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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.

7:35AM

Warriors lose out in trench warfare

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It has all changed. Maybe not to the Warriors. “I think the vibe in the locker room is really positive right now,” said Steph Curry. But surely to the thinking of the Houston Rockets, who sneered at the Oracle Disadvantage.

And maybe to the thinking of the fans and pro basketball as a whole.

The Rockets kept telling us they had built a team to beat the Warriors, a team to win an NBA championship. But not until Tuesday night did anyone truly believe it.

Not until they employed the tough defense and opportune offense that used to supposedly belong to the Warriors.

Not until they ended the Dubs’ 16-game home court playoff win streak.

Not until Houston withstood going scoreless in the game’s opening five minutes plus, then held the Warriors to a pathetic 12 points the final 12 minutes and won, 95-92.

This is the reality: The best-of-seven Western Conference finals are tied 2-2. This also is the reality: With the next game at Houston on Thursday and the Rockets seemingly in control, Game Six at Oakland on Saturday could be the Warriors' last of a season of disappointment.

Yes, we move too quickly. But so does the sport of pro basketball. Momentum swings are rapid and furious. We keep emphasizing the Warriors' depth, belaboring “Strength in Numbers,” but on Tuesday No. 9, Andre Iguodala, didn’t play because of a leg injury and No. 30, Steph Curry, played only seven minutes in the second quarter because of foul trouble.

The Warriors, after a great third quarter when they went in front 80-70, looked tired and confused in the fourth when they had four turnovers and missed 15 of 18 field goal attempts, including all six of their three-pointers, shooting 16.7 percent. That’s a reality that seems like a fantasy.

”Yeah,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr about exhaustion, “it definitely played a role.

“I thought we made a great push in the third quarter,” said Kerr, of the 12-minute stretch in which the Dubs outscored the Rockets 34-18 and regained the lead, “but we weren’t able to make many subs. We were going well, so we didn’t want to disrupt our rhythm. But our normal sub pattern was skewed anyway with Andre’s absence. I felt in the fourth quarter, we just ran out of gas.”

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant each went 45 minutes of the total 48, individual highs in a game that for the Warriors, who couldn’t stop Houston’s James Harden (30 points, 24 in the first half) and Chris Paul (27 points), was a psychological low.

One moment they’re one step from the NBA finals, the next they’re sitting around talking about what might have been.

And about the Rockets. “This game,” said Kerr, “was sort of trench warfare. It was just sort of everybody grinding it out, a lot of isolation (one on one). I guess this is the modern NBA.”

Wait. Weren’t the Warriors, the “Hampton Five,” the glitz and beauty of passing and well-screened jump shots, the modern NBA?

“The only way you can do this and win,” said Kerr, “is to have great one-on-one players. You have to have great defenders”

Like Durant and Curry? Like Green and Klay Thompson? Well, the Warriors had them. Durant, although just 9-of-24, scored 27 points. Curry, 10 of 26, scored 27. Green had 13 rebounds. What they didn’t have was Iguodala. Or, in the final frantic seconds, the ability to get off a good three-pointer to tie the score.

“Obviously, we won 65 games,” said Houston coach Mike D’Antoni before tipoff. “We knew we were good.”

They’re good and persistent, or is that redundant?

“It’s all about toughness right now,” D’Antoni said after the victory, in a way echoing Kerr’s words of trench warfare. ”I think there was great basketball on both sides, stretches of it. The rest of it is just gutting it out and finding a will, a way and a want.”

What the Warriors want is a third championship in four years, but now it looks less likely than it did a day ago.

“When you give yourself a lead like that,” Curry said of the 12-0 start, “it would help to sustain it and make the game as easy as possible ... But they’re a great team, and whether you extend the lead or not, it’s a 48-minute game, and we had plenty of chances to come down the stretch and win the game.”

9:12AM

Curry ‘blacked out,’ then was bleeped out

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The volcano had to erupt. The pressure was building. Boom. Run for your lives. Run to the opposite basket. The lid had blown for Steph Curry.

He knew what they were saying about him, asking about him: “What’s wrong with Steph?” In Game Two of the Western Conference finals, the Houston Rockets were all over him. Then the media was all over him.

In Game Three on Sunday night, in the opening two quarters, Curry was only marginally better, even if as a team the Warriors, playing their signature defense, were much better. At halftime Steph was 1-for-7 on threes, scoring 8 points. Maybe the critics were right. Maybe he had lost his touch. Or maybe, as we ultimately found out, they had lost their minds.

Greatness doesn’t slip away just like that. Curry knew it. His teammates knew it. Swoosh. 5:07 left in the third quarter. Swoosh. A 30-footer. Yes. An outburst.

“This is my bleeping house,” he could be seen mouthing on TV — but fortunately could not be heard since the word wasn’t “bleeping.” 

And whatever the obscenity, it is Curry’s house, Oracle Arena, the Roaracle. And, after their outrageously one-sided 126-85 victory over the Rockets, the Warriors’ house.

Eighteen points for Steph in the third quarter, 7-of-7 on field goal attempts, 2-of-2 on the precious threes. Normalcy, certainty, and in the third quarter, naturally, the Warriors' quarter.

Steph would end up with 35 for the game. He was back, dominant and exultant, and the crowd, tentative at the start, was fully involved and loud enough to shatter an opponent’s eardrums, if not a cocktail glass.

Strength in Numbers. That’s the team slogan. Yet fans need individuals to idolize and cheer. And Curry, the two-time MVP, the guy who throws in the jumpers we as kids could only dream of making, is the choice.

