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10:28AM

Of moonshots, awards, Draymond and a Warriors win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Steph doesn’t believe America ever made it to the moon. Yes, Mr. Curry, who launches his own figurative moonshots, said he doubts the United States reached the lunar surface.

Just like the movie, “Capricorn One,” starring, back in the days before he went on trial and to prison, O.J. Simpson.

The film was built on skepticism, that what we saw on TV one July day in 1969, Neil Armstrong strolling on the moon, was in fact a video fraud, created on a sound stage in Hollywood.

That was long before Steph was born, but on a podcast with some other NBA types the other day, Curry just happened to ask, “We ever been to the moon?” Others on the panel, including technologically minded Andre Iguodala, answered in unison, “No.”

The guess is they were joking. But there’s no joking about Curry’s game. On Monday night, with the Warriors back to the Oracle after a five-game road trip, and with Draymond Green back in the lineup, Curry was back to, well, being Curry.

He started slowly, missing six of his first nine shots, but by the end he had 38 points, and the Warriors, whole again and roiling again, had a 116-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, their fourth in a row.

“He’s good at basketball,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr wonderfully understated when asked to describe Curry. “I get asked that every day, and I don’t know how to answer it anymore. Nothing he does surprises me. I guess I can say that. Even on a night he gets off to a slow start, he always finds a way.”

These are heady times for a notable team, a team — as Curry said, “is as close to full strength as we’ve been all year” — that has been chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Person of the Year,” even though it is not one person but many.

In the 65 occasions since the award was given, beginning with Roger Bannister in 1954, a team has been chosen four times — the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey champs; the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup champs; the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series winners; and now the Dubs.

For all the individual brilliance of Steph Curry — a selection whom few would have protested — the Warriors have always been most delightfully viewed through a collective prism,” said Sports Illustrated.

“There have been superteams that have forced us to reimagine how the game is played, but none perhaps in a generation, maybe two, are so beautifully choreographed as the Warriors. At the Dubs’ most golden, their movements and pieces seamlessly blur into each other to the point where it impossible to distinguish the magic of one player from another, even magic so singular as that of Curry or KD.” 

In the blur Monday night, KD, Kevin Durant, had 22 points and Klay Thompson had 26. And Draymond Green, out the previous 11 games because of a right toe sprain, had 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 points.

The Warriors agreed that Green’s return brought revitalization. So did Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, who insisted, “I’ve always said this about Draymond: he’s probably the most unique player in the league in terms of what he means to this team.”

What the team, the game of basketball, means to Draymond is clear.

“I miss the trash talking,” said Green, “the getting on the court. I felt like a kid in a candy store. That’s what we all miss when we leave the game, yelling at the guys, the refs.”

Asked his favorite play of the night, Green said it was just before the half. He took a pass, “but I was gassed. Not interested in going for a layup. I saw Klay was open. So I took the road less traveled. One more dribble probably would have taken me out.”

Durant said what he noticed with Draymond again in the lineup was not any disagreement such as the one when Green yelled at Durant to pass and Durant did not, but Draymond pushing the ball up and talking defense.

Four All-Stars once more together, one common goal.

“I think we play with a faster pace,” Kerr said, talking about how Draymond improves the Warriors. “That’s the main thing. He gives us a different dimension. I think we’re going to get much better. It was a good first step.”

You might say a small step for man, but not if you didn’t think we ever got to the moon. Come on, Steph.

7:45PM

No panic visible from Warriors; is it hidden by the smoky air?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — You stop by Warriors practice and expect to see a lot of panic — that is, if panic is visible through the smoky, unhealthy air — but you’re disappointed.

There’s Kevin Durant, ignoring his $25,000 fine for “directing inappropriate language toward a fan” in Dallas and ignoring the media, popping jumper after jumper.

There’s Steph Curry, who seemingly is unable to stand up and definitely won’t be in Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma City, bouncing balls off his head in a soccer routine.

And there’s head coach Steve Kerr, loser of three in a row for the first time since who knows when, sitting behind a microphone and in front of the cameras, and handling every question the way his team of late has not been handling the basketball: smoothly.

For the Warriors, this was the week when if the sky didn’t fall it sank a little, unlike the Warriors' field goal attempts at San Antonio. When the façade of love and understanding had a few holes. When Kerr, who Tuesday pointed out he was trying to defuse the situation with his comment, saying, “This is the real NBA.”

The league of big men and big egos, of small mistakes that decide games, of teams so balanced that a good shot or a bad bounce is often the difference in a game — although it’s invariably the better team that makes the good shot.

“We haven’t been in the real NBA the past couple of years,” was Kerr’s addition to the opening statement, after the defeat at San Antonio on Sunday night. “We’ve been in this dream, and now we’re faced with adversity.”

Meaning the groin injury to Curry, who when he's on the court can decide any game from any distance; meaning the toe injury to Draymond Green, of whom Kerr said, “This guy’s been so good; we’re not hanging any banners without him.” Meaning, certainly, the feud (or dust-up, or contretemps, if you will) between Green and Durant in L.A. a week ago. Meaning the frequent references to Durant’s impending free agency and rumored departure to the Knicks, or worse, the Lakers.

Sometimes the best view is from a distance.

Marc Stein, the longtime NBA observer now writing his perceptions for the New York Times, said, “Crisis is probably too strong a word, given that they remain prohibitive favorites to win the championship in June, but the Warriors have been undeniably wounded by a spate of injuries and last week’s sideline spat between All-Star forwards Kevin Durant and Draymond Green.”

The injuries will heal, or at least one expects them to heal, but who knows about the rift? Nobody on the Warriors wants to discuss it.

“Don’t ask me that again,” Durant responded to the San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Medina after the loss against Houston in the opener of the lose-them-all three-game trip in Texas. So nobody did. From the Bay Area media.

But when the Dubs hit the road again, Durant will be hit by that question again, whether it’s unfair or not. The subject is out there, and it’s not going to go away, until — Warriors fans, take a deep breath — Kevin goes away.

This is November, miles away from the playoffs. And from the end of Durant’s contract. What the Warriors need at the moment is to play the defense they have been playing and the offense they haven’t been — at least in getting routed by Milwaukee at home and being held to 92 points in San Antonio.

“Without Steph and Draymond,” said Kerr, “we can’t get away with things we do when we have them. We were 10-1. Last year, we were the best team defensively of any in the playoffs.

“We have been on a run over a four-year stretch. Nobody ever won as many games as we have the last four years. There’s been a lot of things going right for us.”

Right now, they’re going quite wrong.

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.”

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.

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.”