Entries in Nuggets (6)


Warriors went from underdogs to favorites – to winners

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They kept using the underdog card, telling us nobody expected them to win this first-round NBA playoff series, which is more fiction than fact because once the thing got rolling, and rocking, it was obvious the Golden State Warriors should have been the favorite.
Sports is like that, full of people who seem more intent on showing us, proving to the world, that they can succeed than actually succeeding. It’s a crutch many use, so if they fail, well, then they concede, “We weren’t supposed to win anyway.”
But on this wild Thursday night, in this sixth game of a first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors in truth weren’t supposed to lose. They weren’t going to lose. And after a 92-88 victory at Oracle Arena that gave them the series, four games to two, it’s time to contemplate the reason as provided by Nuggets coach George Karl.
“We didn’t lose the series tonight,” said Karl. His team was the third seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors the sixth seed.
“We lost the series in Game 1 and 2. We didn’t play well enough to sustain some confidence. In Game 1, we won a close game. In Game 2, we gave everything back that we worked for 57 (regular season) games to get . . .  We didn’t play well in Game 1. We played worse in Game 2. Then we came in here and fought pretty hard.”
Sounds like the underdog, doesn’t it? In retrospect, the way the Warriors performed, turning the odds, upside down, maybe Denver was. The Warriors were exposed, in a positive way, as a team that belongs, a team that deserved to win.
Game 6 was a perfect reflection of the series and the NBA, the Warriors coming from behind, the Warriors going far ahead — 18 points — and finally the Warriors holding on.
Confetti poured down. Deafening screams resounded, but in truth there surely was as much relief as of elation. Underdog? Favorite? The optimum word might be survivor.
“I get emotional,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson. He is a pastor. He is religious. He had been fined $25,000 earlier in the day for what the league said were remarks intended to influence the officials.
“I think God has a sense of humor,” said the coach-pastor, “because he wanted to show folks at the end as we threw the ball all over the place, and it’s only a miracle that we advanced.”
Jackson, who went from a position as a TV commentator to the Warriors job, tends to deal in the dramatic. More often than not he uses the phrase “at the end of the day.” And for this game he brought back forward David Lee, who a couple of weeks ago Warriors management said wouldn’t play again this year because of an injury.
A New Yorker, Jackson grew up on the tale of Willis Reed hobbling out of the Madison Square Garden locker room in the 1970 NBA finals, moving into the Knicks lineup and beating the Lakers. Jackson was only five when that occurred, but if he didn’t see it, he heard about it.
“I guess the New York City in me,” said Jackson, explaining his decision to use Lee — if only for fewer than two minutes. “The Willis Reed impact as a kid really played a role. Not only did I put Lee in, bit I ran a play for him for a shot, just about where Willis hit his shot.”
Great theater, but it was, as always, super guard Stephen Curry and finally hulking 7-foot center Andrew Bogut, who made the difference. In Game 4, Curry scored 22 points in the third quarter. In Game 6 he scored 14 in the third quarter, 22 for the game.
Bogut, obtained in a trade a year ago from Milwaukee but seemly recovering forever from a fractured ankle, had 21 rebounds, a career high, 14 points, four blocked shots and three assists.
“Bogut,” said Karl, “I’m not worried about him offensively. I mean, he would be their second most valuable player in the series. Curry was fantastic. Bogut’s ability to clog up the middle, you know, I’d forgotten how good he was at it. He’s a veteran player that I think showed a lot of professional class tonight.”
The Nuggets, who led by 11 in the first half, had Curry stymied. He had taken a mere six shots and made only one. But then, once more, the telling third quarter. Three 3-pointers, and the small deficit had become a large lead.
“I’m just trying to be patient,” said Curry. “The way Denver was defending me, they were trying to run me off the 3-point line a lot, blitzing, a lot of pick-and-rolls, trying to get the ball out of my hands. I try to be aggressive. I don’t want to force any possessions. Third quarter, I got my rhythm.”
Curry was asked what went through his mind as the 18-point lead kept shrinking. “Each possession,” he said, “it can’t get any worse than this. Then it does . . . But we got to learn from it.”
Underdogs always do. Even when they’re not underdogs.


