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6:47AM

Warriors-Cavs: ‘Robbery,’ replay and brilliance by LeBron

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — J.R. Smith had the ball but didn’t know what to do with it. The officials had the call and, according to the Cavaliers, did too much with it.

Oh, those NBA finals, a place where individual brilliance (the virtually unstoppable LeBron James had 51), collective disappointment (“To come up robbed, it’s just not right,” sighed Cavs coach Tyronn Lue) and an extended conclusion (those final seconds seemed to last forever) merged to create a game that, depending on one’s viewpoint, either was memorable or forgettable.

For sure, it was exciting.

The Warriors won, 124-114, but since it was in overtime, and with Cleveland in control most of the game, the scenario defied that of forecasters who had Golden State easily winning both this opener of the best-of-seven matchup and the title.

In summary, it was a bit of lunacy ensnared in a lot of confusion.

“The finals, man,” said the Warriors' Steph Curry. “Anything is liable to happen.”

Especially when it’s the same two teams for a fourth straight year; especially when, as underdogs, they both won their conference championships in seven games, the seventh one on the road — only a few days before the Thursday night start of the Finals.

You could say the game had everything: athleticism, harsh words, a key instant replay with 36 seconds left in regulation and not least that perplexing move — or non-move — by Smith when he grabbed a rebound with 4.5 seconds to play.

George Hill had hit a free throw to tie the game, 107-107. He missed the second, however, and when Smith grabbed the offensive rebound — all game, Cleveland dominated the boards with 53 rebounds to 38 for the Dubs — Smith dribbled toward halfcourt instead of shooting.

It was an awful miscalculation. “He thought it was over,” said Lue. “He thought we were one up.”

Instead they were on their way to overtime, where they would be outscored 17-7, James unable to get more than two free throws in the period.

“I knew it was tied,” Smith insisted. “I thought were going to take a timeout because I got the rebound. I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot over KD (Kevin Durant) right there. I tried to get out and get enough space. I looked over at LeBron, and he looked like he was trying to get a timeout.”

Minutes after play ended, what James was trying to do was get away from the media’s questions, which finally he did by cutting off the interview and walking away.

He perhaps was still irritated by the officials’ decision late in regulation when he planted himself inside near the Cleveland basket and — he thought — was run into by Durant. But replays did appear to show James had moved his feet as Durant approached. The call originally was charging, which would have given Cleveland the ball. Then it became a defensive foul.

“I thought I read that play just as well as any in my career, defensively,” said LeBron. “I saw the drive. I was outside the charge line. I stepped in and took the contact. It’s a huge play.”

The Warriors' inevitable threesome all were in the 20s: Curry with 29 points, Durant 26 and Klay Thompson 24. Despite going out for a while in the first half after a collision. Draymond Green had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Told that his coach, Steve Kerr, said the J.R. Smith bungle was lucky for the Warriors, Draymond said, “Sometimes you need a little bit of luck. So I’ll take it. I think when (Smith) got the rebound he probably could have laid it in. But nonetheless that’s part of the game. You got to know if you’re winning or losing or tied.”

Which Smith claimed he did know. He simply didn’t turn the knowledge into points. Or attempted points.

“Who knows if J.R. would have made the layup anyway?” said Lue. “We had a chance to win. We had to regroup. But they came out and played well in overtime.”

And won the game — the hard, lucky way.

4:32PM

Durant: I was in the league before I got to the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — He was up there alone, confronting the questions, some that Kevin Durant obviously thought were unnecessary. Most times, he is joined for interviews after games by Steph Curry, and Durant will thumb through the stats while Curry ruminates.

But this was a day before the NBA finals, the fourth in succession for the Warriors — and Cavaliers — the second in a row for Durant. He was on his own, as in a way he was in Game 3 of last year’s finals when in the closing minutes Golden State trailed the Cavs.

Durant threw in a 3-pointer, the Cleveland lead was gone, and in a way so were the Warriors, headed to a 3-0 lead in games. It was as big a shot as Durant has made in his career, but as he emphatically reminded Wednesday, it hardly was the only shot.

Asked Wednesday whether he defined his career as divided before that game and after that game, Durant quickly answered, “No, no.”

For an excellent reason.

He was the league MVP in 2014, an all-star eight times.

He was so sought-after as a free agent in the summer of 2016, Warriors players met him in a residence on Long Island — the Hampton Five, they came to be named, including their quarry — to persuade him to sign with Golden State, which he did.

