, his 1,499th and 1,500th hits in the majors. Longoria, who came from Tampa Bay, had the other and a single.

After the victory that pushed the Giants back to .500 (21-21), Bochy gave a baseball man’s observations about skills that a fan or journalist may not understand.

“When you watch those great players with tremendous talent, from the other side,” said Bochy, “you are hoping they don’t hurt you and beat you in some way. But you do appreciate the talent they have. Until you have a chance to see them on an everyday basis, to work with them, you don’t appreciate how good they are.

“Five-tool players (hit, run, throw, field, hit with power). The ball (McCutchen) hit in center would have been out of every other ballpark. He’s got speed. Doing a great job in right field. You watch those guys every day and have a basis on how good they are.”

They had company. In the eighth inning of a game that would feature 27 hits, Brandon Belt hit his seventh home run of the season. Earlier shortstop Brandon Crawford, who would have been rested if so many infielders weren’t injured, had two doubles and drove in two runs.

The evening was unusual. The small crowd (36,156 announced) seemed just as interested — maybe more interested — in the Warriors' playoff victory over the Houston Rockets.

A 3.5 earthquake centered across the bay in Oakland was felt in the stands. And the Giants, after losing six in a row at Philly and Pittsburgh, won their second in a row.

“We played well tonight,” affirmed Bochy, who was less happy with the performances on the road. “It’s tough travel coming back from Pittsburgh. But we were ready to play. I just loved the energy.”

And the runs. Every time it appeared the Giants would break things open, going in front 6-1 in the third, then 10-4 in the eighth, the Reds, who were on a six-game win streak and had swept the Dodgers in L.A., got close — if never in front.

“It was important we got those runs,” said Bochy. “Important to start a home stand this way.”

Chris Stratton was the Giants' starter, but he came out after five innings, having been battered for two homers and four runs.

“We’re fortunate we hit tonight,” said Bochy, “because they were scoring runs too. Those are the things that win ballgames, clutch hitting. Really through our lineup, we have professional hitters who know how to drive in runs. They have a nose for an RBI.”

On the 4-6 trip (which started with three wins in Atlanta, followed by four losses in Philly and two more in Pittsburgh), the Giants had a nose for the strikeout. Then Sunday, they beat the Pirates 5-0. Exhale.

Everything that went wrong suddenly went right. On Monday, catcher Buster Posey threw out Rosell Herrera trying to steal in the sixth, halting a Reds rally.

“To me, that was on one of the turning points of the game,” said Bochy. “That was a beautiful throw.”

9:32AM

Warriors’ Kerr: ‘We seem to be at our best when threatened’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Sound and fury. From one side. They signify nothing, Shakespeare wrote.

The Houston Rockets are so full of bombast. “We’re better than them,” center Clint Capela said after Houston beat Golden State. In January.

That proper English is “We’re better than they,” perhaps, is to be taken as lightly as Warriors coach Steve Kerr takes Capela’s boast.

It’s now May, some four months later. And Thursday, at the Warriors' training complex, Kerr, facing the media — literally, they were grouped in front of him — for the first time since the Dubs on Tuesday night made it to the NBA Western Conference final against the Rockets, sort of responded to the Capela claim.

Kerr tried to act worried, reminding that the Dubs don’t have the home-court advantage for the first time in their four-year domination of the NBA, pointing out that Houston is improved on defense and that Chris Paul gives the Rockets “a new dimension.”

Yet, like one of those sheriffs in the old western movies, Kerr was reassuringly placid.

He likes the Warriors' position, which after three straight years in the NBA finals, two of which resulted in championships, is enviable. No bragging required.

“We seem to be at our best,” Kerr said without emotion, "when we’re threatened.” 

The man has been through more than could be imagined, high (titles in Chicago with Michael Jordan; titles at Golden State with Steph Curry and Co.) and low (his father assassinated when president of the American University in Beirut).    

So words from a player, well, they’re just words, and they carry less weight than those from Kerr.

“It’s good to be in the position we’re in,” Kerr said.

“Maybe the hardest championship,” he continued, “is the first one. You don’t quite know if you can do it. Once you get the first one, it’s a little bit like (playing with) house money. But you want it again. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Kerr knows the Rockets, knows Capela guards the rim and Paul and James Harden score from inside and outside. Knows the Rockets lead the playoffs in scoring (if narrowly ahead of the Warriors).

“But I like our position,” he said. “We have a couple of championships the last few years. It’s a nice feeling to have going into the series.”

