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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.

8:54PM

Tough teams ahead, but A’s Melvin wants to savor a sweep

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — So there was Bob Melvin, a few moments after Oakland beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 Sunday at the Coliseum, sweeping the three-game series, getting an earful.

Yes, the pitching had been excellent, the defense effective. But, Bob, that was the O’s, who are “O-ful,” or worse than that. Now you’ve got some real major-league teams to play, starting Monday night with Houston, the World Series champion.

And after three games against the Astros, you go on the road, Bob, to play the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, the three best teams in the American League.  

That ought to bring you back to reality, if not back to the lower reaches of the standings.

“I was going to try to enjoy the win today,” said the A’s manager, “before I get to that.”

The Orioles are a bad team — only eight wins in the last 34 games, 17 games behind the Red Sox and we’re barely into the merry month of May.

Still, as the axiom advises, wins over the patsies count as much as wins over the contenders. And a year ago, the A’s were the patsy.

Now, they’re two games above .500, capable, respectable.

In the last two games against the O’s, Oakland pitching allowed one run total, which was necessary since the A’s only scored four. Yet good teams find a way, especially if they have pitching. 

“We didn’t swing the bats all that well,” agreed Melvin after the last two victories, 2-0 on Saturday, on Khris Davis’ two-run homer in the 12th, then 2-1 on Sunday. “That happens during the course of the season. But the pitching was there. It’s all a matter of timing.”

Someone asked about the sweep, unusual in baseball, where two out of three gets you to the postseason. “You go into the series looking at each game individually,” said Melvin, “but once you win the first two, you obviously want to sweep the series.”

A matter of timing. And control. In his last start, Andrew Triggs went 4 2/3 innings and gave up three walks and four runs. On Sunday, Triggs pitched seven innings and didn’t allow a walk and just the one run, a homer by Pedro Alvarez in the second.

“He went deeper in the game than I’ve seen him go,” said Melvin. Well, since he hadn’t gone past the sixth this season, deeper in the game than anyone’s seen him go.

“He kept his pitch count low,” said Melvin of Triggs, who threw 96 pitches. “And he kept batters off balance both sides of the plate.”

Lou Trivino, up from Triple-A Nashville only a few days ago, pitched the eighth and was no less efficient than Triggs, retiring three batters in order.

Then things got interesting in the ninth when, with Blake Treinen having replaced Trivino, pinch hitter Trey Mancini hit a ball that went too far but not far enough and, before A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy could field it, became an infield hit.

“It took a high hop and came back,” said Melvin, “like a sand wedge shot.”

Help! Send in Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. Nah, Treinen could handle it. After a fashion.

A Treinen wild pitch got Mancini to second. He then was sacrificed to third. After Jace Peterson grounded out, Mancini holding, up came Manny Machado, who at .354 (with 9 homers) literally was one of only two Baltimore starters bating above .209.

Melvin, no dummy, ordered Machado walked. 

Then — exhale — Chris Davis (not to be confused with Oakland’s Khris Davis) flied out. 

“You don’t want to be in that situation,” Melvin said of the ninth-inning troubles, “but if there’s anybody with the weapons to get the ball down on the ground, it’s Treinen.”

Triggs said his previous game, against the Mariners, “stuck in his craw.” It’s now unstuck, and the A’s are creeping forward.

Which certainly is better than the reverse.

9:44AM

Steph’s back; Draymond never left

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was Steph Curry’s night, as we knew it would be when he finally was able to play after these long weeks of rehabilitation. But it was also Draymond Green’s night because, even with all the other talent, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and once more Steph Curry, the Warriors are Draymond Green’s team.

He is the fire. He is the persistence. He is leader. He is the man who makes the pieces fit, who rides herd on the defense, who crashes the boards, who forces the issue.

Who made sure the Dubs would not squander the home-court advantage they held over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, Golden State winning 121-116, the night Curry played for the first time in weeks.

That gave them a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven NBA Western Conference semifinals, but the next two games are at New Orleans. “And when their crowd gets into it,” said Curry, “it’s a different environment.”

Roughly six weeks Curry had missed with a knee injury. When he finally got the chance to play, he didn’t miss too many shots, immediately connecting on a 3-pointer and scoring 28 points in all, one fewer than Durant.

“You know,” said Draymond, “it was kind of electric in there, and for him to hit that 3 that fast, it brought a lot of life to the building, and a kind of light, spirit. Pretty fitting for sure.”

Spoken by a man who knows spirit, knows intensity, knows what’s lacking when the Warriors, as they did in the first quarter, don’t play all that well, particularly on defense.

