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9:34AM

Dominance links Bama football and Golden State Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The idea is interesting. The college football writer of the New York Times, Marc Tracy, contends that Alabama’s football team has in effect become the Warriors.

Yes, the NBA Warriors, the team that both astonishes, because of its success, and to the big boys in the Eastern time zone irritates, because the Dubs' home games end at around 1 a.m. in New York and Boston.

It's rare when a California team, in any sport, becomes the benchmark. But there was the headline in Monday morning’s Times and Tracy writing about Bama, “They are so dominant that their best player, quarterback Tea Tagovailoa, usually sits out the fourth quarter, much as Stephen Curry, the Warriors' otherworldly star, frequently does.”

Can’t blame Tracy for trying. Or the Warriors or Bama for winning.

Curry didn’t sit it out on Monday night, literally, although he did virtually, playing only 1 minute 52 seconds of a period the Warriors entered leading by 19 points after one of their trademark third-quarter bursts.

Eventually, the Dubs would win, 117-101, over the Memphis Grizzlies to push their record for the young season to 10-1.

Bama, in case you’re interested, is 9-0, and headed for another championship. As apparently are the Warriors.

Golden State — maybe we change the name to Gold Standard — was far from perfect. Curry missed six of his first seven shots, although he made 5 of his last 10, scoring 19 points. And at the close of one of those Warrior-esque third quarters, when the Gold Standard outscored the Grizz, 34-15, Steph blocked Wayne Selden’s layup attempt.”\

The Warriors played the Grizzlies grind-it-out, hold-the-ball style early on. And had a spate of turnovers. Probably because Draymond Green, the boss man out there, got hurt, a foot contusion that would keep him out the entire second half. He had no points, four rebounds and no assists. He had no broken bones either, an X-ray showed.

Then, as Kevin Durant said, “We used our physicality and started to play our game.” Durant had 22 points.

“A lot of times he’ll have the ball in his hands anyway,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant, “but we do occasionally design stuff where he can handle the ball and distribute. With Draymond out in the second half, the ball just naturally gravitated to KD more, and this was a typical Kevin night where he doesn’t have to shoot a whole lot. He might not even be interested in shooting a whole lot”.

Durant took only 11 shots, making 7. For this game the shooter was Klay Thompson, 11 of 21, 27 points. “Klay has gotten better with his ball handling and with his passing,” said Kerr. “He’s just expanding, and his game is growing.”

Thompson wanted to talk about others, especially Durant. “He was doing everything out there,” Thompson said of Durant. “When he gets to mid-range he is clearly impossible to stop. Our defense was also really impressive. A mixture of those two things, I think, spurred that run.”

Alfonzo McKinnie, who played his way on to the team during the summer league, had another big game, 14 points off the bench.

“It’s unbelievable,” Thompson said of McKinnie. “I don’t want to jinx him, but he makes his first shot every time he comes into the game. Since the preseason I’ve been seeing him play. He’s so efficient, and he fills a great role for us, as far as his defensive versatility, his ability to rebound and his ability to knock down jumpers.

“He’s a great athlete, and I cannot believe the guy hasn’t been in the NBA for years now. He took a crazy path, and he deserves everything he’s doing.”

McKinnie, street tough — both arms are full of tattoos — said he isn’t surprised by what he’s been able to do. What has surprised him is the ovation from the Oracle Arena sellout crowds. ”Oh, man,” said McKinnie, “the atmosphere is crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that.”

What Memphis coach J.B, Bickerstaff saw Monday night was hardly unexpected. “First and foremost, they (the Warriors) are good. They know who why are.”

So does the U. of Alabama, to one writer at least the Warriors of college football.

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.

8:55AM

Kerr on Klay: ‘His second half was just an explosion’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The frustration was over. The game was as good as over. Klay Thompson, missing shots at the start — “they made it tough on us,” he said — hit a big one at the end. He raised his arms. The fans at Oracle raised the roof.

The Warriors were safe, winners at home once again over the San Antonio Spurs, 116-101.

A must win. The next two games of this first-round playoff are at San Antonio, where the Dubs could lose one. Maybe two. But now they won’t be in a hole either way.

Now they lead the series, 2-0, and as the cliché goes, they’ve held serve, keeping the home-court advantage. It was a struggle, as it figured to be. In the playoffs, the team that loses the opener does everything imaginable, tactically, physically, to win the second game — to turn the series in their direction.

“They just took it to us the whole first half,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “I think that’s the second-best defense in the league statistically, and they got after us. They took away everything we were trying to do.”

They held the Warriors to 47 points, while scoring 53. They held Thompson to 7 points.

“Klay didn’t have much going in the first half,” commented Kerr accurately. But there are two halves in a game, and the Warriors always have been a second-half team.

Monday night, Thompson was a second-half scorer.

Of his 31 points, one fewer than Kevin Durant, 24 came after intermission.

“His second half was just an explosion,” Kerr said of Thompson. “KD was just methodical as he always is.”

A fractured thumb kept Thompson out of eight games in March, and with Stephen Curry injured — he still isn’t ready — the Warrior offense was awful. But Kerr believes Klay may have benefitted from not being able to play.

“He finally got some time off,” said Kerr of Thompson. “He has to defend the opponent’s best guard night in and night out. He never misses a game. He’s been in the league seven years, and I don’t know how many games he’s missed, but not a lot. So I think in hindsight that probably wasn’t the worst thing for him to get a few weeks off. He looks really fresh and sharp right now.”

Thompson, elated with his finish (he ended up 12 of 20, 5 of 8 on threes) didn’t disagree with the theory. “Unfortunately it hurts when you do,” he said, and the explanation could have been taken literally, “but in the long run we try to play ‘til June every season.”