That Houston win in January, by two points, gave the Rockets a 2-1 edge over the Warriors during the regular season. It also came at the end of Dubs’ five-game road trip, and the Warriors won the first four,

“Houston had a great off-season,” said Kerr, not trying to be funny. The Rockets not only picked up Paul, who Kerr describes as a “future Hall of Famer,” but also Luc Mbah a Moute, a muscle guy.

“They changed their focus,” said Kerr. “They went after defensive guys who are decent 3-point shooters instead of great 3-point shooters who are decent defensive guys. They became a better defensive team as a result.”

And, as it has been pounded into our heads in the four major sports in North America — and soccer around the globe — defense wins.

Which is why Draymond Green is so important for the Warriors. He can defend a guard, a forward, a center.

“He can play all the positions on the floor,” was the comment about Green by Alvin Gentry, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, who the Warriors beat in the conference semis. “That’s what makes it really difficult to play against them.”

The 6-foot-7 Green isn’t bad on offense either. In the five-game series win over the Pelicans, he averaged a triple double, 14.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 10 assists. The Warriors are 26-0 when Green has hit a triple, 4-0 in playoff games.

Draymond is no less infamous for going after opponents physically and vocally. A questioner Thursday asked Kerr whether Green’s style might be a problem.

The answer should have been expected. “The playoffs in general are more physical,” Kerr said. “The refs don’t call a lot of fouls. You’ve got to have guys like Draymond.”

Fortunately for the Warriors, they do.

9:44AM

Warriors against the Rockets? ‘Been there,’ says Gentry

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — They’ve been there. That was Alvin Gentry’s observation about the Warriors. But Gentry also has been there, an assistant with the Dubs in their championship season of 2015, and he was there — literally — Tuesday night when the Warriors beat Gentry’s current team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

Painful for Gentry, the Warriors’ 113-104 win that gave them the NBA Western Conference semifinal, four games to one. But also, in a way, joyous. Yes, the Pelicans have been his team for three seasons. But the Warriors used to be his team, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr is one of Gentry’s closest friends. So for him, call the result bittersweet.

And for the Warriors and their fans, the usual sellout at Oracle Arena, call it expected.

Now the question is what they should expect the next round, the conference finals, against Houston.

For the first time in four years, the Warriors don’t have the home-court advantage, the Rockets finishing with a better record. The first two games are in Houston, and the Dubs could come home down 0-2. More significantly, if it goes that far, Game 7 will be in Houston.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” said Gentry of what the Warriors face in the Rockets, who Tuesday night also clinched their place in the conference final, beating Utah.

“But,” reminded Gentry of the Warriors, “they’ve been there before.”

So have the Rockets, three years ago — when they lost to the Warriors. And so there’s been talk of revenge, if a bit delayed.

“They have made it known their team is built to beat us,” said Draymond Green, who for all intents and all positions, from center — which he played Tuesday night at times against Anthony Davis — to guard, has been the Warriors' two-round playoff MVP.

“Kind of their, like you said, obsession,” Green agreed, “or whatever you want to call it. It is what it is. Like I’ve said before, that stuff is cool. Obviously you want to build your team to beat the defending champs, because that’s usually how you have to go to win a championship. That stuff has been said for about a year now. It’s time to play.”

The 6-foot-7 Green had 19 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, and although he missed a triple double by that one assist, he averaged a triple double in the five games against the Pelicans.

“He’s such an amazing player,” Kerr said of Green. “Defense, offense, he was our most valuable player.” Also at times, the most pixyish. Once, during a time out, he went to the Pelicans’ huddle.

“That should have surprised me,” said Gentry, “but I didn’t see any reason to get upset.”

The Warriors at times looked like the team we have come to know: Steph Curry, playing 37 minutes, the longest since his return after the knee injury, scored 28 points, Kevin Durant 24 and Klay Thompson 23, 19 of them in the first half.

The Warriors, as it has become standard, unloaded in the third quarter, leading 95-75 at the end of the quarter. But they got sloppy near the end, and the Pelicans got close. Not that the Dubs were in danger of losing.

They did lose two out of three to the Rockets in the regular season, but the last game, a 116-109 loss on Jan. 20, was at the end of a five-game road trip to places such as Toronto, Milwaukee and Cleveland, and the Dubs won the first four.

“That game was so long ago,” said Durant. “We know what they do. They know what we do.”

“You can’t believe the hype,” said Thompson. “Everybody is already talking about Warriors-Rockets.”

Even Kerr, after the game.

“We’re going to need some contributions from our bench,” said Kerr. “It’s a series where you’re going to have a lot of shooting out there for Houston, a lot of one-on-one play. We have to stay in front of them.”

Even if some think, at the start, the Warriors are behind them.