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8:17AM

S.F. Examiner: Forget the naysayers, the Warriors and Cavs deserve this

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — It’s all yours, America: Warriors-Cavaliers III, The Trilogy, the inevitability. You don’t like it? Tough beans. Too late.

You should have kept Kawhi Leonard healthy (although that wouldn’t have made a difference), Kept Isaiah Thomas healthy (although that wouldn’t have made a difference, either).Or kept Kevin Durant in Oklahoma and LeBron James out of Cleveland.

Read the full story here.

©2017 The San Francisco Examiner

9:59AM

Durant gets his props and his points

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The man was marveling about Kevin Durant’s brilliance. “He’s such a super efficient player,” was the observation. “He scores from all over the place. Watching a talent like that is just so special.”

As is the talent of the man talking, Stephen Curry.

They say only another athlete truly understands the skills and demands of a sport, the qualities that separate him or her from the rest. And so when Curry, who awes so many of us, himself is in awe — well, then we have a better idea of the level that Durant has reached.

And why the Warriors were so eager to sign him as a free agent, to join Curry and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Yes, the Dubs won a ninth straight home game Wednesday night, defeating the “how did they stay so close for so long” Portland Trail Blazers (answer: C.J. McCollum), 125-117, at Oracle Arena.

The Blazers didn’t have Damian Lillard, the Oakland kid, out with a sore left ankle. And yet for a while there, late in the second quarter, Portland was in front by eight, mostly because McCollum, who scored 26 of his total 35 before halftime, couldn’t be stopped.

But as expected (yes, these Warrior games have a familiar theme), the Dubs found a way — “In the second half, our defense picked up,” said a satisfied coach Steve Kerr — and extended their league-best record to 31-5.

Curry, with 35 of his own, and Durant's 30 were a couple of the reasons. And Draymond, with 11 assists and nine points, despite missing minutes because of foul trouble, was another reason.

Kerr echoed Curry about Durant. Or maybe Curry echoed Kerr. Either way, both offered respect and high praise for a man who simply plays basketball as it is meant to be played, never forcing a shot or a pass but working within the system and with his teammates. 

“I thought Kevin was great,” Kerr said. “We had to change our rotation with Draymond’s foul trouble, so we played (Durant) the whole third quarter, which we normally don’t do. It was a typical Kevin night, some of everything. “

As in five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals, along with the 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

“We are getting used to it,” added Kerr. “He’s such an efficient offensive player. Thirty points on 16 shots. He seems to do this every night.”

Efficient. Curry said the same thing, with an adjective. “Kevin is super efficient.”

At 6-foot-9, Durant is not the huge presence of a 7-foot Andrew Bogut, someone who was, in basketball lingo, a rim protector, someone who jammed up the middle. So the Warriors found a different method.

“It’s not as traditional as it has been the last couple of years with Festus (Ezeli, now with the Blazers) and Bogut,” said Kerr. “It’s more guard-oriented. But KD comes in here and blocks a lot of shots, and so does Draymond. We have a lot of long, rangy guys to challenge shots.”

They didn’t do much challenging of McCollum in the first half. He was 10 of 19. But after intermission, he was just 3-of-12. “Just got more physical,” said Kerr. “The first half I felt he was getting anywhere he wanted. In the second half, we ran him off routes. Just a little quicker and more alert.”

Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player the past two seasons (Durant was the MVP three seasons ago) has been knocked of late either for not taking shots or missing them. On Wednesday night, he connected on a quick three-pointer but had only (only?) nine points playing the full 12 minutes of the opening quarter. Eventually he would go 12-of-25, if only 5-of-13 on three-point attempts.

“It was a little more aggressive game,” said Curry. “The way they defended, I got a lot of shots off the pick-and-roll. Still, obviously I missed some easy ones. So I need to continue to be aggressive.

“There was a purposeful kind of focus for us. We’re at home. We have to take care of home court.”

They’ve done it, with the help of Kevin Durant taking care of everything.

9:07AM

Curry calls his NBA record ‘pretty cool’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant combined for 46 points Monday night. Or the same as Stephen Curry scored by himself. The MVP indeed was shooting like an MVP.

After shooting, what, blanks? On Friday against the Lakers, he had a streak of 157 consecutive games with a three-pointer come to an inglorious end, going 0-for-10. On Monday, at Oracle Arena, he began a streak of one game with a three-pointer and, oh yes, made 13 of them overall, an NBA record, out of 17 attempts.

“This is a pretty cool,” said the very cool Curry. “To have the three-point record is really special, although it probably won’t last long the way the guys shoot these days.”

What didn’t last long was Curry’s shutout streak and, no less importantly, the Warriors one-game losing streak, Golden State defeating the stubborn New Orleans Pelicans 116-105. Since it was the Dubs ninth in a row over the Pelicans, you might add, as usual. If there’s anything usual in pro basketball.

Only a few days ago, people were questioning if the Dubs, the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, were ever going to make one from the outside, which over the last three seasons is what they always could do.

But if others panicked, Warriors coach Steve Kerr did not. Kerr hardly was pleased with the teamwork or defense, but as he reminded pre-game it was inevitable the ball would begin to go through the hoop. Shooters may lose their touch momentarily, but soon enough they’re successful.

Monday night was soon enough for the Warriors, who made 50 percent of their field goals (45 percent on threes). Curry was 16 of 26 (and only one of two on free throws). Klay was 11 of 20 with 24 points and Durant 8 of 17 with 22 points.

“You just have to keep shooting,” said Curry about lapses, “stick it out.”

“The ball’s going to go in.”

Kerr, certainly, expected that to occur. He was a shooter from long range on the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan. He may be impatient about sloppy play, but Kerr won’t complain about missed shots because he knows eventually the shots won’t miss.

“That was quite a show,” said Kerr of the Curry exhibition. “I’m not at all surprised.”

Nor is anyone in basketball.

Curry didn’t hit his first three until four and a half minutes were gone. But he had two more before the first quarter closed and was also three of four in the second quarter. “Pretty quickly I thought he was on,” said Kerr.

Four more threes in the third quarter and three more in the fourth gave him one more than the record of 12 three-pointers achieved by Curry himself, Donyell Marshall and Kobe Bryant.

“When he’s going off like that,” said teammate Draymond Green of Curry, “you don’t really have to try to find him. He’ll find a way to get a shot off. That’s for sure. But one thing about that, when he’s got it going you set screens. You’re usually the person who gets open because (the opponents) are so scared of him coming off a screen it starts a chain reaction and (starts) our ball movement.”

Alvin Gentry is the Pelicans' head coach. He used to be Kerr’s assistant on the Warriors. He knows Curry all too well.

“I think he’s a decent shooter,” was the Gentry tongue-in-cheek understatement of Curry. “The only mistake we made is we ran at him a few times and didn’t run him off the line ... If he would have had an average game, we would have had an opportunity to win.”

Average? Curry was average in the last game, not making a single three. Something was wrong. The correction was immediate.

“We let him go in the first quarter for the most part,” said Kerr. “He was really carrying us.”

Curry said he was down on himself after the Lakers mess. He practiced harder than usual coming into Monday night. “I wasn’t thinking about 0 for 10 tonight, really,” he said.

Now he and the Warriors can think about 46 points and 13 three-pointers. Much more satisfying.

7:52AM

S.F. Examiner: Curry Flurry buries the Thunder

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

It was desperation. No matter the mantra from the Warriors. They had to win that game or they were finished. They couldn’t lose the first two at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder and expect to win this series, not to mention another NBA championship.

It was desperation, but then it was Steph. And in the end it was elation.

Read the full story here.

©2016 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.