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9:24AM

S.F. Examiner: Warriors turning smallball into large difference in series

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

There's a phrase for everything in sports, isn't there? We had "Billy Ball" for the move-'em-along style of baseball the A's played in the early 1980s. We had "Hack-a-Shaq" for the way opponents repeatedly fouled Shaquille O'Neal, because he couldn't make free throws.

And now we have "smallball," which seems to be anything in the NBA involving athletes 6-foot-9 or shorter.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 

9:12AM

S.F. Examiner: At last, Warriors are the team in The City

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

Eight years it’s been since the Warriors, finally out their funk and into the playoffs, passed out T-shirts with the slogan, “We Believe.” The phrase wasn’t wrong, just premature.

The Warriors are the new boys of winter and spring. They’re the Giants under a roof and under a full head of steam. They’ve got the indoor in crowd, sellouts every night, celebs from the A-list, including boxing champ Floyd Mayweather the other night.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 

7:05AM

If only Kevin Durant had played the second half

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — That was a wonderful line by Warriors coach Steve Kerr about Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. “We did a good job on him in the second half,” said Kerr. “I didn’t even notice him out there.”

That’s because he wasn’t out there, and what might have been an exceptionally wonderful line by Durant, in the box score, was not to be.

Oh, he scored 30 points. In 18 minutes. It was announced that nobody had  done that playing fewer than 20 minutes since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. Whether that’s accurate is almost beside the point. Durant, the MVP, scoring champ four of his five years as a pro, is oh-so-accurate. And it seems oh-so-fragile. Or unfortunate.

In October, he fractured his right foot and missed the Thunder’s first 17 games. Then, Thursday night at the Oracle, while helping put on a show that if not unprecedented was exhilarating, he sprained the ankle of the same foot just before halftime.

Durant limped off, and the report was that he wanted to return. OKC coach Scott Brooks refused. One game in December was not going to cost Durant and the Thunder a dozen or so games down the road. Who it cost was the usual sellout crowd of 19,596.

They did see the Warriors win, coming back from 17 points down in the first quarter, beating OKC 114-109, and after the defeat at Memphis making it 17 victories in 18 games. What they didn’t get to see was the sort of basket-for-basket thrill that only the NBA can provide. After intermission that is.

Here they were, four of the best shooters in the game, Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors. This is what the NBA sells, stars, personalities, gunners. This is what the game had going. Swish, Dunk. Wow. Whoo.

“They just unleashed a barrage on us in the first quarter,” said Kerr. “Kevin Durant was incredible. And Westbrook was rolling.” And the crowd was roaring. Even more so when Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green of the Warriors began to connect.

Then, like that, one of the parts was missing. Even though he was on the opposition, and that was to the Warriors' advantage, it was like an opera without Pavarotti, a ballet without Tallchief. The special few in this world help make our memories.

Curry finished with 34, Westbrook with 33 and Durant, in his 18 wonderful minutes, 30. It was great. Imagine what it might have been.

Indeed, the idea is to end up on top. “No ‘I’ in team,” we’re told. And Michael Jordan would add, “There is an ‘I’ in win.” It was a joy watching Jordan. In the first half on Thursday night, it was a joy watching Durant.

Kerr, who was Jordan’s teammate and knows so well how a player can take control of a game, was asked how one might guard Durant. “If you have any suggestions,” said the Warriors' coach, “I’m open. He’s unguardable. The logical thing when he’s hitting threes from 28 feet — the logical thing — is to get up on him and make him put it on the floor. But he’s pretty good at that too. You have to stay with it and just trust that eventually he will slow down a little.”

Durant didn’t slow down. He fell down. The ankle rolled. The battle was over, at least for this evening.

The Thunder scored 40 points in the first quarter against a Warrior team normally efficient on defense. “That’s because of a guy named Kevin Durant,” said a guy named Stephen Curry.

“I had my shot going,” said Durant after the game. “They had to convince me not to play (the second half). I have been feeling good for the last week or so. I just made a few shots today. That was the difference.”

In fact, he made 10 of 13 (5 of 6 on 3-pointers). He was close to perfection, and the game was tantalizing, mesmerizing. Bombs away. Then his ankle gave way.