“I had to bring some force,” said Green. “We were playing soft that first quarter. The second quarter, we needed to bring some intensity to the game, and that’s my job.”

As Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who knows Green quite well as a former Warriors assistant coach, said, “Draymond can play every position.” And play the school principal if needed.

Green yelled at the Pelicans' Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, which didn’t displease Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who appreciates the edginess with which Draymond plays.

“I do like to see it as long as there’s no technical involved,” said Kerr. “But you know I thought those two 3s he hit to start the fourth quarter were probably the two biggest shots of the game, because we were kind of struggling, and the ball found its way to Draymond, so those were big shots that gave us a bit of a lead.”

The consecutive 3-pointers, the first 16 seconds into the fourth quarter, the next 16 seconds after that, put Golden State in front, 94-86.

Green had 20 points and team highs of 12 assists and nine rebounds.

“Draymond has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs,” said Kerr. “He’s been saving himself for the playoffs. It’s a long regular season, especially after three straight trips to the finals. And you can tell the difference in the intensity from a lot of our guys, but Draymond in particular.”

Green said about the same thing.

“I live for playoff basketball,” said Draymond. ”It’s the most fun time of the year for me, just locking in and focusing, kind of taking what the defense gives me. You know, just trying to create for my teammates in any way I possibly can.

“When you’re playing a great team like (New Orleans), a team with so many options and weapons, I have to be a threat. I think I’ve done a decent job so far.”

Curry’s return was special, of course. You can’t lose a two-time MVP and not be affected. There were games when others had the same deep open shots as Curry gets but failed to connect.

“I’ve been real eager of late to get back out with my teammates,” said Curry. To play some playoff basketball and get a big win. It was huge.”

He wasn’t in the starting lineup. “Seemed like it was forever,” Curry said of finally getting into the game. “It was a good feeling.”

Durant was asked what Curry was like when he can’t play basketball.

“That’s a good question,” said Durant. “Very anxious. Couple days ago in practice, he couldn’t stop running and jumping and making weird noises. So I’m glad he’s back. I was a little worried about him for a second.”

9:04PM

Giants ahead of last year — and ahead of the Dodgers

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy had his own vision. ”We’re not where we were hoping to be,” said the Giants manager. But they’re ahead of last year and ahead of the Dodgers, which isn’t all that bad.

Especially considering the start — two weeks ago, they had lost four more games than they had won. Especially considering the injuries — no Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija for a while, and still no Madison Bumgarner.

But there they are after Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Dodgers, winners of three straight series, winners of six of 10 from Los Angeles — ridiculous that two teams play each other 10 times in April, even historical rivals — and at .500 for the season as May approaches.

Oh yeah, for those whose vocabulary consists of two words, “Beat L.A.,” a chant heard frequently among the sellout crowd of 42,020 at AT&T Park, although a sizeable percentage was heard cheering, “Let’s go Dodgers,” the Giants, supposed also-rans, are 14-14, compared to the 12-15 of the defending National League champion Dodgers.

It’s early. That’s the baseball mantra whether you’re off to a good start or a poor start. But this start has to be encouraging, with Evan Longoria doing what was needed when they got him in a trade over the winter, and Brandon Belt showing patience (that 21-pitch at bat against the Angels) and power (a run-scoring double Sunday and six home runs).

The Giants are getting the long ball. The Giants are getting solid pitching, Ty Blach going six innings, giving up six hits and two runs; then competent work by Sam Dyson and Tony Watson, and then Hunter Strickland, the closer, going 1-2-3 in the ninth.

That’s what the Giants couldn’t do a year ago, burst with a big home run, then cut off an opponent’s rally. You’ve got to hit the ball out of the park these days. You’ve always had to shut down the other team if you’ve had the lead in the ninth.

On Saturday, the Giants and Dodgers had a long day’s journey into night, a makeup of a rainout and then a scheduled game, a day-night doubleheader. And in the afternoon, the Giants gave up 15 runs for the second time in three games.

The argument could be made then that the win in the second game, a true nightcap as the announcers used to call them with play not starting until 7:30 p.m., was San Francisco’s biggest game of the spring.

Down early, the Giants won. They had a chance Sunday to get to .500, and they made good use of the opportunity. Being even is so much bigger psychologically than being one game below.

“Both teams were tired,” said Bochy of the Saturday marathon. “Longoria’s homer gave us a jump start. We wanted to get on the board first. You always want to score early. That home run was big.”

So was Blach, who had that opening-day shutout of the Dodgers, then lost to them and has now beat them again.