Then came another question that displayed his controlled impatience, one about developing a short memory about missed shots and other difficulties. “Was that something you picked up recently … something you had to learn over the course of your career?”

“Well, this is my 11th year,” he said with a trace of sarcasm. “I know a lot of people probably didn’t watch me play before I got to the Warriors. But I was in the league before I got here, and I learned a lot along that time. I actually won an MVP award. I went to the Olympics. Scored a couple of points.”

A couple. More like 20,000 plus. And as we learned the last couple years, Durant is an excellent defender. As certainly are Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and other Warriors, including the injured Andre Iguodala.

When Durant joined the Warriors, he had to know — and definitely knows now — it’s Steph Curry’s team. You see Curry’s No. 30 jerseys everywhere. You see him on commercials. Durant doesn’t seem to mind.

He plays his game — a 6-foot-9 forward who shoots and dribbles like a guard, and rebounds like a 7-footer. Against Houston in the Western Conference finals, when Curry wasn’t bringing the ball down court, it was Durant.

The story has been told. Growing up fatherless near Washington, D.C., Durant was mentored by a recreation director, Charles “Chucky“ Craig, who at age 35 was gunned down in one of those senseless killings. Durant wears that number, 35, in honor of Craig.

“Every time I see it, it’s an instant reminder,” Melvin McCray, another one of Durant’s childhood coaches, told the New York Times.

Every time we see Durant, we see an individual whose story is rarely heard, other than being offered in the numbers of basketball games. Durant is quiet. He lets others tell his tale. Until requested.

Some wondered whether it was good for the NBA to have the same two teams in the finals every year — it’s only been four straight years, but the thought is understood.

“Yeah,” he responded, “I think it’s great. It’s great. You want me to elaborate?”

Of course we did.

“Well,” Durant continued, “you get just get a great set of players on the court. I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for.

“I think this is a great display of basketball on the court from both sides, and if you're a real lover of the game, you can enjoy how both teams play it, even though it may be different. It's still organic and true to the game, pure to the game. So if you enjoy basketball, I don't feel like you should have any complaints because it's a great set of players on both teams.”

One of whom is Kevin Durant.

8:28AM

Klay Thompson’s big game: ‘I guess you could say I was born for it’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — This one had all the ecstasy and agony of NBA basketball compressed into 48 breathtaking, dramatic minutes, huge point swings — Houston scored 30 fewer points in the fourth quarter than it did in the first — a magnificent performance by Klay Thompson and, to the delight of both fans of the team and the sport, a Warriors victory.

Delight for the Dubs' partisans, because that remarkable 115-86 win over the Rockets on Saturday night at the Oracle kept their team’s season alive for at least one more game.

Delight for basketball fans everywhere because after Houston and Golden State have spent six games, shooting over and shoving against each other in the NBA Western Conference finals, on Monday night at Houston there will be a decisive seventh game to determine whether the Warriors, the defending champs, reach the final for a fourth straight year or whether the Rockets push them aside.

“I think if it was July or August,” said Mike D’Antoni, the Houston coach, “and someone told us we’ve got to the seventh game on our home court against Golden State, would you sign up for it? Yeah. We’d sign up right there.”

And if someone told Warriors coach Steve Kerr on Saturday when the Dubs trailed by 17 at the end of the first quarter, 39-22, whether he would be similarly satisfied with a seventh game, although on the road, you know what his answer would have been. “We like our formula,” he said about the way his team came through.

And they love Thompson, who’s as cool as the Bay Area spring weather. He had a huge game two years ago when the Warriors were down in the conference semis against Oklahoma City — then co-led by Kevin Durant. On Saturday night, he scored 21 of his 35 points after halftime when he and Steph Curry finally slipped free of the Rockets' defense.

“Í think Klay doesn’t worry too much about repercussions,” said Kerr. “He doesn’t worry about judgment and results. I think he just loves to play.”

And why not? He grew up within the game, son of Mychal Thompson, first overall pick in the 1978 draft by Portland. So to say that Klay was born for his role, throwing in long jumpers when his team is in trouble, isn’t entirely wrong.

“I don’t know if I was born for it,” said Klay, “but I definitely worked my butt off to get to this point.”

“I mean you could say,” he did say, then laughed, “I was born for it. I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason. That felt good, to be honest. I just wanted to play with as much passion as I could. Probably more vocal than usual. If your back’s against the wall and your shots are not falling, you can always control your passion and how hard you play.”

His shots fell. He was 6-for-11 in the first half, 7-for-12 in the second. He finished 9-of-14 on threes.

“He got on a roll,” said D’Antoni. “He hit some big ones too.”

As far as the Warriors are concerned, there were no small ones. And as far as D’Antoni is concerned, there’s not enough you can say about Thompson, whom he ranks with Curry, Durant and Draymond Green, the other three All-Stars on the Warriors.

“We know we have to guard him,” said D’Antoni. “A lot of those looks were Klay Thompson. Talking about two superstars. Well, they’ve got three superstars. Oh, they’ve got four superstars. Klay Thompson, what did he have 60 in a quarter or something?”

It was in a quarter plus, 29 minutes, in December 2016.

But it was May 26, 2018, that counts for Thompson and the Warriors, the victory Saturday, especially when for a few harrowing moments it seemed their season was coming to an abrupt end.

“We were down 10 at half,” said Thompson. “We felt like we gifted them a great first quarter. But we weren’t forcing them to do anything they weren’t comfortable in doing.

“We were going to come out firing and leave it all on the line.”

What they left was the excitement of a game that, for the Warriors, couldn’t have started worse — or ended better.

8:45PM

Good team, bad crowds: A’s really need that ballpark

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the Oakland Athletics, every home game breaks down to two stories: how they do on the field, which on Thursday was excellent, a 4-3 win over the Seattle Mariners; and how they do at the gate, where, well, on this afternoon it was better — and, yes, you are allowed to ask, “Better than what?”

For a start, better than Wednesday evening, when the A’s drew an announced attendance of 6,991. On Thursday, the total was 12,663, which admittedly isn’t all that much, but the weather has been lousy, the kids still are in school and the Bay Area seems obsessed with the Warriors, understandably.

The A’s aren’t the only team with great blocks of empty seats. Click the TV remote and you see that various stadiums, including Cincinnati, have plenty of unfilled seats.

But every other team has its own ballpark, and as we are too aware on this 50th anniversary of the Athletics moving here from Kansas City, the A’s do not.

Technically, they have a place to play, the Coliseum, which for a long while, until the Raiders returned from their first departure, was satisfactory, if not charming.

Then, the city and county, on Al Davis' behalf, had that huge stand erected in center field, or the east sideline if you prefer, and the Coliseum, unwanted by anyone, became — taking into account the A’s color, their mascot and the adage — a huge green elephant.

Management has tried to make the best of a bad thing, creating a tavern in upper left field known as the Tree House and devising other ideas to attract people. So far, no luck.

The A’s just don’t resonate, even though they are above .500 and have players who are both competent and interesting.

One of those is Blake Treinen, who Thursday as the fifth of five A’s pitchers — manager Bob Melvin again doing his sleight of hand to overcome injuries — recorded his sixth multi-inning save, highest in the majors.

“This was a great team win,” said Treinen. More specifically, it was a great bullpen win, with Josh Lucas, Chris Hatcher, winner Yusmeiro Petit, Lou Trevino and Treinen coming and going out of necessity. Starters such as Andrew Triggs and Brett Anderson, meanwhile, are on the disabled list.

“We had to do this a few times,” said Melvin of his rotating pitchers. “We’ve had some practice at it.”

And too many times, when at the Coliseum they’ve had to play in front of crowds too small for a major league team, leading a journalist to ask Treinen his opinion of the team’s struggle for spectators. I mean, 6,991? In a stadium configured for some 35,000, that can’t be any fun for a guy in the bigs.

“I don’t know if it’s anything that relates to us,” Treinen said diplomatically about the athletes. “We’re just trying to play baseball and win games. That (drawing fans) takes care of itself. We have marketing for that.”

What they don’t have, however, is a fan base, a mass of season-ticket holders. There was a sellout early in the season of seats that weren’t sold, freebies for one and all. The hope was that people would come back. For some games, they have. For many others, they have not.

We keep hearing that the new ballpark is the answer. But it’s been like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a promise that's never fulfilled.

The A’s had a plan for a place near Lake Merritt, at Laney College, but of course it was rejected because anything logical and beneficial gets trashed in Oakland and Berkeley. Yet Berkeley is a nuclear-free zone, as if people drive around with plutonium in their back seat.