To the Nuggets, the Warriors are magic

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The other coach, George Karl, and he’s an experienced coach, a winning coach, made a reference to the mystical, as if this first-round NBA playoff was being determined by factors other than suffocating defense and offense that does at times seem otherworldly.
“They’ve found some magic,” Karl said of the Golden State Warriors, “and we’ve got to take it away.” But time and games are running out for Karl’s Denver Nuggets. Time, games and history.
The Warriors did it again to the Nuggets on Sunday night, a Sabbath of bewilderment and not faith for Denver, figuratively run off the court at Oracle Arena, 115-101, by the Warriors, who now are one game away from the series everyone presumed would belong to the Nuggets.
Three games to one, the Warriors lead now, after three straight victories. They broke the curse — maybe it was magic — last week, winning at Denver where the Nuggets had lost only three times in 41 games during the regular season.
Sunday night, they broke Denver’s back.
It was Andrew Bogut, rattling rims — and maybe Karl’s senses — dominating in the first half and then, on a sore ankle, Stephen Curry, with 22 points in the third quarter and 31 for the game, in the second half.
It was defense that had the Nuggets throwing away passes and rushing shots.
It was basketball played by the book and by the heart, basketball that had a sellout crowd of 19,596 in a three-hour frenzy.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, while enthralled, was also wary, offering the obligatory, “It’s not over yet” when we know it is — even if a year ago Denver rallied to beat the Lakers.
But the Warriors are the better team, the hotter team, the growing team. They might drop Game 5 Tuesday night at Denver, but they certainly will not lose Game 6 back in Oakland.
There’s no fear in the Warriors, and no reluctance either. They are believers and competitors. They swarm when the opponent has the ball — in the second quarter, the Nuggets made 10 turnovers to the Warriors one. The connect when they have the ball.
“God bless Steph Curry,” said Karl, “but there’s Jarrett Jack and (Carl) Landry. They also score. Turnovers gave (the Warriors) control of the ball. But it takes one game to turn it around, to regain our confidence.”
The Warriors are the confident ones. They’ve always been confident. It’s an expression of youth and fantasy. To the Warriors, anything is possible. Even shooting 75 percent, which they did in the third period, hitting 13 of 17 from the field.
Curry, naturally, was the catalyst. The right ankle, the one that’s troubled him for years, the one that required surgery, was sore even before the game, and so he received an injection, a pain killer.  
However, the hurt remained early on, and so Jackson thought of benching his star and did take him off the court for a long while.
Finally the pain subsided after intermission. Curry was able to flee the Nuggets’ trapping defense. A shot went in. Then another. Then another. In the last 4 minutes 22 seconds of the third quarter, Curry scored 19. Game, set and virtually match.
“He put the team on his back,” said Jackson, repeating a comment he’s used frequently, and for good reason. After that, someone from the Nuggets put a finger in Curry’s eye. With the Warriors up by 20 or so, Jackson smartly pulled Curry.
“I was considering shutting him down in the first half,” said Jackson, “and I told him that. It was almost like a boxer who knew he was on the ropes, because it was a matter of time. I told him I didn’t need him to be a hero. Smart coaching, huh? I guess he realized and sensed that, and he captured the moment and embraced the moment.
“The thing that stood out to me, it’s almost like he was waiting for this moment his entire career and wasn’t going to allow his body to tell him that he was too hurt to match the moment. It was an incredible, incredible performance by him once again.”
It was a performance reminiscent of that by Sleepy Floyd, who for the Warriors in a 1987 playoff against the Lakers scored 51 points, a record 29 in the third quarter. The Warriors coach that game: George Karl.
“They were definitely the quality offensive team,” Karl said of these Warriors on Sunday night. “They have shooters like they have, and Bogut played well.”
The 7-foot Bogut, acquired in a trade a year ago but not entirely recovered from ankle surgery that predated the swap, was aggressive and mean in the first half. He had several dunks, going to the basket as Denver trapped Curry, and one, reshown on the big screen again and again, was the stuff — literally — that brought fans to their feet hollering in delight.
“He was off the charts,” Jackson said of Bogut. “I thought he was the key to keeping us in the ball game, setting screens, rebounding, playing physical.”
Curry was on the charts, taking 16 shots and making 10, going 6 of 11 on 3-pointers. He also had seven assists, numbers that have to be displayed.
“The way I explain it,” said Jackson, a who has his own church, “(Curry) is blessed.”
If you choose to describe that as magic, all well and good.