In the first quarter Monday night, Thompson had only two points, three shots, one basket. He would fail on four of his first five.

“I don’t think it was focus,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. It’s hard to have a good game every game, especially against the Spurs, because I’m sure they’re motivated, and they played so hard in the first half.

“They were so physical and knocking us off our cuts, fighting every screen, forcing turnovers. Some of it was on us, not being sure at the ball. But give them credit.”

What the Warriors were giving the Spurs was the ball, 11 turnovers in the first half; that was reduced to four in the second half.

You’ve heard it before. Cold or hot, a shooter must keep shooting. Thompson, cold, did that and got hot.

“It doesn’t matter whether I make five in a row or miss five in a row,” said Thompson. “I’m going to have the same mentality down the road: That’s being aggressive to make a good play. That doesn’t mean just getting a shot. That means making the right play, because that usually will get you in rhythm, if you just make a play for a teammate.”

One of those teammates, Curry, is unable to get on the floor because of a severe knee injury. As Thompson is well aware.

“I mean, there’s definitely extra pressure,” said Thompson about Curry’s absence, “but in my mind, no, I don’t need to put pressure. I just go out there and be myself, be free-minded and have fun.”

As he did in the second half.

9:36AM

S.F. Examiner: Return of Kerr, Klay’s shooting are welcome sights for Warriors

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — One of them hadn’t been seen. The other hadn’t been appreciated — except by those who understand what makes a basketball team a winner, a category that includes the guy who hadn’t been seen, Steve Kerr.

Yes, Kerr, with his one-liners and perception, was on the bench Sunday night coaching the Golden State Warriors in person. So, welcome back, coach. And in a way, the other Special K, Klay Thompson also was back, with his 2- and 3-pointers. Of course, hoops cognoscenti who look beyond points totals — Mr. Kerr, for one — know Klay never left.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner

8:23AM

And then there was Steph — who else?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Steph. Who else? The game wasn’t supposed to be that close. But it was. The Trail Blazers wouldn’t fade, wouldn’t recognize they were beaten, even when they were. The Blazers just kept coming, like blazes, if you’ll accept the line.

There they were, within two points. And then there was Steph. Swish. We’ve seen it before. We’ll see it again.

A three-pointer. A step-back 26-footer with 24.9 seconds left. A dagger. “I mean, Steph is Steph,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “I think our fans are used to it. I’m used to it. He makes these incredibly difficult shots.”

Makes them when the team needs him to make them.

“He makes big-time shots,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “That last shot he made was well defended. He’s a special player who can do special things.”

He’s the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a second straight year, a unanimous choice this time, for the first time in history. He got the trophy in ceremonies before the game, and then with that basket, which put the W’s ahead by three, he helped get a thrilling, nerve-wracking 125-121 victory Wednesday night at Oracle.

So the Warriors, the defending champions, take the Western Conference semifinals as they took the first round, four games to one, and now will face the winner of the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series for the right to get to the NBA finals once more.

It wasn’t just Steph Curry, however, on this night that started late — tipoff was just before 8 p.m. — and ended very late, around 10:45. It was also the man who had been carrying the Warriors when Curry was out with a bad knee, Klay Thompson, who was 13 of 17 from the field and had 33 points. And it was Draymond Green, hustling, rebounding (11), scoring (13) and screaming, as he so often does. And it was Shaun Livingston, a sub once more, with 10 points.

“Klay’s shooting was incredible tonight,” affirmed Kerr. “Then the way Steph finished the game, that step-back shot to put it to a five-point lead, was probably only a shot he can make.

“It was like we were running on fumes a bit at the end, between Draymond’s ankle (Green was limping late in the fourth quarter) and (Andrew) Bogut’s not playing in the second half (he had a strained adductor). But we talk about our depth all the time.”

And display it all the time. “Strength in Numbers” is more than a slogan on all those gold T-shirts given to the fans. Curry was out for three games. Livingston got bounced two games ago on two technicals. Green plays forward — and center. And guard. Andre Iguodala is indispensable. Marreese Speights hit a big three-pointer.

The way the Warriors came back from the huge deficit Monday in game four at Portland — that TV shot of Blazers billionaire owner Paul Allen, who looked like he swallowed a lemon, told it all — one might have figured the Blazers wouldn’t be competitive Wednesday. Wrong, so wrong.

For so long, Portland, with Damian Lillard scoring 28 and C.J. McCollum scoring 27 — add Klay and Steph, and what a foursome of guards — was in charge, going in front by 11 points and hanging tough against a hostile crowd and a favored Warriors team.

“That’s a terrific basketball team,” Kerr said of the Blazers, and he was absolutely right. Portland led at halftime of games two, three, four and five. “That’s a tough team to guard and a tough team to play against.”

So, of course, are the Warriors, with their three All-Stars (Curry, Thompson and Green) and their relentless style. It’s just that against the agile, mobile Blazers, the W’s weren’t always effective with the defense that forces missed shots and enables the W’s to flow.   

“It wasn’t our best stuff,” agreed Kerr, “but we got it done.”

Which is what the best teams do, the best individuals do. Overcome the mistakes, the questionable officiating, the frustration and win.

“We know what it takes to win in the playoffs,” said Thompson. “It’s extremely hard. Give (the Blazers) credit. They’re an offensive powerhouse. It wasn’t an individual thing when Steph went out (with the injury). We did it collectively ... I’m just proud of my focus on defense ... I’m just trying to get myself in the flow of the offense.

“I’m not going to go out there and try and take the ball from Steph when he’s in the zone.”

Which he almost always is.