Now the thought is to erect a ballpark on a dock of the bay, the Howard Street Terminal. A lot of negatives: no BART line close by, cold weather — it was 57 degrees at first pitch Friday, real balmy. But build it, presumably, and they will come.

Year after year the A’s, on the figurative poverty line, keep winning games and keep losing stars, Oakland unable to give young players the salaries that match their skills. “As soon as we get that ballpark,” we’re told repetitively.

Well, get it. Or at the least show us for sure that you’re going to get it.

Look, in 1979, before the Haas family saviors bought the team from Charlie Finley, the A’s once had a crowd of 695. So it’s been worse. But 6,991 is bad enough. It’s time to get something done.

7:35AM

Warriors lose out in trench warfare

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It has all changed. Maybe not to the Warriors. “I think the vibe in the locker room is really positive right now,” said Steph Curry. But surely to the thinking of the Houston Rockets, who sneered at the Oracle Disadvantage.

And maybe to the thinking of the fans and pro basketball as a whole.

The Rockets kept telling us they had built a team to beat the Warriors, a team to win an NBA championship. But not until Tuesday night did anyone truly believe it.

Not until they employed the tough defense and opportune offense that used to supposedly belong to the Warriors.

Not until they ended the Dubs’ 16-game home court playoff win streak.

Not until Houston withstood going scoreless in the game’s opening five minutes plus, then held the Warriors to a pathetic 12 points the final 12 minutes and won, 95-92.

This is the reality: The best-of-seven Western Conference finals are tied 2-2. This also is the reality: With the next game at Houston on Thursday and the Rockets seemingly in control, Game Six at Oakland on Saturday could be the Warriors' last of a season of disappointment.

Yes, we move too quickly. But so does the sport of pro basketball. Momentum swings are rapid and furious. We keep emphasizing the Warriors' depth, belaboring “Strength in Numbers,” but on Tuesday No. 9, Andre Iguodala, didn’t play because of a leg injury and No. 30, Steph Curry, played only seven minutes in the second quarter because of foul trouble.

The Warriors, after a great third quarter when they went in front 80-70, looked tired and confused in the fourth when they had four turnovers and missed 15 of 18 field goal attempts, including all six of their three-pointers, shooting 16.7 percent. That’s a reality that seems like a fantasy.

”Yeah,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr about exhaustion, “it definitely played a role.

“I thought we made a great push in the third quarter,” said Kerr, of the 12-minute stretch in which the Dubs outscored the Rockets 34-18 and regained the lead, “but we weren’t able to make many subs. We were going well, so we didn’t want to disrupt our rhythm. But our normal sub pattern was skewed anyway with Andre’s absence. I felt in the fourth quarter, we just ran out of gas.”

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant each went 45 minutes of the total 48, individual highs in a game that for the Warriors, who couldn’t stop Houston’s James Harden (30 points, 24 in the first half) and Chris Paul (27 points), was a psychological low.

One moment they’re one step from the NBA finals, the next they’re sitting around talking about what might have been.

And about the Rockets. “This game,” said Kerr, “was sort of trench warfare. It was just sort of everybody grinding it out, a lot of isolation (one on one). I guess this is the modern NBA.”

Wait. Weren’t the Warriors, the “Hampton Five,” the glitz and beauty of passing and well-screened jump shots, the modern NBA?

“The only way you can do this and win,” said Kerr, “is to have great one-on-one players. You have to have great defenders”

Like Durant and Curry? Like Green and Klay Thompson? Well, the Warriors had them. Durant, although just 9-of-24, scored 27 points. Curry, 10 of 26, scored 27. Green had 13 rebounds. What they didn’t have was Iguodala. Or, in the final frantic seconds, the ability to get off a good three-pointer to tie the score.

“Obviously, we won 65 games,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni before tipoff. “We knew we were good.”

They’re good and persistent, or is that redundant?

“It’s all about toughness right now,” D’Antoni said after the victory, in a way echoing Kerr’s words of trench warfare. ”I think there was great basketball on both sides, stretches of it. The rest of it is just gutting it out and finding a will, a way and a want.”

What the Warriors want is a third championship in four years, but now it looks less likely than it did a day ago.

“When you give yourself a lead like that,” Curry said of the 12-0 start, “it would help to sustain it and make the game as easy as possible ... But they’re a great team, and whether you extend the lead or not, it’s a 48-minute game, and we had plenty of chances to come down the stretch and win the game.”