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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.

9:45AM

Warriors’ Kerr: ‘We deserved to lose’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — So the greatest team in NBA history, or least what many forecasters told us it either would be or should be, lays another egg on another opening night. Well, one down and 79 to go.

Yes, after ceremonies, speeches and the dispensing of the little ornaments that athletes say drive them more than money — championship rings — Tuesday evening became a bummer for the Golden State Warriors.

Ahead by 17 points late in the second quarter, giving the all-too-confident fans exactly what they wanted, the Dubs lost Draymond Green, their lead and the game, 122-121, to the all-too-eager Houston Rockets.

Not that the Dubs, despite every publication from Boston to Beijing predicting they were a lock for a second straight title and third in four years, were going to go undefeated. But they did want to start things off a little better than this.

That the game came down to a last-second shot by Kevin Durant, which he made but the red light glowing under the backboard properly negated, was not the issue.

You’re up by 17 before the first half ends, you’re supposed to win.

Especially after the stories that the Warriors were far and away the best team in the NBA and that everyone else was merely play for exercise, particularly in the Western Conference. “The Warriors and 14 other guys,” was the headline in the New York Times.

One of those “guys” is the Rockets, with that nemesis James Harden. He scored 27, and with Green, the league’s defensive MVP, out of the game because of a leg injury incurred in the first half, Harden was throwing up those jumpers when he wasn’t throwing down those dunks.

The big problem, according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, was their lack of proper condition, a byproduct of their eight-day trip to and from China where, adored by the fans over there, the Dubs helped promote basketball internationally but not their own well being.

“It didn’t surprise me,” he said of his team’s inability to stay in front of the Rockets. The Warriors, who had only a few days of what would have been the normal training camp, were gassed.

“Our lack of conditioning was apparent,” said Kerr. ”We deserved to lose. They outplayed us. We had control of the game most of the way, (but) it never felt like were executing or defending at a high level. I just thought we looked tired.

“I don’t think we are in good enough shape yet to play a 48-minute game against a great team.”

Not with Green bruising his knee. Not with Houston getting 43 rebounds to 41 for the Warriors.

Kerr said Green, who played around 12 minutes in the second half, tweaked his left knee. “He was our best player tonight. He brought most of the energy. He had an incredible dive for the loose ball in front of our bench. He had so many great hustle plays. When you are lacking conditioning, like we are right now, you have to have your high-energy guys out there.

“As soon as he went out, things went south for us. We just couldn’t get any traction.”

What they did get was a huge first half, 8 of 9 and 20 points from the guy they signed this summer as a free agent, Nick Young, who calls himself “Swaggy P.” He finished with 23, one more than Steph Curry, three more than Durant.

“Nick was great,” affirmed Kerr.

The Warriors still may be great, but after winning a title and then receiving so many endorsements for this season, the danger is complacency. Sometimes, teams believe they are as good as people tell them they are.

And everyone’s been telling the Warriors they are not just good but fantastic.

"We will keep our edge,” promised Kerr before the game. ”We have a lot of depth. On nights that we don’t have the motivation or the energy, we have a lot of guys to go to who should be able to help us in that capacity,”

They couldn’t on Tuesday night. There were ceremonies, but in the end there was no jubilation.

9:14AM

Warriors play like champs that they are — and now comes hostility

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This is the way a champion plays, aggressively, intensely, knowing it’s the better team but acting like it’s the underdog — a silly description of the Warriors — sweeping the court, crashing the boards and never giving the opponent a chance.

Sure, the NBA Western Conference semis shift up to Salt Lake City, and the Jazz will be home. But what does that matter? They’re down 2-0 to the Warriors. They haven’t been ahead in either game. Not for a second.

In the opener on Tuesday, the Warriors were up 9-0 before we blinked or the Jazz recovered. And in Game 2 on Thursday, again at Oracle Arena, the Warriors were up 12-3. Punched quickly if not unsuspectingly, Utah had its bursts, but so did the Warriors, who won 115-104.

Six in a row so far for the Dubs, a sweep of Portland and now two against the Jazz. Pressure. On defense, although Utah shot 45 percent. On offense, Draymond Green showing he can score as well as block and rebound, getting 23 points, along with Kevin Durant’s 25 and Steph Curry’s 23.

“Whether it’s Salt Lake or here,” affirmed Quin Snyder, the frustrated Jazz coach, “we’ve got to be better at the start of games. If you’re not, they’re going to capitalize the other way."

Meaning building a lead that so far has proved insurmountable.

Meaning that any moment they get the opportunity, the Warriors will race to the rim or hit a three-pointer.

The Jazz hold the ball, move it, as much to try to keep the other team from making baskets as to make its own. The Warriors are demons, sprinting, soaring. A contrast in styles. Thus far, the Warriors' method has been the one that works.

Everybody knows that Green, the guy from Michigan State, the guy who crashes into people like a fullback and floats above them like a ballerina, is the heart of the Warriors. In the absence of ailing head coach Steve Kerr and in the presence of acting coach Mike Brown, Green is the leader, the fire, sometimes the fighter — as the technical fouls will attest.

When Green went down in the fourth quarter, hobbling off with what seemed like a knee injury — oh, my goodness — who knew what might happen? But he returned to the bench and the game. Phew.

“Yeah,” said Brown, “any time any of our guys goes down it’s a concern. A guy like Draymond does so much for us at both ends of the floor, and he seldom goes down. So when he did, you think that initially it had to be serious. But I went over and asked him if he was OK, and he said yes.”

So the Warriors were OK.

“He was big,” said Brown of Draymond, who had four steals, a blocked shot, and seven rebounds — and was 5-of-8 on three-pointers. “Draymond is at the top of the floor quite a bit. Their game plan is to have whoever’s guarding Draymond to sit in the lane. So he’s getting wide-open threes. And hopefully he’ll keep shooting the ball the way he’s been shooting it throughout the playoffs.”

Curry was 5-of-8 on his three-point attempts, and while Durant was 0-for-4 he did make 13 of 15 free throws, the one Warrior who goes inside for rebounds (11) and points.

Green said his knee locked up after a collision. “I’d had it before,” he said. “It wasn’t like a huge sigh of relief because I kind of knew what it was from the jump.” He also said the Warriors “kind of lost our focus” at times, if not their drive.

Asked what he expected from the crowd at Salt Lake City, Green gave the proper response. The man has been around.

“I expect it to be hostile,” said Green, who can be pretty hostile himself at times — most times. ”It always is. They cheer pretty loud for their team, obviously. With a few things that went on this past week, it will probably be a bit hostile. But that’s fine.”

As, two games in, are the Warriors.

 

9:25AM

S.F. Examiner: Defense wins championships — and the Warriors look like champions

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr wasn’t in the building. His back pain, the headaches, the nausea, wouldn’t allow him to be at Oracle. But his game plan was here Tuesday night, the relentless defense he and his staff continually preach and the gold-shirted crowd screams for the Warriors to play.

“Defense. Defense.” It’s what the fans chant. Defense, defense: It was what the Warriors played. The Dubs got the ball in the basket often enough, but when the other team, in this case the Utah Jazz, has a final total in double figures, the Warriors winning the opener of the Western Conference semis, 106-94, the reason was defense.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner