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9:30AM

No competition for Warriors; bring on the Cavs

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Cleveland will be there at the end of the week, Christmas Day. That should be interesting, thank heavens. A good opponent on the road. As opposed to these exhibitions against mediocre opponents at home.

No suspense, no competition. And, of course, no problem.

The fans love it. The way Alabama fans love their football. Routs. “Oh, Curry missed a jumper? Oh my goodness. What’s wrong?”

It’s a good thing the Warriors went scoreless — yes, not a single point — in the first three and half minutes, or this one might have been a mismatch. As it was Tuesday night, the Dubs managed to squeeze past the Utah Jazz, 104-74.

As compared to Saturday night, when they beat Portland by 45 points. It’s not a story when the Warriors win, just when they lose, which they’ve done only four times in 29 games.

Maybe the stat of this game was two, as in Warriors turnovers in the first half. If you don’t throw away the ball, sooner or later you’re going to throw it in the hoop. “With the weapons this team has,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “it is just a matter of time until we score.”

The crowd at this eight millionth straight sellout at Oracle (OK, I exaggerated a wee bit, it was only the 203rd in a row) was hardly kept in suspense, other than in the opening few minutes when neither team could make anything and the game appeared head for a 0-0 final. (As I said, I exaggerate, but it was only 4-2 Dubs six minutes into the game.)

So the highlight (and even Kerr agreed) was some kid out of the stands, Patrick Nudanu of Oakland, making a half-court shot during a break in the third quarter that earned him $5,000. Well that, and a dunk at the end of a full-court sprint by Draymond Green that ended up with the ball in the net and Green holding on to the rim to keep himself from crashing halfway to Berkeley. The NBA is less concerned about safety than rules, however, and holding the rim is an automatic technical.

“I don’t get it,” Kerr said of the T. “Dray was going a million miles an hour. It was about safety. The way he was flying in, he was going to break his neck if he let go.”

He didn’t and, as in most games this season, neither did the Warriors. Now they’ll head, in order, to Brooklyn, Detroit and, on the Noel, the Cavs on the edge of Lake Erie.

It will be the first game between the Warriors and Cavaliers since Cleveland beat the Dubs in the closing seconds of Game 7 of last season’s NBA final to wrench away the title. It will be a big one, certainly, but December is not June. At the least, the game shouldn’t be as one-sided as most involving the Warriors.

“They’re unique on a lot of levels,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder, “and (Draymond) is unique. I compared him to Magic Johnson a while ago, and he’s got that kind of feel for the game.”

What Draymond felt Tuesday night, when he had 11 rebounds, 15 points and four assists, was that the Warriors defense kept them in position until the offense, as expected, heated up. “It says a lot about our team," Green said, "when we can’t even make a layup the first few minutes and then do what we’re able to do.”

What teammate Steph Curry did, after his slow start, was connect on eight of 18 (4 of 9 on threes) for 25 points. Kevin Durant added 11, and Klay Thompson scored 22.

Kerr said, as might be appropriate during the holidays, that the Warriors have become a team of joy. They laugh with each other and at each other, reaching a comfort level that required time to achieve with the addition of Durant.

“The other game,” said Kerr about Portland, “Klay took about 17 steps and wasn’t called for traveling. Our team started motioning for traveling and laughing at each other.”

Most of the games have been figurative laughers. Now it’s on the road again and a battle against Cleveland. He who laughs last ... you know the rest, even if now we don’t know much more.

9:43AM

Kerr gets a ‘moment of joy’ for Craig Sager

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Steve Kerr is special. But you already knew that. He’s a great coach, of course. That’s a given. One year, his Warriors win the NBA championship. The next, they set a record for victories. What really counts is that he knows how to act, knows what to say.

He is measured, perceptive, logical and — as we learned again Tuesday night, when the Warriors (yawn) won again, defeating the New York Knicks 103-90 to improve their record to 23-4 — understanding.

What his Warriors did, moving the ball brilliantly (36 assists on the first 36 Warriors field goals, eventually 41 of 45), playing efficient defense (the Knicks shot 41 percent), was impressive.

No less impressive than the remarks of their head coach.

Kerr used to be an announcer, an analyst for TNT. After he had been a three-point specialist, most notably on the Chicago Bulls. Kerr’s TV career made him teammates with Craig Sager, as surely as Kerr’s NBA career made him teammates with Michael Jordan.

Sager died Tuesday, age 65, after a gallant fight against leukemia. His partner of eight years, Kerr, was not going to allow us to forget how much Sager meant to him and certainly, because of Sager’s national presence and good-humor enthusiasm, how much he meant to pro basketball.

During the second half of what quickly, as so often happens for the Warriors, had become a non-competitive game, Kerr told the audience for TNT, which conveniently was doing the telecast, that what was taking place on the court was secondary to the loss of Sager.

