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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.

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.

8:54AM

Everybody knows Warriors are from Oakland — no state needed

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — You’ll notice that tradition dictates the use of the state, “Calif.,” after “Oakland,” in the dateline, as if there’s any other Oakland that matters. Old habits die hard. Just like Warriors opponents, and we’ll get to that quickly enough.

There was a time when Oakland was just another city in the Pacific Time Zone not named San Francisco or Los Angeles, a time when someone from Oakland — or San Jose, certainly — would identify his home as “near San Francisco.”

But the Raiders changed that. The Oakland Raiders, and will that hurt if and when they’re the Las Vegas Raiders. Then along came the Athletics, with Reggie and Catfish and three World Series championships in a row, unprecedented in the last 60 years or so. And now the Warriors.

Who cares if their official listing is some mythical place called “Golden State”? The whole world, or at least the segment that can tell the difference between a pick-and-roll and a Kaiser roll, knows where the Warriors play.

And, these days know they win. And win. And win. On Thursday night, it was more of the same, the Dubs never trailing, which is a bit unusual, clubbing the Minnesota Timberwolves, 126-113, at the Oracle. In Oakland.

You’ve heard and read this before, but the Warriors are good. No, the Warriors are great. So great that when they get a bit sloppy on offense — Dubs coach Steve Kerr sighed that the T-Wolves had more possession time — they still win easily.

“Our guys are so talented,’’ Kerr conceded in an admission that coaches rarely make, “we can win without being totally dialed in.”

Minnesota scored 62 points in the first half, shooting 52 percent. Of course, the Dubs scored 74 points, shooting 60 percent.

On the map? On the target. Sure, Oracle sells out every game, and sure, the crowd is pumped from the opening tip. But do those fans know what they’re watching, that a group like this, four All-Stars, players off the bench who were starters on other teams, is special?

You’ve heard people say that we never know what we had until it isn’t there any longer. People thought the 49ers of the '80s would win forever. Nothing stays the same, in life, in sports.

So does Kerr, who agrees he has been blessed with a roster that may never be matched again. He understands the brilliance of this team. And the fact it won’t last many more years.

Golden State, Oakland, is the new Celtics, the new Lakers. It has Kevin Durant, who had 28 points Thursday, Steph Curry, who had 25, Klay Thompson, who had 25, and Draymond Green, who had eight rebounds, eight assists and nine points.

“It wasn’t our best effort,” said Kerr, “but again, talent wins.”

Especially when it’s talent that takes such joy in winning, talent that isn’t concerned with individual statistics

Durant showed up for the post-game presser attired only in his Warriors singlet and shorts, no warm-up clothes or T-shirt. He was elated not only with the win that kept the Warriors with the best record in the NBA but also the news that he was the first player picked for this new format All-Star game, in which players are selected by the captains, Curry and LeBron James, as if they were standing on a playground court hoping to be chosen.

“There’s a feeling of respect,” said Durant, “picked No. 1 by your peers. This has been a great day, picked high and also winning.”

Kerr not only knows what he has but also how to take advantage. Durant played 36 minutes of the total 48, Curry 37, Thompson 35 and Draymond 32. Asked if he was concerned that he might have worked the four too much, Kerr said, “You do what you have to do to win the game.”

That’s the essence. You play to win. The Raiders always did — “Just win, baby,” demanded Al Davis. The A’s did for many years. Now the Warriors are winning. At the moment, those all are teams from Oakland. The add-on “Calif.” is extraneous.

8:23AM

No team as exciting to watch — or play for — as the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — There have been other great basketball teams, probably in the minds of some, particularly those in the east, better basketball teams. But for the here and now, if not the forever, there is no team as enjoyable to watch and cheer — and play for, verifies Klay Thompson — as the Golden State Warriors of 2017-18.

OK, the Celtics had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn, and won seven championships in row and nine in 10 years, still unequaled. And those Lakers teams of the recent past, Magic, Shaq and Kobe — and James Worthy — well deserved the embellishing, copyrighted label, “Showtime.”

But the NBA now, top to bottom, is better than it’s ever been, and at the top, the very top, are the Warriors, the team of a dozen stars, if you’ll pardon just a slight exaggeration, and a thousand moves. But of only one direction.

You want to know about these Warriors? Their gunner, their spark, their two-time MVP, Steph Curry, was unable to play Monday night because of a leg contusion.

“What that means,” said Shaun Livingston, who started in Steph’s spot, “is we’re missing 25 to 50 points a game.” But they didn’t miss a chance to win their seventh in a row, defeating the Orlando Magic, 110-100, at the Oracle, if failing for the first time to win by 17 points or more.

“This experience is good for us,” said Livingston of victory without Curry. “I know it sucks for the fans. They want to see Steph.”

Of course. He’s a star. He’s an attraction. He makes commercials. He makes three-pointers. He makes a ton of money. But sometimes the chorus, the people in the back of the stage, carry the show. Only, on the Warriors, the subs, the role players, are people like Andre Iguodala, an NBA finals MVP, and Livingston, who had it not been for a terrible injury to his left knee 10 years ago might have been one of the greats.

We haven’t heard that slogan “Strength in numbers,” much in the opening weeks of this season. But the numbers are stronger than they’ve ever been. What a roster. What a problem for head coach Steve Kerr, trying to get the subs off the bench or off the inactive list and onto the court.

Kerr’s own background was as a backup. “I sometimes didn’t play for three weeks,” he said of his days with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. “I didn’t feel part of the team. I learned from (head coach) Phil Jackson the real power is playing a lot of people. I just know we are lucky to have such talent we can win games without Steph Curry.”

Talent such as Kevin Durant, also a league MVP, who Monday night had 21 points and eight assists, and Draymond Green, 20 points and five assists. Livingston scored 16 points and had six assists. Thompson had 15 and five.

Nick Young, a starter for the Lakers but a role player for the Warriors, scored nine. David West had 11 rebounds. Iguodala was in nearly half the game, 23 minutes, 9 seconds, passing, shooting and, perhaps most significantly, defending. Yes, the Warriors are loaded.

Thompson said it’s as much fun watching these Warriors as playing for them. "It doesn’t matter if it’s the finals or preseason,” he pointed out. "The fans are great. It’s like that every night.”

Kerr, in effect, has been given the key (players) to the kingdom, and he’s making the very best of the opportunity — while determined to give everyone on the squad an opportunity.

“It’s a luxury to have Shaun Livingston,” said the coach. “He was headed for an All-Star career before that severe injury. It’s amazing how he’s stayed himself since the injury.  He’s one of our most mature teammates. He has an incredible basketball IQ.”

And he’s a reserve.

It was a different look without Curry, although there was not a different pattern. The Warriors were behind early, caught up and then blew the game apart in the third quarter, as they seem to do night after night.

“Teams come out and play great against us in the first half,” said Durant. “Then we play defense, get a hand up, make them miss and score quick.”

Kerr has his own explanation: “We have such great talent, everybody is comfortable just treading water. Then we seem to pay more attention to detail.”

And win big, very big.

10:31AM

Kerr on losing Warriors: ‘At some point game has to matter’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — You want theories? They are almost as numerous as the Warriors' bad passes.

The Dubs are thinking that, as champions, they can win virtually by pulling off their warm-ups. That trip to China has cost them conditioning and timing. Each opposing squad plays its best against the team that everyone says is the best.

And, oh yeah, the season started two weeks earlier than in recent years. True, that doesn’t make them any different from the other teams in the NBA, of course, Nor does the inescapable fact that when they play as imprecisely as they did Sunday night — make it sloppily — they’re going to lose.

Which they did to the Detroit Pistons, 115-107, at home, at the Oracle.

Despite leading by 14 points in the third quarter.

Despite shooting 48 percent from the field.

Despite making more field goals than the Pistons.

Despite grabbing more rebounds.

Despite Klay Thompson getting 29 points, Kevin Durant 28 and Steph Curry 27.

But oh, those turnovers. Twenty-six of them. So unlike the Warriors. Last year’s Warriors. This year, this season, the Warriors are a team trying as much to find their old selves as find the ball on a pass.

A team that having lost two of its four home games, according to head coach Steve Kerr, lacks intensity, lacks focus — and certainly lacks the ability to throw a pass when and where it’s supposed to be thrown.

"At some point,” said Kerr, “the ball has to matter. The game has to matter enough for us to win. We must be leading the league in turnovers.”

Sure, it’s just one game out of 80. Sure, there’s another Monday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers, who Friday night were beaten by the Pistons, their first loss of the season. Sure it’s only October, and no one is supposed to care until May — or at the least, April.

But trends develop. Suddenly the team that was said to be unbeatable becomes very beatable. And maybe there’s an injury to one of the stars. And maybe the other team on the court begins to hit virtually every shot, as the Pistons did in the fourth quarter, when Detroit shot 63 percent.

“This has to do with a complete lack of focus and fundamentals,” said Kerr. The NBA champs, the team that dropped only one of 16 playoff games, unfocused, lacking fundamentals? How can that be?

“We are throwing the ball all over the place,” said Kerr. “Even some passes just hitting guys in the shoes ... I didn’t feel like most of the turnovers were because of their pressure. It just felt like more of them were just us throwing the ball around.”

It was a tough Sunday for the Bay. The Raiders lost. The 49ers lost. Then, at home, stunningly, the Warriors lost. Blowing a big lead.

“We finally started caring with six minutes,” said Kerr, “when we were threatened. We immediately cut it to three. But the right team won. Karma was in the right place tonight.”

Unlike many of the Warriors players trying to receive a pass.

“I think we care,” said Durant. “We’re just trying to squeeze the basketball into places that are not there. We care about the game. It’s the small details.”

That have become big mistakes. “They did a great job of converting our turnovers,” said Durant. “They made shots when they needed them.”

That happens more often than not in the NBA. These guys are the best in the world. Avery Bradley made 8 of 13 for the Pistons, scored 23 points. Reggie Jackson made 8 of 12, scored 22 points.

Detroit out-Warriored the Warriors, hitting on 12 of 27 3-pointers, while the Dubs were 10 of 27.

The fans who usually have that rolling chant, “War-rrr-iors,” instead were begging “Let’s go Warriors.“ First they were pleading and then, too quickly, the game was over and they were leaving.

"We won a championship on this floor,” Durant reminded. “There so much the crowd gives us. They were ready to explode. We didn’t take advantage of it.”

You might say they threw away the chance, just like they did the basketball.