“One of those things,“ said Bochy of Blach’s effectiveness against L.A. “I’m sure he gets caught up in the tension. The fans get into it, here or down there. He just seems to pick it up against them. He’s getting back to who he is.”

So is Longoria, who was struggling, perhaps trying too hard to prove that the Giants made the right deal in acquiring him. He was fifth in the batting order Sunday, behind Buster Posey, who was third, and Belt. In the first inning, with two outs and nobody on, Posey doubled, Belt walked and Longoria hit his sixth homer of the young season.

“It’s always up to the heart of the order over the course of a season to drive in runs,” said Bochy. “That’s what they’re there for, what they’re paid to do. Sure the table-setters get on, but those guys ... you lean on those guys.”

Those guys give the other guys, the pitchers, the ability to throw the ball without worrying that every run will be critical, even thought with the Giants it’s usually the situation.

“When we have a lead, like we had, we can attack,” said Blach. “We don’t have to be as fine. A lot of guys are contributing. There’s depth in the lineup.”

And success, if minimal, on the field.

 

8:23AM

For Warriors it was one game — but what a game

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — One game. That’s all it was, as Alvin Gentry, the New Orleans Pelicans coach, reminded.

So they got routed. Didn’t the Sharks lose one playoff game, 7-0, to Vegas and win the next in double overtime? Didn’t the Giants lose one game, 15-6, to the Dodgers and then win the next?

It doesn’t matter if you get outscored by 24-2 in a stretch of the second quarter — well, it does, because that’s the reason the Warriors were able to crush the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-101, Saturday night in the opener of their NBA Western Conference semifinal.

But you get the idea. It you lose by 20 or lose by two, it’s just one. It’s basketball, not golf. Your differential isn’t carried over. The points aren’t cumulative. The series is best of seven. This was just one game.

But what a game, one in which the Warriors, still without Steph Curry — but almost certainly he’ll be back Tuesday night when the teams meet once again at the Oracle, the “Roarcle,” and more about that later — were the team we had come to know: Focused, defensive, explosive, awesome.

“They’re still the champions,” Garry St. Jean, the former coach and general manager who’s now a TV commentator, told me before tipoff when I wondered how Golden State might respond. Wise words.

They played like champions. Particularly in the second quarter. The Warriors and Pelicans were tied, 39-39, a minute into the period. Then zap, flash, or as John Madden used to say, “Boom.” In the next 10 minutes, give a few seconds or so, the Dubs built a 76-48 lead.

“Well,” said Gentry, a former Warriors assistant, ”that didn’t go as planned.”

It did for the Warriors, who as Gentry conceded “are so disciplined in what they do, if you turn the ball over they are going to make you pay.”

Collecting at the cash box were guys such as Klay Thompson (27 points), Kevin Durant (26 points) and Draymond Green (16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists).

“They get out in the open court,” said Gentry, “and that’s what makes it tough.”

What helped make the Warriors was sub center Kevon Looney. He only had 3 points, but he was plus 34, meaning when he was on the court the Warriors outscored the Pelicans by 34.

“The stats sheet may not know it,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “unless you look at the plus-minus. That’s a good number, 34. Loon’s had a great year. He’s a smart player, and he did a job on Davis.”

That’s Anthony Davis, the 7-footer called the “Brow” because his two eyebrows nearly touch. In the Pelicans’ sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, Davis averaged 33 points. On Saturday night, he had 21 and was minus 27.

“I thought Looney was the key for us,” said Kerr, “but I thought the defense in general was great and that was the most important aspect of the game.

“The defense allowed us to get going in the second quarter and get out in transition and break things open.”

That's when the usual sellout crowd of 19,596, the Warriors’ 284th straight, broke loose. After a couple of months of indifferent play, of play without (at times) Thompson, Curry, Durant and Green, the team was a bit of a mystery and the fans were a bit disenchanted. But as the Dubs opened up, so did the spectators.

“They really show up for the playoffs,” said Thompson. “It’s why we play. At the end of the day we’re entertainers, and when you get a crowd like that, it really uplifts our whole team.”

In an interesting move, Kerr, who later explained he wanted to go small to match the Pelicans’ quickness, started Nick Young at forward along with Durant. Green was at center, Thompson and Andre Iguodala at guards. Not that it matters a great deal with Warrior players shifting on defense.

“It all starts with the defense,” said Green, who at times covered Davis, the big man, and at times the point guard Rajon Rondo.

“Starts and stops and deflections,” said Green. “We can push the tempo. Klay was shooting lights out. My job is to be the catalyst, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

They were for one game. One game that was one tremendous game.