“When I wake up in the morning,” said Durant, “I’ll see how I feel. I’m glad nothing serious happened. There are a lot of places I’m glad I’m not in.”

What he was in Thursday was rhythm. He wasn’t alone. Baskets from everywhere. The halftime score was Warriors 65, Thunder 63.

“The way the NBA works,” reminded Kerr, “everybody has talent.”  But not talent like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

If only all four had been there at the end.

7:53AM

Warriors continue the streak that coaches try to ignore

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Oh yes, the Bay Area, where suddenly nothing makes sense. Where Colin Kaepernick, the silent one, becomes an orator. Where a drought turns into a storm of biblical proportions. Where the Warriors fall behind the Houston Rockets by 11 points.

This seemed the perfect day for basketball perfection to stop. Andrew Bogut on the bench with an injury. The Warriors missing nine of their first 10 3-point shots. Sooner or later, the run has to end, right? Of course, but it wouldn’t end Wednesday night.

So Kaepernick, the 49ers' QB, talked. And talked. And the weather people warned us that we would be washed away if we weren’t blown away. But good old (well, good young) Golden State would not be defeated.

They played the fourth quarter the way the sellout crowd at The Oracle expected them to play every quarter, tight defense, effective offense and, outscoring the Rockets 32-17 in the quarter, won 105-93. It was their 14th straight victory, a franchise record.

Although coach Steve Kerr tries to stay as reticent about the subject as Kaepernick had been down Santa Clara way about another subject, himself. Kaep didn’t want to let us in on what wasn’t happening. Kerr barely will let us in on what is happening: The winning.

“The coaches don’t talk about it,” said Kerr, the usual answer when teams streak one way, winning — the Warriors haven’t lost since November 11, a month — or the other, losing. It’s the famous “one game at a time” admonition. Even though you don’t get headlines for one game. Unless it’s the one that keeps the streak alive or brings it to a close.

“I’ve heard the guys say things like, ‘Let’s keep this thing going,’” Kerr conceded. “You don’t want to put more pressure on yourself. It’s tough to win in this league. There are so many great teams.”

At the moment, off their record, 19-2, the Warriors are the greatest. And if Kerr isn’t the greatest coach — let’s see, for a start there’s Red Auerbach and Red Holzman, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich — he is the first to begin his NBA career at 19-2.

When asked what it meant, the rookie answered properly, “It means I’m the luckiest coach in NBA history. I inherited a team that was already really good.”

Absolutely, with people such as Klay Thompson (21 points Wednesday), Stephen Curry (20) and Harrison Barnes (20). But he also means that he has them playing with passion and intelligence. Playing defense, because that wins (teams are shooting more poorly against the W’s than against any other franchise). Playing courageously.

An off game Wednesday night, the big man Bogut not on the floor (then again, neither was the Rockets’ Dwight Howard) and Houston’s quick James Harden shooting well (34 points). And yet the W’s came out ahead. Encouraging.

They go on the road now, Dallas, New Orleans, and Memphis. Surely one of those will be a loss. Maybe all of those. Still, what the Warriors have accomplished to this point is, well, remarkable. Fourteen straight wins? That doesn’t happen these days.

That doesn’t happen to the Warriors.

“It took us so long to break through,” said Kerr. “That’s a helluva team they have over there. They defend like crazy and make it hard to guard because they have all those shooters around Harden.

“The last six or seven minutes we had just tremendous efforts from everybody on the floor. Harrison was great, and Steph and Klay made big shots.”

The Warriors, down 86-83 with 6:20 remaining, just smothered Houston.

“They attacked us off the dribble,” said Kevin McHale, the Rockets' coach, “and we didn’t handle it very well. They got some open stuff, and when they went small, it bothered us.”

Small is a relative word in pro basketball, meaning people who may not be 6-10 or 6-9 but don’t buy their clothes off the rack at Macy’s, such as 6-foot-7 Shaun Livingston and 6-6 Andre Iguodala.

“We wanted to do small down the stretch,” said Kerr. “What more can you say about Draymond (Green, who is 6-7) because he guards (7-foot) Donatas Motiejunas and fronts him and steals the ball a couple of times and then switches out and guards (the 6-5) Harden. Then he jumps out on Patrick Beverley or Jason Terry.

“The versatility defensively of what Draymond brings is remarkable.”

The Warriors are passionate in their basketball, selfless. They do what is required. Most of all, they play defense when it matters. Good teams always do that.

9:30AM

Warriors: The beacon by the Bay

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Let’s not get carried away. On second thought, do get carried away. There’s a team in town, in Northern Cal, that has everything going for it: talent, hustle, fortune, a team untouched by so much of the trouble that has beset the others.

It’s the Warriors, of course, and they’re the beacon by the Bay, winners and not whiners, a delightful breath of spring, if you will, in a dreary autumn — and I’m not alluding to the weather.

In Santa Clara it’s one thing after another, a war between Jim Harbaugh and the media — and maybe, quite possibly between Harbaugh and the owner. The Sharks have been less than hoped, if not less than expected, and the Raiders, after losing a game, 52-0, what do you say except, “When does it ever end?”

Yet nobody wants an ending to the Warriors' success. Home again, at last, Tuesday night they extended their streak to 10 wins in a row, beating the Orlando Magic 98-97 at Oracle.

Sure, they should have lost. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said they were lucky, which arguably they were. Still, that’s part of what makes a good team good, a great team great.

They win when they should have lost.

Remember the Celtics in Boston? Remember the 49ers with Joe Montana? You had them. Then, as you cursed fate, they had you, and the opponent mumbled about what might have been.

What the Warriors have is their own Montana. Basketball never will be as big around here as football, so whatever is said or written about Steph Curry — whose 3-pointer (what else) that left his hand with 4.2 seconds was the winner — he never will be elevated to the places occupied by Montana or Jerry Rice.

He’s the man right now, however, maybe ahead of Colin Kaepernick and a notch below Madison Bumgarner. If this were New York or Chicago, cities where basketball and hockey have a history and a legacy, Curry would've already been touted for the Hall of Fame.

The Warriors, however, seem less a landmark, like the Niners and Raiders, the Giants and A’s. The word "afterthought" is a bit strong, but here is a team that at 15-2 is off to its best 17-game start in the 69-year history of the franchise and gets less attention than the Niners’ coaching dilemma.

Sooner or later the Warriors are going to lose, and Tuesday night was the appropriate time. Teams coming off a long road trip, and the Warriors’ was a six-gamer, so often fall flat on their return.

“It’s always been the case in my career,” said Kerr, who although in his first season as a head coach has years of NBA experience as player, general manager and television announcer.

“It’s a tough game when you return,” said Kerr. “Three time zones (from Detroit), and you don’t practice the day before.” And the Magic, who the Warriors defeated a few days ago in Orlando, played, in Kerr’s thinking, “fantastic.”

The Warriors were 3 of 18 on 3-point attempts at one juncture in the fourth quarter. (They finished 8 of 27). The Warriors trailed by nine, 93-84, with 4:27 remaining. Then Klay Thompson hit a couple of deep ones, and suddenly with a minute and a half left, it was 95-95.

Tobias Harris hit a running bank shot with 38 seconds remaining to get the Magic in front once more. The Warriors’ Draymond Green rebounded an Orlando miss with 6.9 seconds, passed to Curry and as everyone expected Curry flashed down the court and scored from 27 feet.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t call timeout,’” said Kerr. “Steph Curry in the open floor is going to get a better shot than anything I could draw up. It’s what Steph does. He bailed us out.”

Somebody always does on excellent teams. Which is why they’re excellent. And exciting.

Curry saved the streak. Curry and Thompson and Green. They saved the Warriors, who as the Niners flail and the Raiders fail, are saving this autumn.

“Every night you have a game that proves something,” said Curry. He finished with 22, high for the Warriors, five fewer than Orlando’s Victor Oladipo.

What this game proved is, even when they are less than their best, the Warriors have the resources to win. They are on a roll, and as December begins a promise in an otherwise disappointing time for Bay Area teams.