Noise never stops for Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Playoff basketball, so manic and rewarding, returned to Northern California Friday night for the first time in a half-dozen years in a relentless, boisterous display of fan affection — and, no less significantly, a home win.
The game was what you might expect between two teams who’ve already seen too much of each other, and a response you might expect from a sellout crowd at Oracle Arena that, through the seasons, never lost faith even while Golden State lost games.
In the end, almost in spite of themselves, the Warriors hung on to an agonizing 110-108 victory over Denver, while 19,596 semi-lunatics dressed in yellow T-shirts declaring “We are Warriors” chanted their delight.
Only once in the previous 17 seasons had the Warriors made it to the playoffs, and even though they survived just one round — upsetting Dallas — the Bay Area never recovered from the joy. And never wanted to.
So when, in a first-round series tied at a game apiece, the Warriors merely walked out to the court for warmups, the fans poured out their emotion. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” said Jarrett Jack. “They were so hyped.”
At times, the noise was deafening. Stephen Curry, who as you knew would ignore that ankle injury and be ready, and who scored 29 points, said at times the Warriors couldn’t communicate on defense.
They couldn’t hear each other. They couldn’t hear the coach. They couldn’t hear anything but those fans bellowing over and over, “Warriors  . . . Warriors.”
“Amazing,” said Curry. “But a big deal has been made (about) how long have the Warriors not gone to the postseason. The fans had all that energy stored up.”
What the Warriors have stored up in this best-of-seven series is a two-games-to-one lead, with Game 5 Sunday, also at Oracle. “And when the cloud of night goes,” warned George Karl, the Nuggets’ coach, “(Saturday) morning we’ll be up and ready to work.”
So will the Warriors, not that they could work any harder than Friday night when, a bit sloppy and considerably off, they fell behind by 12 points at halftime, 66-54.
“This is a young team,” reminded Mark Jackson, who in his second year running the Warriors remains a young coach. “It’s going to make mistakes, make turnovers, miss shots. But it works extremely hard. It stays together, and it’s defensive-minded.”
Oh yes, defense. The oft-told and dead-accurate aphorism is that defense wins, because if the other team doesn’t score you can’t get worse than a 0-0 tie. The thought is not literal in the NBA, where there’s always scoring. The issue is how much scoring.
For the Nuggets in the third period, very little, 18 points, while the Warriors were picking up 33.
In the final moments, when the Nuggets were within two, Draymond Green, off the bench, caused a turnover.
“People probably thought I was crazy putting him in,” said Jackson. “But he has an incredible IQ for the game of basketball. He gave us a spark.”
Curry gave them what he always gives, points, passes – he had 11 assists along with the 29 points – and stability. He understands what a point guard must be, which is a leader, and Curry is one in the extreme.
“He’s a big-time player,” said Jackson. “He made big-time plays.”
Curry and Ty Lawson, the Nuggets’ point guard, came into the NBA at the same time, the 2009 draft, from the same state, if from different schools, Curry, a first-rounder from Davidson, Lawson an 18th rounder from the University of North Carolina.
Lawson, with 35 points, was virtually all of the Nuggets’ offense in the second half. “He tried to put the team on his back,” said Jackson, appreciating an opponent’s skills but grateful for the skills of his own man.
“Lawson was in my draft,” said Curry. “We’ve been compared to each other. He was aggressive from the start. He showed his talents.”
As did Curry, who tested his sore right ankle before tipoff and, after consultation with coach and trainer, said it was a go.
“I try to be as versatile as I can,” said Curry about his multiple assists, “and help the team by making the right play at the right time. They have a lot of trust in me.”
Deserved, certainly. He scored 54 against the Knicks earlier in the year and broke the league’s single-season record for 3-point baskets.
“I approached this game the same way as I do every game,” said Curry. “I try to go out and play my game, and enjoy the ride.”
The ride was a fine one, a noisy one, a successful one.
“It was just a big-time win for us,” said Mark Jackson.
Big-time and so very, very loud.


RealClearSports: NBA's All About Glamour Teams

By Art Spander

So, Denver, the city and the team, symbolically lies bleeding and battered. It was overmatched and under-financed. The NBA is a league for the Big Guys, figuratively as well as literally.

In the so-called ultimate team game, everything is under the control of the individual.

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2011

RealClearSports: Ignore 'Who's Better' Debates and Enjoy NBA Playoffs

By Art Spander

Another one of those unwinnable arguments. Another incessant and illogical need to compare. Another question that can’t be answered but has some people lined up determined to try.

Is LeBron better than Kobe?

Then again, is Kobe better than Michael? Or Michael better than Magic or Larry? Or, even though he played a different game in a different era, is Bill Russell, on the strength of his championships, better than anyone?

I’m going to appreciate every one of them. They were special, they are special. And just because ESPN or some other publication asks for a vote on who’s No. 1, we don’t have to be lulled into the trap and provide a response.

Now, if you ask if LeBron James was fantastic Thursday night, that’s different. Or if Kobe has been fantastic game after game. Or if Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony have shown they are among the elite, well, there’s no argument.

Basketball is the ultimate team game, so we dare not forget the other characters in the dramas, Pau Gasol, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, people far more than role players.

We’re getting everything we could wish, a postseason that – and yes, I’m breaking my own rule of rejecting comparisons – could be the best ever.

From the Bulls-Celtics series, that had it been the NBA finals and not simply a first-rounder still would have us talking and reflecting, the excitement has come sweeping at us in endless waves. What next?

Take it from someone, me, who has been there, someone who started watching the NBA when Jerry West, “The Logo,’’ was a rookie, 1960, it doesn’t get any better than it has been.

Even Magic-Bird. Even Rick Barry-Elvin Hayes. Even when in 1976 Gar Heard threw in that miracle for the Suns and forced the Celtics to go to triple overtime.

I was down on the NBA for a few years. The play didn’t meet the hype. The game was too programmed, too restricted, great athletes figuratively tethered by coaches who would rather have a wrestling match than a ballet.

But what’s out there now – what we’re witnessing, to expand on the theme of LeBron and the Cavaliers – is compelling theater, must-see theater. The wow factor has taken control. And isn’t that what counts?

If you’re a Lakers fan, a Cavs fan, or a fan of the other two teams still playing as May heads into June, it’s results that matter. For the rest of us, it’s method.

To watch LeBron hit that 3-pointer with time running out in Game 2, to watch the Magic hold off the Cavs with Tiger Woods in the building, to watch Denver attempt the virtually impossible scheme of keeping Kobe Bryant from getting off his jumper, is what sport is all about.

We don’t need Charles Barkley or Kenny Smith to tell us how great these games and players have been. We know. And we’re enthralled. How do the Cavs blow a 22-point lead and still win by 10? How does LeBron keep on running and jumping, shooting and passing?

It’s all worked out perfectly for the two networks, ESPN and TNT, one evening Lakers-Nuggets, the next Cavs-Magic, guaranteed excitement every 24 hours.

It’s all worked out perfectly for us, the sporting public who can’t wait for the next tipoff.

In his famed dictionary of 1755, Samuel Johnson, the Englishman, called sport “tumultuous merriment.’’ A brilliant definition, and surely the last few weeks the NBA playoffs have left us tumultuously merry.

Technical fouls have been called and then rescinded. Mark Cuban, unfortunately, belittled Denver’s Kenyon Martin via e-mail. In L.A., Jack Nicholson, from his $2,500 seat, has cheered the Lakers but given the high sign now and then to their opponents.

The NFL is No. 1 in America, a fact well recognized when this week Sports Illustrated put Tom Brady on its cover. And baseball has history on its side, carrying back to the 19th century. But basketball has found its place, on the tube, in our hearts.

If the play has been a trifle erratic, if it’s hard to figure why the Lakers look so good at home and so bewildering away, that’s only contributed to the excitement. Teams coming unglued. Teams coming back.

We were promised entertainment, and the playoffs have lived up to the promise. Is LeBron better than Kobe? Who cares, as long as they and Carmelo and Dwight are making us gasp and hope these games never end.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.   

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© RealClearSports 2009