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9:40AM

Durant on dust-up with Draymond: ‘Spit happens in the NBA’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant, who often has the answers, this time had a question. “Anyone want to ask about basketball?” he wondered, his words paced as if trying to run down the clock.

Not on this Tuesday night, not after this game, when it wasn’t so much the men who were in the lineup for the Warriors for their 110-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

But the man who wasn’t, Draymond Green.

Oh, he was in the lineup of the game notes on the press table, that document having been created before Warriors management, specifically general manager Bob Myers and head coach Steve Kerr, suspended Green for a non-punch dust-up with Durant after Monday night’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.

But by game time Tuesday, when as proclaimed by the badges worn by some Warriors employees — none of them players — the Dubs recorded their 300th straight Oracle sellout, Draymond was not even in the building.

A little reprimand for the team’s emotional leader — as well as the loss of a day’s salary, roughly $120,000. ”I think what will be the hardest thing for him,” Myers said, “is not playing basketball (Tuesday) night.”

Myers, who played at UCLA and then was a players’ agent before he became the Warriors' GM, reminded, “Basketball is an emotional sport. These things happen.”

That they happened between Green, who has his fiery moments, and Durant, who at the end of the season will be a free agent and might be leaving for the New York Knicks, makes the incident more compelling. That’s two-fifths of a starting five from a franchise trying to win a third straight NBA title.

“I’m trying to move on,” said Durant. “Once the ball is tipped, nothing else matters. I think that’s the approach everyone takes. I want to keep this in house. I’m not trying to give nobody no headlines.”

What he was trying do Monday, in L.A., in the dying seconds of regulation, was get the ball from Green, who was bringing it down court and then let it slip away.

On Tuesday, Durant had more than enough, scoring a game-high 29 points, though he made only 9 of 23 field goal attempts. "Just night in and night out, you can pretty much mark down 25-30 points,” Kerr said about Durant, “whether he shoots the ball well or not. Because he’s going to get to the line.” Where he was 11 for 11.

Asked if he was surprised by Green’s suspension, Durant, in a classic sports response, said, “I was just focused on the game. I didn’t care either way.”

Durant and Green did not communicate Tuesday, but the Warriors leave Wednesday for Houston. Both KD and Draymond will be on the same plane, in the same hotel and on the same court.

“His presence has been part of this team for a while before I got here,” Durant said of Green. “He has been a huge staple in the organization. But that’s what happens in the NBA. Spit happens. I just try my best to move on and be a basketball player. I got nothing else to do but be the best player I can be every single day.”

As Quinn Cook, who started at guard in place of the injured Steph Curry, pointed out, “I think we’re all professionals. We love each other. We’re together eight months a year. We’re like brothers. Brothers fight. We have a common goal. We’re going to get past this.”

Jonas Jerebko started in place of the absent Green, scoring 14 points, making four three-pointers and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. “Jonas was great,” said Kerr, who was going to praise the man whether or not he deserved it — and he deserved it. “He was our MVP tonight.”

Klay Thompson got 24 points, as well as some observations. “We just want to play basketball,” he said. “This game wasn’t about what happened (Monday) night. We wanted to put on a show for the fans. I’m happy we got the win tonight. This is not about personal agendas. We win Thursday and then Saturday (Dallas) and Sunday (San Antonio), this will be in the past.”

A reference was made to the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, when the legendary star got into fracas with a teammate named Steve Kerr.

“When you play at a very high level, things happen,” allowed Kerr. “And I kicked MJ’s ass.”

11:09PM

Eli disproves the idea he’s done—at Niners’ expense

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Eli Manning didn’t look so bad, did he? All those stories he was finished, about to be benched by the New York Giants? The San Francisco 49ers could only wish he wasn’t in the game.

   And also wish they could play defense when required—late in the game.

  Manning was a very efficient 37-year-old quarterback Monday night/ He was a very efficient quarterback Monday night for whatever age, throwing three touchdown passes including one to Russell Shepard with 53 seconds to play that gave the supposedly helpless Giants a 27-23 win over the Niners.

   Neither team is very good, being kind, but the Niners had won their previous game, the Giants had lost five in a row, and fans and writers back in New York, where everyone has an opinion, were pleading for Kyle Lauletta to replace Manning.

