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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.

8:48AM

S.F. Examiner: With Steph, without Steph, Warriors win as a team

By Art Spander

They missed Steph Curry. What, you thought the Warriors wouldn’t? But the Warriors didn’t set the all-time record for regular-season victories — 73, as you know so well — because they were dependent on only one player, even if he is the MVP.

They are a team, and what they didn’t miss Monday night at Oracle was a chance again to beat the Houston Rockets.

Read the full story.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

6:08PM

Warriors roll with the punches, roll over Rockets

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — These are the playoffs, when basketball changes from ballet to boxing, when defenses rule and physical play is not only tolerated it is expected. So when Patrick Beverley smacked Stephen Curry early on in Saturday’s first-round game between the Warriors and Houston Rockets and the sellout crowd at Oracle Arena booed and hollered, the men on the floor and bench all but shrugged.

“No, there was nothing dirty,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr responding to a question on how to explain the style. “It’s the playoffs. There was nothing dirty. Just two teams that want to win. So there were a few physical plays. So that’s to be expected.”

Also to be expected was a Warriors win — after all, the W’s were 3-0 this regular season against Houston and 11-1 over the last two seasons, playoffs included. Expectations were met in grand style, with the W’s, in arguably their best defensive performance in a year, building a 29-point lead and winning, 104-78.

Not to be expected was Stephen Curry twisting the right ankle that used to give him problems — the official description was “a tweak" — and for his own precaution being held out for all but three minutes of the second half. Despite Curry pleading with Kerr. “I was 0-for-3,” Curry said of his attempts to persuade the coach.

Where it mattered, on field goal attempts, he was 8 for 13 (5 of 7 on three-pointers) and so still ended up as the top scorer for either team with 24 points.

Game two of this best-of-seven series is Monday night at Oracle, and the only question is whether Curry, who was limping as he left the post-game interview room, will be ready. Kerr used the description “questionable,” a fall-back phrase of indecision — but the man himself said, “Right now I don’t see a scenario where I’ll be out.”

Time to exhale? Probably. Early on this year one might have said, “Time to McHale,” but Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach, was canned in early November and replaced by J.B. Bickerstaff, who contended that Houston didn’t move around on offense when pressured by a great Warrior defense.

It was a physical game, yes, but it also was strange game. The Rockets’ James Harden, who was second in the NBA in scoring (29 points a game compared to Curry’s 30.1) and led in free throw attempts (he’s clever at making people foul him), had only 17 points and didn’t try a single, solitary foul shot, something that hadn’t happened since January 2015.

“Yeah,” said Kerr of Harden’s blank. “That’s what he does better than anybody in the league, get to the line, draw fouls. So I thought Klay (Thomson) and Andre (Iguodala) did a great job. Our bigs stayed vertical. They didn’t reach when (Harden) came into the paint.”

It’s a given in sports that defense wins, because it’s easier to keep the other team from scoring than to score yourself, to win a game 3-2 in baseball, 14-10 in football or, as the Warriors did Saturday, holding the opposition to under 80 points, the Rockets not even reaching the 20-point figure in three of the four quarters.

Kerr had said Friday he thought the Warriors were playing their best defense of the year, and so he wasn’t at all surprised when they jumped out to a 33-15 first-period lead, Houston making only six of 20 attempts, a pathetic 30 percent.

“I thought defense was excellent,” said the head coach. “We didn’t reach. We made them earn every point. We did have the brief moment when Steph went out and we lost our poise and lost our focus a little bit, but we quickly recovered.”

Curry had 16 in the first quarter (or one more than the entire Houston team), despite Beverley grabbing and shoving. When Curry shoved back it seemed there would be a fight — memories of Mike Riordan and Rick Barry in the 1975 finals — but a technical foul against each player ended that.

Curry, however, didn’t injure his ankle until just before halftime. “I just tried to change direction,” he said of what occurred. “Missed the shot and tried to get back on defense, and then slipped a little bit and felt it slip or tweak. That’s when the pain kind of came in. I was able to do a couple more possessions, and it started to get a little worse.”

Off he came. “As a competitor, I was ready to go back in,” he said.

He didn’t go back, and of course the post-game conversation dealt with the possibility of the Warriors having to play without the guy who was MVP last season and most likely will be again this season.

“Well, you lose the MVP of the NBA,” said Draymond Green, who some might say at times is the MVP of the Warriors, “it definitely changes your team, so there is some concern. Hopefully when we play again, he’ll be fine. If not, it’s the same mentality we’ve had throughout the year. He can’t go, next man up.”   

In other words, if you’ll pardon the expression, just keep punching along.

9:08AM

Warriors historic but can’t get a Sunday playoff slot

By Art Spander

They’re not the Knicks, or the Celtics. Or the Lakers. They’re merely the best team in pro basketball, the team that on a historic Wednesday night set a record for the most wins ever in an NBA season. Yet, perhaps because of their geographical location, or maybe because they still aren’t taken seriously, the Warriors do not get respect due a champion.

Moments after the W’s crushed the Memphis Grizzlies, 125-104, at the Oracle, head coach Steve Kerr learned they would be opening the playoffs Saturday afternoon, which is known as the worst possible viewing period on TV. And as a onetime commentator, Kerr was well aware of the slight.

“I always thought the Sunday time slot was the coveted TV slot,” Kerr remarked. “But maybe that’s changed, because two years in a row we’re playing Saturday afternoon. So very little time to prepare. But obviously, the same goes for Houston.”

But Houston isn’t the defending NBA champion. Houston didn’t finish a regular season with 73 wins (73-9) breaking the record of 72 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, on which Kerr and Michael Jordan played. The Warriors, who won all three games from Houston during the regular season, are the attraction — but apparently not that much of an attraction.

Unless it’s the Lakers, the people in the NBA, at ESPN, at TBS, have little regard for franchises in the Pacific time zone. The folks in Brentwood and Beverly Hills are sophisticated. Up north? Have you seen those people parading on Market Street or Telegraph?

Of course, when and where should be inconsequential when compared to who and what, and the who and what of the NBA are the Warriors and what they’ve done. So, Kobe Bryant’s farewell was classic Hollywood. He scored 60 in a game that meant nothing except that it was a last hurrah. But Steph Curry scored 46 for the Warriors — and set a season mark of 402 three-pointers, after hitting 10 of 19 attempts — in a game that for the 19,596 spectators, the 175th straight sellout, meant everything.

It likewise meant a great deal to the Warriors players. And so, as they’ve done so often this season, they grabbed it early, building a 20-point lead before the second quarter was done.

“I told our guys I never in a million years would have guessed that record would be broken,” said Kerr. “I thought it was like DiMaggio’s hit streak, really, and I was wrong.”

That’s because his players treat basketball for what it essentially is, a game. They play with élan, with joy. They’re like high school kids out for a good time as well as for wins, and throughout they’ve had both.

“But I will say the same thing now I said 20 years ago,” Kerr offered. “I don’t think this will ever be broken. Somebody’s got to go 74-8, and I don’t see it. I hope our fans aren’t expecting that next year.”

Right now they’re expecting a second straight championship. For good reason. The Warriors play fearless, if not exactly flawless, basketball. They can shoot you to bits — they were 52 percent on field goals and 42 percent (20 of 47) on three-pointers. They can play effective defense, which experts will tell you is where games are won. And they have the confidence born of success.

There was no possibility the Warriors were going to lose last night. By the early part of the third quarter, the only way the W’s were going to lose was to hit two balls into the water on the 12th hole. OK, an obscure analogy, but we’re not that far removed from the Masters.

When asked if with Steph’s and the team’s numbers — Curry didn’t get off the bench in the fourth period — this was as close to perfection as imaginable, Klay Thompson gave a flip answer that was as close to perfection as possible.

“If I would have shot 25 more threes and got to 300, yes,” quipped Thomson, who scored 16, “but I’m amazed by Steph, especially as a shooter. To get to 400 threes in a season, that’s hard to put into words. That’s hard to do ... so congrats to Steph and the 14 other guys in the locker room. We fought hard and didn’t take a night off all year.”

Someone asked Curry the difference between the 2016 Warriors and the 1996 Bulls — not that he would know, since he wasn’t even out of elementary school 20 years ago. 

“I think the game has evolved a lot,” said Curry, “but we have a certain identity of how we play.”

Which by the Bay is considered state-of-the-art but elsewhere isn’t good enough to get them a Sunday spot in the opening round of the playoffs.