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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

9:28AM

Draymond: “We wanted to beat them”

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Sure, it’s January and not June, as if that matters. And to Draymond Green and the other Warriors, it doesn’t. Will this one, this unmitigated stomping of the defending champion, the team that stole the crown, if you will, have an effect on the NBA finals six months down the long and winding road? Well ...

The basic rhetoric is that it won’t. Then again, it might. Look, the Dubs grabbed this one by the throat, did everything — and I mean everything, played defense, played offense, rebound aggressively — about as well as imaginable Monday night and overwhelmed the Cavs, 126-91, at the Oracle.

And after four straight losses to Cleveland, the last on Christmas Day as the Warriors fell apart in the final quarter, the other three in the playoffs, any win counted — wherever or whenever.

“I don’t think it’s about losing the last four,” said Draymond Green. “They want to beat us, and we want to beat them. That’s enough.”

And Monday, Martin Luther King Day, it was plenty. If that wasn’t the best game of the year, all things considered, including the opponent, it was a reasonable facsimile.

It was one that had fans begging for more — hey, the Dubs were up 39 and people were booing the officials’ calls — and had Warriors coach Steve Kerr using words like “phenomenal” to describe the performance. It even had the players allowing that they were satisfied, it not elated.

As for the Cavs coach, Tyronn Lue? He was defensive because of the way the Warriors played defense and Cleveland did not (the Dubs shot 50 percent, the Cavs 35 — “They missed 57 shots,” said a gleeful Kerr).

“What do you want us to do?” Lue asked rhetorically. “I mean they beat us. We lost one game ... I didn’t expect it like this.”

Now that Kevin Durant is a member of the Warriors, maybe he and we should expect it like that. The Big Three, Green, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, is now the Big Four. And center Zaza Pachulia, who had 13 rebounds (as did Draymond) is not to be dismissed.

“When you try to take Klay and Steph out of the game,” said Lue, ”you’ve got someone who can go get a basket for himself, and at a high level, too.”

He also can keep someone, such as LeBron James, from getting a basket, Durant blocking James at the rim, a move that sent shockwaves through the Cavs and generated an explosion of noise from the crowd.

Green also had his hand in this one, because on a LeBron fast break he put his hand, and arm, on James. Boom. James went down, the fans went crazy, and there was a question whether Green might be whistled for a flagrant foul as had happened in the finals, when he had kicked one of the Cavs.

Play stopped while the refs viewed videos, and Green was given a technical, but that was about it. Other than message, if indeed there was one.

“I fouled to stop the break,” said Green “and he went down. Yeah, I think it’s a rivalry.”

What James, who was 6-of-18 for 20 points, thought was that the Warriors are “a dangerous team.” 

He didn’t mean physically dangerous, although for a moment there that appeared to be the situation. ”They’ve got so many different options,” said James.

The options Monday resulted in Klay scoring 26, Durant 21 and Curry 20. Along with his 13 boards, Green had 11 assists, as did Curry. This is the way coaches draw things up.

“I thought Steph was great,” said Kerr, “a phenomenal first half (when he had 14 points and 10 assists). His energy was great and he set the tone. He put a lot of pressure on the defense. Defensively, to put that kind of pressure on and to rebound as well as we did, we were finishing possessions.

“We wanted to win. We weren’t happy with our Cleveland game on Christmas Day. Any time you’re facing a team you know is one of the best in the league, you’re going to be up for it. We definitely were up for it.”

That‘s important any month of the year.

9:30AM

No competition for Warriors; bring on the Cavs

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Cleveland will be there at the end of the week, Christmas Day. That should be interesting, thank heavens. A good opponent on the road. As opposed to these exhibitions against mediocre opponents at home.

No suspense, no competition. And, of course, no problem.

The fans love it. The way Alabama fans love their football. Routs. “Oh, Curry missed a jumper? Oh my goodness. What’s wrong?”

It’s a good thing the Warriors went scoreless — yes, not a single point — in the first three and half minutes, or this one might have been a mismatch. As it was Tuesday night, the Dubs managed to squeeze past the Utah Jazz, 104-74.

As compared to Saturday night, when they beat Portland by 45 points. It’s not a story when the Warriors win, just when they lose, which they’ve done only four times in 29 games.

Maybe the stat of this game was two, as in Warriors turnovers in the first half. If you don’t throw away the ball, sooner or later you’re going to throw it in the hoop. “With the weapons this team has,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “it is just a matter of time until we score.”

The crowd at this eight millionth straight sellout at Oracle (OK, I exaggerated a wee bit, it was only the 203rd in a row) was hardly kept in suspense, other than in the opening few minutes when neither team could make anything and the game appeared head for a 0-0 final. (As I said, I exaggerate, but it was only 4-2 Dubs six minutes into the game.)

So the highlight (and even Kerr agreed) was some kid out of the stands, Patrick Nudanu of Oakland, making a half-court shot during a break in the third quarter that earned him $5,000. Well that, and a dunk at the end of a full-court sprint by Draymond Green that ended up with the ball in the net and Green holding on to the rim to keep himself from crashing halfway to Berkeley. The NBA is less concerned about safety than rules, however, and holding the rim is an automatic technical.

“I don’t get it,” Kerr said of the T. “Dray was going a million miles an hour. It was about safety. The way he was flying in, he was going to break his neck if he let go.”

He didn’t and, as in most games this season, neither did the Warriors. Now they’ll head, in order, to Brooklyn, Detroit and, on the Noel, the Cavs on the edge of Lake Erie.

It will be the first game between the Warriors and Cavaliers since Cleveland beat the Dubs in the closing seconds of Game 7 of last season’s NBA final to wrench away the title. It will be a big one, certainly, but December is not June. At the least, the game shouldn’t be as one-sided as most involving the Warriors.

“They’re unique on a lot of levels,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “and (Draymond) is unique. I compared him to Magic Johnson a while ago, and he’s got that kind of feel for the game.”

What Draymond felt Tuesday night, when he had 11 rebounds, 15 points and four assists, was that the Warriors defense kept them in position until the offense, as expected, heated up. “It says a lot about our team," Green said, "when we can’t even make a layup the first few minutes and then do what we’re able to do.”

What teammate Steph Curry did, after his slow start, was connect on eight of 18 (4 of 9 on threes) for 25 points. Kevin Durant added 11, and Klay Thompson scored 22.

Kerr said, as might be appropriate during the holidays, that the Warriors have become a team of joy. They laugh with each other and at each other, reaching a comfort level that required time to achieve with the addition of Durant.

“The other game,” said Kerr about Portland, “Klay took about 17 steps and wasn’t called for traveling. Our team started motioning for traveling and laughing at each other.”

Most of the games have been figurative laughers. Now it’s on the road again and a battle against Cleveland. He who laughs last ... you know the rest, even if now we don’t know much more.