  First-year coach Fritz Shurmur  stayed the course, which coaches tend to do, and so the Giants have a 2-7 record, while the 49ers, entering bye week with a thud—they had a 20-10 lead in the third quarter—enter their bye week at 2-8.

  “We should have won the game,” said Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers coach. But they didn’t. And when you get down to it, it’s the result that counts not a lot of possibilities, a lot of should haves and could haves.

   This was the second start for the Niners rookie QB, Nick Mullins, who after looking brilliant against the Raiders—doesn’t every quarterback?—looked like a rookie, if a competent one, against the Giants

  Mullins did complete 27 passes of 39 attempts, one for a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions. Manning, careful, capable,  as a veteran  under pressure has to be, was 19 of 31 for 188 yards and the three touchdowns, two to Odell Beckham.

  After the winner, running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, said he went over to Manning and told him, man, you’ve been doing this since I was like 12. That’s Eli.

  Barkley ran for 67 yards.

  But the stats are misleading. The Niners had the ball more than 24 minutes out of the total 60 minutes and outgained the Giants, 374 yards to 277. What the Giants had was Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champ, and the 36th game-winning drive of his career.

  “We found a way to finally score some points,” said Shurmur. “I watched when I wasn’t coaching here as he engineered drives at the end of the game. That’s what Eli is really good at. I thought that was terrific.”

   A key holding penalty on San Francisco linebacker Malcolm Smith helped keep alive the Giants’ final drive, but Shanahan, the Niners coach, had no complaint. “He grabbed him,” said Shanahan, “They called it.”

   Shanahan’s assessment of Mullins was unenthusiastic: ”I think he did some good things,” he said, “and some things we need to improve on.

  “He didn’t get gun shy. Played his game. I don’t think the picks affected him.”

   They affected the Niners, of course. Two turnovers to none for the Giants.

  “I thought we put ourselves in a position that we should have won the game,” was the Shanahan lament. Up 20-10 after the first drive in the third quarter. Gave up a big kick return.”

  And then Manning worked his magic.

“He was getting the ball out fast,” said Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They had a game plan to try not to get Eli hit.”

  Manning, sacked only once, was elated by the performance.

“That was big,” said Manning. “We’ve been good at the two-minute drive this year. Unfortunately we’ve been down two scores or left too much time. But when we needed touchdowns we got them. I told the guys this week, we’ve worked too hard not to be rewarded with a win.”

   They were rewarded, at the 49ers’ expense.

9:33AM

Giants new president believes in winning, not stars

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — He came on purposefully and quietly, which seems to be Farhan Zaidi’s way — if not the way Giants fans might wish the team’s new president to act.

The Giants have had consecutive losing seasons, interest declining along with attendance. You might then expect Zaidi, hired away from the dreaded Dodgers, to make a boast or two about how he is going to turn the Giants into the champions they used to be.

Maybe a mention of Bryce Harper or a suggestion about Madison Bumgarner’s future. A tease, a promise, a hint.

But Zaidi, a 41-year-old Canadian who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did graduate work at Cal, made no headlines. What he talked about on Tuesday at AT&T Park was making progress.

Zaidi never played baseball in the pros, but he’s played the front-office game, learning with Billy Beane in Oakland, then working as GM of the Dodgers, who were in the World Series a second straight year.

But again didn’t win. As opposed to the Giants, who did win the Series in 2010, '12 and '14, making us remember Beane’s sad words after the A’s were bounced in the early 2000s that the postseason is a crapshoot.

“Bittersweet,” Zaidi called the Dodgers’ everything-but-the-championship years. “Coming up short. But you’d like to get to the doorstep every year and take your chances.”

The Giants don’t seem to taking any chances with Zaidi. He knows the landscape. The Dodgers play the Giants 19 times a season. He knows what succeeds, attention to detail, rebuilding a depleted farm system. No move is too small, though the Giants' home run output was.

“The message," he said, "is to have maximum flexibility in the organization.”

Zaidi is new baseball, analytics — which you would expect from an MIT grad — but he is not opposed to old baseball, which is that the eyeball tells you about a player. So that makes him very accepting of longtime Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whom Zaidi calls “Boch.”

The front office (after discussions and advice) determines who will be on the roster. The manager, said Zaidi, determines who will be on the field.

“That new school-old school potential conflict is oversimplified,” he said. “It’s a convenient narrative to see a class of schools of thought. But I don’t see it that way. We had two managers of the year, Bob Melvin (A’s) and Dave Roberts.