That came after an unusual tribute at Oracle Arena before tipoff. Holding a public address microphone, as warm-ups were concluding, Kerr asked both the Knicks and Warriors to stand near him. Then, surprising all, for Sager’s memory Kerr requested not silence but “a moment of joy.” Oracle erupted in an explosion of cheers and applause from players and fans.

Later, after expressing displeasure with the Warriors’ play — “I didn’t think there was much purpose to anything we did,” Kerr insisted — he again referred to Sager.

“We all know we make a big deal about playing basketball for a living,” said Kerr. “We are lucky to do so. It’s entertainment, a game, and it brings a lot of joy to people. But that’s all it is, a game.

“We lost somebody very important in our lives. The players know Craig so well from being interviewed. Craig’s death far outweighs anything that happens in the gym.”

Earlier Kerr had been asked about the Cleveland Cavaliers, as Cavs coach Tyrone Lue had left their three stars, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, in Cleveland when the Cavs came to Memphis for the second night of back-to-back games against the Grizzlies.

The question wasn’t so much conceding a loss — and yes, the Grizzlies won — but about preventing the fans in Memphis the chance to watch in person the players they hoped to see, especially LeBron. Athletes get injured, certainly, and miss games, but not even permitting them in the same city, simply to rest them for the future, would seem another issue completely.

The smaller the lineup, 11 men in football, nine in baseball, five in basketball, the more significant is each player.  Additionally, in basketball one man can play offense and defense, rebound and shoot, do it all.

Entertainment, Kerr correctly called it. Built on a star system, something created in Hollywood nearly 100 years ago. People who don’t know opera line up for Placido Domingo. He’s the attraction, the way LeBron is the attraction. And then LeBron is a no-show.

“I did this two years ago in Denver,” conceded Kerr about the situation. “I rested our guys. We were in the midst of seven games in 11 days. I felt bad about it afterwards. I got a lot of emails from people that had come all over the place and driven a couple hundred miles and bought tickets to come see Steph (Curry). And they didn’t get to see him.

“I understand both sides. As a coach your responsibility is to keep your players healthy, and there are times when guys need a night off. I know the popular thing is that they make millions of dollars, and they should be able to play every night. But what if you play them and they get hurt?”

Nobody got hurt Tuesday, Curry scored only eight — he was 3 of 14 — and Klay Thompson had 25. An uneventful night, except for Kerr’s call for a moment of joy and the boisterous response. We’ll remember that for a long while.

8:57AM

Warriors loss ‘shows where they are’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — This was a prove-it game for the Warriors, a game that would show when the other team was hot — in this case the Houston Rockets, that frequent nemesis — the Dubs could be as tough as advertised, prepared and ready to show what was possible.

Or maybe impossible.

A 12-game winning streak was on the line, and maybe on the Warriors’ minds, but it ended Thursday night at the Oracle in front of a sellout crowd that was as disappointed as it was bewildered. How did this happen? And was it portentious?

The night and the game seemed to last forever, starting late at 7:52 p.m. because TNT wasn’t ready, and ending at 11:06. A double-overtime that had virtually everything: comebacks, Steph Curry fouling out, Draymond Green getting a flagrant foul, Kevin Durant scoring 39 points.

Everything except a Warriors win, the Rockets holding on, 132-127.

After all those relatively easy victories the past few weeks, this was a difficult loss, especially after building a four-point lead in the first OT.

“It kind of shows you where you are,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “It’s easy to execute when you are winning by a lot of points. Under pressure with a tough game, you’ve got to execute better.

“That’s on us and our staff to do a better job of getting our guys ready into some things that they will be comfortable with down the stretch.”

The Warriors are all too familiar with the Rockets, who each of the last two years they outlasted in the playoffs on the way to the finals. Particularly the sleight-of-hand of James Harden and the muscle of Trevor Ariza.

What they didn’t know was how two new additions, Ryan Anderson, the 6-foot-10 forward from Cal who had been with New Orleans, and Eric Gordon would fit in. Perfectly, it turned out.

Anderson is astute and alert, and shoots like a smaller man. He had 29 points, the same as Harden. The Rockets moved the ball beautifully and got key rebounds after an occasional missed shot.

Curry, meanwhile, was failing early. He had five points and three fouls at halftime. And although recovering enough to score 28 points, Steph was only 9-of-22 and 4-of-13 on threes.

“They did a good job of switching,” Kerr said of the Rockets. “They outplayed us. They deserved to win.”

Harsh words for Warriors fans who, with the team’s acquisition of Durant as a free agent, possibly believed the championship that got away in 2016 would return in 2017. The Dubs are now 16-3 and obviously vulnerable.

“We started the game off slow,” said Durant, who was 12-of-28, “and let them get some confidence. They got a lot of long rebounds.”

So after the Warriors would force a missed shot, Houston came back for another shot and didn’t miss. At one point, the Rockets would be up by 10. All the shouts of “Defense, defense,” from fans properly distressed by the game’s direction, didn’t help much.

