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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.”

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.”

8:30PM

Draymond Green on KD: ‘His defense is spectacular’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the opponent, it’s the old question against the young but experienced Warriors. Which poison do you pick: Triple Double (Draymond Green, of course) or Double Trouble (Kevin Durant)?

It’s a numbers game you’re destined to lose.

Green got his threesome on Christmas day at the Oracle (12 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), Durant his double (25 points, five blocked shots). What the Warriors got on the holiday was less a gift than a well-earned victory over the only other team the fans seem to care about, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-92.

The NBA wants to put on a show every December 25, five games from morning to night, and the prime attraction, a noon start Pacific time, 3 p.m. on the East Coast, is the matchup between the franchises that faced each other in the last three NBA finals, the Cavs and Dubs. As Hollywood knows, sequels sell.

So does the Big D, defense, particularly by KD, Durant.

The chant? It’s not “offense, offense.” Hardly anyone needs encouragement to let fly a 15-footer or roar in for a dunk. Scoring points is fun. Keeping the other team from scoring them is work. And the Warriors have been working. Especially Durant.

Nobody doubts what he can do with the ball. He’s averaging 28.4 points a game. With Steph Curry missing, Durant was the guy who kept throwing in the winners, against the Lakers, against everyone, as the streak went to 11 in a row. Whoever dreamed that someone 6-foot-10 had the touch of someone 5-10? Swish.

Or who sensed Durant would use his wingspan (something around seven feet) to stymie and swat? Not Green, who a couple years back, when Durant was at Oklahoma City, went against him in the playoffs.

“He always made some defensive moves,” Green said of Durant, a teammate now for a second year, “but he never really seemed to care. When he was guarding me, I knew how good he was, his length, how hard it was to get a shot off. When he came here, we talked about him getting better. From that point last year, he’s become a great defender.”

Durant almost agrees. But hold off on the word "great."

“I’m getting close to where I want to be,” said Durant. “But I’m not quite there.”

Durant on Monday defended the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, because that’s what Kevin wanted to do. James had 20 points (Kevin Love led the Cavs with 31 and 18 rebounds) but also a game-high seven turnovers.

“He’s one of the leaders in blocked shots per game,” James said of Durant. “He’s been doing a heck of a job first of all taking (the) individual matchup and then protecting the rim, too. They have a good, maybe great They kicked our butts in transition.

“(Durant’s) right up there, if not the best, with Kawhi (Leonard), Russ (Westbrook), James (Harden). There’s a pretty long list. To play the same position, with me and KD being small forwards and with Kawhi, we do a great job of going at it.”

Durant’s only problem, if it can be considered as such, is that from afar, the fans, the press, he’s known as a shooter and scorer, no matter how many shots he blocks.

“If he just played defense,” said Draymond of Durant, “he’d be spectacular. But it will never overshadow his offense, which is spectacular.”

Durant was involved in yet another “call it the way you want it” play in the final seconds when the Warriors were ahead, blocking a LeBron shot and also it appeared getting a bit of LeBron’s hand. The officials studied replay after replay, then determined there was no foul.

“I just like guarding my position,” Durant said of taking on James. “A small forward is supposed to defend a small forward.”

Even if both small forwards, at 6-8, are taller than the big forward and occasional center, the 6-7 Green.

“You just can’t stop those guys like LeBron,” said Durant. ”They make good plays. They make shots at the rim. You can’t get discouraged.”

As one of the stars on a day of basketball stardom, Durant was anything but discouraged.

“It’s Christmas,” he reminded. ”There are so many people here happy. The spirit moves us.”

Fortunately, the spirit didn’t try to go inside against Durant or Draymond. He would have stopped moving.

6:57AM

Warriors: No Steph, No Kevin, no defense down the stretch

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The slogan is "Strength in Numbers." But the Warriors didn’t have enough numbers from their strength. Plenty of people on the court Monday night. However, two of them weren’t named Kevin Durant or Steph Curry.

“Without those two guys,” conceded Draymond Green, “it’s tougher. Sixty points. And they draw so many people to them. They get so much attention. Things were so much more closed down.”

An exaggeration about the points, if slight. Curry is averaging 26 a game, Durant 24.7, meaning the Warriors were missing 50.7 points against Sacramento. But hey, don’t the Warriors always beat the Kings, especially at Oracle? Of course. Until Monday night. Until they lost, 110-106.

The Kings, who had won only five of 19 games? “Give them some credit,” said Draymond. “They definitely executed well. Our defense just wasn’t that great.”

It was lousy. The Kings shot 53 percent, the first time in 37 games, win or lose, that an opponent had made 50 percent against the Dubs. A lot of easy drives to the basket, and nine 3-pointers.

So, off they go, the Warriors, on another road trip, the longest of the season, six games, starting Wednesday against the Lakers, then crossing the continent, flummoxed and well educated. Not that they believed any differently, but now they — and their somewhat spoiled fans — know that every team in the NBA has talent and potential.

The guy who did in the Warriors was Willie Cauley-Stein, the sixth pick overall in the 2016 draft. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks. “He put a lot of pressure on us with his drives,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors' coach.

The Kings have other guys, too. They have Vince Carter, old “Vinsanity,” in his 19th season, who is 40, or 16 years older than Cauley-Stein. And they have Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose driving bank shot with 2.4 seconds left broke a 106-106 tie.

And the Warriors didn’t have Steph or K.D. “That changes the dynamics down the stretch,” said Kerr. ”We had a few plays we knew we wanted. We just didn’t get great looks at the basket. They (the Kings) did a good job defensing us down there.”

Curry could have played if this were April or May. Or June. If it were the playoffs. He has a right hand contusion. But Durant’s left ankle is a problem. “Been lingering,” said Kerr, “but it’s not a huge level of concern.”

Strength in numbers. The Warriors roll because of their depth, men off the bench to sub for the starters. But when the men off the bench become the starters, then what? Then Omri Casspi gets 30 minutes (and nine points) and Patrick McCaw gets 16 points and seven assists.

“On a night like this, when Steph is out,” said Kerr, “it’s a good opportunity for Patrick. And even though it was a loss, there were some positives.”

Beginning some two weeks ago, November 16, the Warriors played at Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Oklahoma City, losing two of four. Then they came to Oakland for three games in four nights, losing the last. Now it’s more travel.

“It’s almost like we never came home,” said Draymond, “but it is what it is.” What it is, is pro basketball, too many games in too few days. But that’s not why the Warriors, twice with 10-point leads, lost to the Kings.

“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” he reminded. ”We should have put ourselves in better position to score.”

Jordan Bell, the rookie from Oregon, the defensive whiz, played 16 minutes, made four of six shots for eight points and grabbed five rebounds. When someone asked Draymond whether Bell should get more time, he said, “It’s not my job to say. What I will say is when he’s out there, some things happen.”

What happened to the Warriors was they tried to win a game without Steph and KD — and failed.