“Steph definitely got it going,” said Draymond Green, who with 17 rebounds is to defense what Steph — and yes, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson — are to offense.

“I think it was very important for him to get to the basket,” Green said of Curry’s earlier maneuvering, “Once he got to the basket, all of a sudden the threes opened up, and they started to fall.”

Like boulders shot from a volcano.

This best-of-seven series is far from decided. Yes, the Dubs have a 2-1 lead, and Tuesday they have the next game at home where they’ve won an NBA record 16 straight playoff games stretching back to their championship year of 2016-17. But the way the Warriors came back at Houston after getting squashed in Game Two is a hint of the way the Rockets, with a better regular-season record, could come back against the Warriors.

“It’s a huge game,” Steve Kerr said of the next one. “It’s kind of the swing game of the series. We’re right where we want to be, but we’re not naïve enough to think what happened tonight will happen in a couple of days.”

They are, however, confident enough that Curry, the Curry we remember, the Curry who hits threes without hesitation, is present and accounted for.

“Steph is underrated for the toughness factor,” Kerr insisted. “But you don’t become a two-time MVP just by shooting a bunch of threes. He’s got unbelievable stamina, physical toughness, mental toughness. Everybody’s been talking about him. What he did tonight didn’t surprise any of us, because that’s who he is.”

He’s a polished athlete, one who understands the problems that that involves and how to correct them.

“It was big,” Curry said of that three that finally found the net. “It was frustrating moreso because I had the right intentions in the first half and got — I think I got like five wide open threes and only one of them went in. I say you never lose confidence. I knew to keep searching in the right ways to find some openings and some things that work, obviously.

“Got the first play of the third quarter and got to the free throw line, and one and one, saw the ball go in. From there I just was in the right place at the right time ... from there it was an avalanche, and it felt good.”

Even if his vocal outburst might not have sounded good — if it could be heard.

“I already know,” he protested. “I blacked out. I blacked out.”

More accurately, he was bleeped out.

9:32AM

Warriors’ Kerr: ‘We seem to be at our best when threatened’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Sound and fury. From one side. They signify nothing, Shakespeare wrote.

The Houston Rockets are so full of bombast. “We’re better than them,” center Clint Capela said after Houston beat Golden State. In January.

That proper English is “We’re better than they,” perhaps, is to be taken as lightly as Warriors coach Steve Kerr takes Capela’s boast.

It’s now May, some four months later. And Thursday, at the Warriors' training complex, Kerr, facing the media — literally, they were grouped in front of him — for the first time since the Dubs on Tuesday night made it to the NBA Western Conference final against the Rockets, sort of responded to the Capela claim.

Kerr tried to act worried, reminding that the Dubs don’t have the home-court advantage for the first time in their four-year domination of the NBA, pointing out that Houston is improved on defense and that Chris Paul gives the Rockets “a new dimension.”

Yet, like one of those sheriffs in the old western movies, Kerr was reassuringly placid.

He likes the Warriors' position, which after three straight years in the NBA finals, two of which resulted in championships, is enviable. No bragging required.

“We seem to be at our best,” Kerr said without emotion, "when we’re threatened.” 

The man has been through more than could be imagined, high (titles in Chicago with Michael Jordan; titles at Golden State with Steph Curry and Co.) and low (his father assassinated when president of the American University in Beirut).    

So words from a player, well, they’re just words, and they carry less weight than those from Kerr.

“It’s good to be in the position we’re in,” Kerr said.

“Maybe the hardest championship,” he continued, “is the first one. You don’t quite know if you can do it. Once you get the first one, it’s a little bit like (playing with) house money. But you want it again. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Kerr knows the Rockets, knows Capela guards the rim and Paul and James Harden score from inside and outside. Knows the Rockets lead the playoffs in scoring (if narrowly ahead of the Warriors).

“But I like our position,” he said. “We have a couple of championships the last few years. It’s a nice feeling to have going into the series.”

That Houston win in January, by two points, gave the Rockets a 2-1 edge over the Warriors during the regular season. It also came at the end of Dubs’ five-game road trip, and the Warriors won the first four,

“Houston had a great off-season,” said Kerr, not trying to be funny. The Rockets not only picked up Paul, who Kerr describes as a “future Hall of Famer,” but also Luc Mbah a Moute, a muscle guy.

“They changed their focus,” said Kerr. “They went after defensive guys who are decent 3-point shooters instead of great 3-point shooters who are decent defensive guys. They became a better defensive team as a result.”

And, as it has been pounded into our heads in the four major sports in North America — and soccer around the globe — defense wins.

Which is why Draymond Green is so important for the Warriors. He can defend a guard, a forward, a center.

“He can play all the positions on the floor,” was the comment about Green by Alvin Gentry, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, who the Warriors beat in the conference semis. “That’s what makes it really difficult to play against them.”

The 6-foot-7 Green isn’t bad on offense either. In the five-game series win over the Pelicans, he averaged a triple double, 14.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 10 assists. The Warriors are 26-0 when Green has hit a triple, 4-0 in playoff games.

Draymond is no less infamous for going after opponents physically and vocally. A questioner Thursday asked Kerr whether Green’s style might be a problem.

The answer should have been expected. “The playoffs in general are more physical,” Kerr said. “The refs don’t call a lot of fouls. You’ve got to have guys like Draymond.”

Fortunately for the Warriors, they do.

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.