“The game is hard. Managing is real hard. Fans wonder why a guy swung at a slider down and away. As somebody who doesn’t have the most illustrious playing career on his resume, I think it’s fair for me to always remember that.”

What Zaidi found out with the thrifty A’s was that "no move is too small not to be worth a certain level of detail.” Baseball is a sport by committee. The lineup counts more than the individual.

The Dodgers and Giants are big-budget teams, but the money must be spent wisely.

“I feel fans want to see a winning team, and winning drives up attendance,” said Zaidi. ”Just try to put together a good baseball team. Stars will come out of that. What kind of total team you develop is important. I don’t see targeting stars as important as trying to fill a team with good players.”

Zaidi said he owes his career to Beane, who in getting the A’s from the bottom to the playoffs in only a season deservedly was named major league baseball executive of the year. “To be in the same city as Billy is really exciting,” said Zaidi, ignoring the dividing waters of the bay. 

 

When he accompanied the Dodgers to San Francisco, he walked to the games from Union Square, savoring the opportunity to mix with pedestrians and as he neared AT&T the fans.

“My first major league game,” he recalled, “was in 1987, Candy Maldonado and Will Clark went back-to-back. I thought all games were that exciting.”

They may be again in San Francisco. In part, it’s up to Farhan Zaidi.

9:34AM

Dominance links Bama football and Golden State Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The idea is interesting. The college football writer of the New York Times, Marc Tracy, contends that Alabama’s football team has in effect become the Warriors.

Yes, the NBA Warriors, the team that both astonishes, because of its success, and to the big boys in the Eastern time zone irritates, because the Dubs' home games end at around 1 a.m. in New York and Boston.

It's rare when a California team, in any sport, becomes the benchmark. But there was the headline in Monday morning’s Times and Tracy writing about Bama, “They are so dominant that their best player, quarterback Tea Tagovailoa, usually sits out the fourth quarter, much as Stephen Curry, the Warriors' otherworldly star, frequently does.”

Can’t blame Tracy for trying. Or the Warriors or Bama for winning.

Curry didn’t sit it out on Monday night, literally, although he did virtually, playing only 1 minute 52 seconds of a period the Warriors entered leading by 19 points after one of their trademark third-quarter bursts.

Eventually, the Dubs would win, 117-101, over the Memphis Grizzlies to push their record for the young season to 10-1.

Bama, in case you’re interested, is 9-0, and headed for another championship. As apparently are the Warriors.

Golden State — maybe we change the name to Gold Standard — was far from perfect. Curry missed six of his first seven shots, although he made 5 of his last 10, scoring 19 points. And at the close of one of those Warrior-esque third quarters, when the Gold Standard outscored the Grizz, 34-15, Steph blocked Wayne Selden’s layup attempt.”\

The Warriors played the Grizzlies grind-it-out, hold-the-ball style early on. And had a spate of turnovers. Probably because Draymond Green, the boss man out there, got hurt, a foot contusion that would keep him out the entire second half. He had no points, four rebounds and no assists. He had no broken bones either, an X-ray showed.

Then, as Kevin Durant said, “We used our physicality and started to play our game.” Durant had 22 points.

“A lot of times he’ll have the ball in his hands anyway,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant, “but we do occasionally design stuff where he can handle the ball and distribute. With Draymond out in the second half, the ball just naturally gravitated to KD more, and this was a typical Kevin night where he doesn’t have to shoot a whole lot. He might not even be interested in shooting a whole lot”.

Durant took only 11 shots, making 7. For this game the shooter was Klay Thompson, 11 of 21, 27 points. “Klay has gotten better with his ball handling and with his passing,” said Kerr. “He’s just expanding, and his game is growing.”

Thompson wanted to talk about others, especially Durant. “He was doing everything out there,” Thompson said of Durant. “When he gets to mid-range he is clearly impossible to stop. Our defense was also really impressive. A mixture of those two things, I think, spurred that run.”

Alfonzo McKinnie, who played his way on to the team during the summer league, had another big game, 14 points off the bench.

“It’s unbelievable,” Thompson said of McKinnie. “I don’t want to jinx him, but he makes his first shot every time he comes into the game. Since the preseason I’ve been seeing him play. He’s so efficient, and he fills a great role for us, as far as his defensive versatility, his ability to rebound and his ability to knock down jumpers.

“He’s a great athlete, and I cannot believe the guy hasn’t been in the NBA for years now. He took a crazy path, and he deserves everything he’s doing.”

McKinnie, street tough — both arms are full of tattoos — said he isn’t surprised by what he’s been able to do. What has surprised him is the ovation from the Oracle Arena sellout crowds. ”Oh, man,” said McKinnie, “the atmosphere is crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

What Memphis coach J.B, Bickerstaff saw Monday night was hardly unexpected. “First and foremost, they (the Warriors) are good. They know who why are.”

So does the U. of Alabama, to one writer at least the Warriors of college football.

12:04AM

An undrafted rookie QB, Mullens, wins for the 49ers

  SANTA CLARA, Calif. ---So it’s not exactly another version of a star is born. And the opponent was the sorrowful soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders.  But the way Nick Mullens turned his first NFL game into a success for him and the San Francisco 49ers was the stuff Hollywood has been dishing out for years.

  Kid steps off the bench and, voila, plays like well, Brett Favre, who went to the same school as Mullens, Southern Mississippi. Sure, that’s over dramatizing the situation, especially since this game, even if nationally televised, didn’t resonate much farther east than Stockton.

  But for the 49ers, who with only their second win of a season in which they’ve used three quarterbacks, a rather convincing, 34-3, domination of  the Raiders, who can’t win on the road whether  they’re playing 5,000 miles from home (temporarily Oakland) as in London or 45 miles as  in Santa Clara, Thursday night.

  San Francisco started the season at QB with the guy who is supposed to be the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. His knee was torn up in Game Three. On came C.J. Beathard, who lost all four of his starts and incurred a wrist injury in the fourth, What now? That guy over there on the practice squad, Mullens.

  Except if you heed his teammates or his coach, Kyle Shanahan, he’s not just “that guy,” but someone unique, someone obsessed, someone who listens to crowd noise on his headset while reading game plans, the better to get acclimated.

  Mullens, who went undrafted the spring of 2017 despite breaking many of Favre’s school records, was signed as a free agent, and basically spent two years running the backups—the non-roster wannabees—against the starting defense.

“He did an awesome job today,” said Shanahan of Mullens, who completed his first six passes—did we mention the Raiders defense is lacking?—and finished 16 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns

  No less impressively, Mullens didn’t show an iota of uncertainty. He took control immediately, and the rest of the offense knew it.

  “He showed poise in and out of the huddle,” said Shanahan of Mullens. “I was not surprised. The game is not too big for him. He showed what he could in the preseason. He didn’t know he would start until (Wednesday). He’s studied our game plans for two years. He walked in prepared. That makes a huge difference when you have to change quarterbacks.”

  Favre, the frequent all-pro with Green Bay, phoned Mullens after his triumph.

  “It was pretty cool,” said Mullens. “Definitely an honor. He told me how proud of me he was. He sent me a message before the game, ‘Just be yourself,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”

  The question was expected.  With Beathard’s struggles and Mullens lack of them, so far, why doesn’t Shanahan quickly decide that Mullens is the starter from now on?

  “I don’t feel the struggles are only on C.J.” said the coach. “It’s a mistake to say if you win it’s because of the quarterback or if you lose it’s because of the quarterback.”  

 As noted from the 1-7 Raiders, losing is a team function. So is winning, but the Raiders are miles from winning. Yes, they had a 3-0 lead for a moment or two against the Niners, but after that Oakland QB Derek Carr was swarmed over by the Niners defense—and the Raider defense was swarmed under.

   Carr was sacked seven times.  Mullens never was sacked. The Niners gained 405 yards, the Raiders only 242.

  “A very frustrating night,” said Carr, who was 16 of 21 for 171 yards and mercifully was yanked in favor of AJ McCarron when Oakland had no chance—which in truth may have been quite early   

   “That was terrible,’’ said Carr of the offense. “I wish I had more to tell you.”

    What the Raiders high-priced, celebrity coach, Jon Gruden, told us  was the team’s effort wasn’t bad but that key offensive linemen were missing, including Kolton Miller, this spring’s No. 1 draft pick, who as left tackle protects the blind side.

  “A short week,” said Gruden. “I’m not going to make excuses about the injuries on the line, but those are very difficult to overcome.”

  So is an undrafted rookie quarterback who never had taken a snap and in a game under the lights at Levi’s Stadium made a great first impression.