“We did not play well,” Kerr said. “We got off to a horrible start. We didn’t move the ball very well. We had our moments, especially in the first overtime. We had a real cushion, and I thought we let it slip away when we had every opportunity to finish them off.”

But they couldn’t, and they didn’t.

“We can compete with anybody,” said Harden. He draws fouls — he was 11-for-11 from the line. He draws boos.

“It’s a huge win for us,” said Harden.

Not a huge loss for the Warriors, but a reminder there is more to the NBA than the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs.

“They make it tough,” said Durant of matching up with Houston. “They stretch you out, and they have James (Harden) handle the ball a lot, well all game. He’s good at making plays. They have shooters.”

Shooters who shot down the idea that the Warriors would just keep winning.

5:46PM

Kerr on Klay: ‘He was awesome’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — If Steph were there ... Even Draymond Green, who had yet another triple-double, was moved to consider the impossible.

Yes, agreed Green, if Steph Curry had been in uniform, and not on the bench in that sharp, blue sport coat, the Warriors, Green’s Warriors, Steph’s Warriors, “could go toe-to-toe with anybody on offense and probably have the advantage.”

But it’s also understood that the NBA is a league in which success more often is determined not by who makes baskets than by who is unable to make baskets, determined on defense, as preached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr — and he’s hardly alone — andas displayed by the W’s on Sunday in the first game of the NBA Western Conference semifinals.

Again they didn’t have Curry, as was the case at the end of the first-round series against Houston. But again they did have pressure, smothering the Blazers, who made only five of their 21 shots in the first period, building up a lead that was as large as 20 and winning 118-106.

“Our offense, we had trouble scoring,” confirmed Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Their defense got into us.”

Their defense, the Warriors’ D, was Klay Thompson shadowing Damian Lillard, who scored 30 points but was a mediocre 8 for 26 shooting; it was Green blocking two shots and Andrew Bogut three; and it was Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston hindering passes with their extended reaches.

Yes, Thompson hit his shots, 14 of 28 (7 of 14 on threes), and had a game-high 37 points, needed in the absence of Curry. But it was at the other end of the court where Thompson impressed his coach.

“Not many guys could chase Damian Lillard around for 37 minutes,” said Kerr, “and score 37 points too. Klay is a tremendous two-way player, and this was a really amazing night for him just in terms of his all-around play, and obviously we got a lot of good performances from people. But that’s a big burden to have to play both ways like that.

“He was awesome.”

Thompson was an All-Star. Green, 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, was an All-Star. Sometimes we forget because of that All-Star and MVP — and product endorser and NBA scoring leader — Steph Curry.

Yet a team is more than one man, even if it’s a man who can throw in 30-foot jumpers in the blink of an eye.

Curry, restricted by that bad right knee, said in a TV interview he would be surprised if he couldn’t return by game three of this series, next Sunday at Portland. Until then, or even then, the Warriors have to do what they’ve been doing, use all their skills.

“Defense is the key against these guys,” said Kerr, knowing full well “these guys” could mean any team in the league.

“They,” Kerr said of the Blazers, “are a tremendous offensive team. They have a great system. They are hard to guard, and they spread out so much with their shooting that there are a lot of open lanes.”

Those lanes were closed Sunday, just as stretches of Interstate 880 are so often. The Warriors chased and harassed. The Warriors stymied and baffled. “We score a lot of points,” Lillard said of himself and teammate C.J. McCollum. “We’ve got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”

That doesn’t come easily against the Warriors, schooled in the idea of taking the other team’s mistakes and pushing the ball down the floor. “Our offense,” said Kerr, “comes off movement. We can’t stand around.”

Green rarely is seen standing or heard silent. He’s the voice of the Warriors, cheering, chanting, hollering.  Still, it’s just as much a case of "do as I do" as it is "do as I say." Green leads by admonition. He leads by example.

“I don’t go out there saying, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do more of that,’” said Green. “We all have to. Everybody’s got to be more involved on the offensive end. Steph brings so much more to the table that one guy isn’t going to be able to do what he does.

“I just told the guys that we’ve got to come out with a defensive mind-set, and that’s pretty much it. I think we can pretty much just stay solid and get good stuff on the offensive end, but against this team we’ve got to get it done on the defensive end. We’ll get what we need on offense. We did that tonight.”

Absolutely.

10:04AM

S.F. Examiner: Iguodala joined by Barbosa in veterans’ support group

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

Sure, Stephen Curry splashed it up. But this Warriors victory, the one that made an NBA championship seem not just possible but probable, belonged as much to two players whose combined points couldn’t match what Curry had on his own.

Andre Iguodala, starting once again in Steve Kerr’s smallball scheme, had 14 points, and Leandro Barbosa had 13 off the bench. By his own self, Curry picked up 37. Yet Iguodala, again with the unachievable task of defending LeBron James, and Barbosa, a.k.a. “The Brazilian Blur,” reminded there is so much to basketball beyond putting the ball in the basket.

Read the full story here.

©2015 The San Francisco Examiner