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9:36AM

Warriors-Clippers rough stuff perfect end for the NBA

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — That’s exactly what the NBA needed at the end of a very long day, in a game out here in the wild west that presumably, despite Steph Curry and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, nobody east of Tonopah, Nev., would stay up past midnight to watch.

Except for the possibility of a brawl.

A few shoves, a couple of elbows and some ejections would keep the weary basketball mavens in New York and Boston tuned in while the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers held up their end of what the teams’ coaches contend isn’t a rivalry.

And who are we to disagree with such knowledgeable sorts as Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers?

“I still believe it’s not a rivalry,” Jackson said for about the 15th time Christmas night after his W’s edged Rivers’ Clippers, 105-103, before the usual sellout of 19,596 at the Oracle Arena.

Maybe not, but it is a confrontation, which is good enough when you’re the end of a TV quintuple-header that has become as much a part of the holiday as eggnog and mistletoe.

The day after Christmas in Britain and Canada is called Boxing Day, because bosses give employees presents in boxes. What the W’s and Clips tried to give each other on Boxing Night was a lesson in intimidation, not that either team would ever admit to being intimidated.

Griffin was bounced from the game on a second technical with 10:43 remaining after a — does the word “scuffle” fit the situation? — with the Warriors’ 7-footer, Andrew “Sugar Ray” Bogut.

Not long before, the W’s Draymond Green was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul, something that sounds like a NASA code term but means that Green was very intent on clubbing Griffin.

“The Warriors tried to get Griffin ejected,” said Rivers, “and it worked.”

What Griffin, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds before taking his leave, said was, “I didn’t do anything, and I got thrown out of the game. It all boils down to (the officials) fell for it. To me it’s cowardly basketball. I don’t know their intentions, but it worked.”

The teams had met the second day of the season, Oct. 31, in LA, and that’s where the dislike began, the Clips winning that one, 126-115.

“We play four times a year,” said Steph Curry. “It’s going to be competitive. We were up for the challenge.”

Curry wasn’t up for hitting his shot — he missed his first six attempts and finished 5 of 17 — but he had 11 assists, as did Paul, who led the Clips with 26 points.

The Warriors, as now is standard, fell behind early and then with Klay Thompson scoring — and also playing great defense on Paul in the closing seconds — came back in the second half. The margin was on two free throws by Harrison Barnes with 1:09 remaining. After that came a lot of almosts, including two missed foul shots by Andre Iguodala with 9.3 seconds to play.

As the Warriors’ David Lee explained correctly, the Warriors, who shot a sad 42 percent, won the game on the boards, out-rebounding the Clippers 49-38, and on defense.

“Keeping them from their transition game,” said Lee, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds.

That translates as not allowing all those fastbreak dunks for which Griffin gets considerable airtime, along with his numerous commercials. Hey, he’s a star in a city of stars, on a team desperate to fill the void being left by the Lakers.

The Warriors, however, decline to be deferential.

“They’re a physical team in the middle,” said Bogut, whose best move was hoisting up Griffin — and as Griffin reminded, without getting caught.

“Neither of us backed down,” said Bogut, who had 14 rebounds and 10 points. “That’s the way it should be.”

Rivers, who coached the Celtics to championships, was understanding, if a bit frustrated.

“The basketball part was OK,” he said. “We were showing pretty well. The other stuff worked in their favor.”

The other stuff had the crowd in frenzy and the game, because of the ejections and delays, dragging on for 2 hours and 44 minutes.

“It’s not a rivalry,” reiterated Jackson, “because neither team has done anything.” He means in the postseason. They’ve done plenty against each other.

“Just physical basketball,” he said, maybe anticipating the next meeting on Jan. 30 in Oakland.

When someone asked Jackson why the Warriors and Clippers don’t like each other, the coach, an ordained reverend answered, “We like them. Merry Christmas.”

10:47AM

Klay Thompson beats team he cheered as a kid, the Lakers

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He grew up a Lakers fan, but of course. His father was playing for them when Klay Thompson was born, then became one of their radio commentators.

Still is, but now the son plays for the Warriors and Mychal Thompson had the pain and pleasure Wednesday night of watching Klay at his best — and the Lakers at their worst.

Mixed emotions, like the old joke about your mother-in-law driving your Ferrari over a cliff? Hardly. “He was proud,” said Klay, after Mychal came and went from the Warriors' locker room.

So was Klay. He was 15 of 19 from the floor, in the first game of his third NBA season and the first game of the Warriors’ 2013-14 season, and scored a career-high 38 points in a 125-94 rout.

“It’s always a pleasure playing against the Lakers,” said Klay. “I was going to their games since I was a kid.”

For the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant still recovering from that Achilles injury and unable to suit up, with people named Nick Young and Shawne Williams in the lineup, there was no pleasure facing Klay Thompson or the Warriors.

The Lakers were so bad, the sellout crowd of 19,596 at the Oracle didn’t even once chant “Beat L.A.,” until L.A. was beaten, down 88-58 early in the third period.

Just one game. Remember that. The Warriors won’t always be holding the other team under 30 percent shooting, which was where the Lakers were just before the half, although by game’s end L.A. had climbed to 39.3 percent.

Won’t always shoot 59 percent, as they did in the third quarter. “We were clicking,” said Mark Jackson, the Warriors' coach, and he meant it not as a boast but as a simple fact.

NBA basketball can be irritatingly erratic. Tuesday night, in their home opener against the Clippers, the team that is supposed to move ahead of the Lakers in the southern California pecking order as well as the standings, the Lakers scored 41 points in the fourth quarter. Wednesday night, the Lakers scored 40 points in the first half.

“We have a lot of learning to do,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni. “We probably let our emotions get too high (after Tuesday). And give Golden State credit. Klay Thompson just lit us up, and David Lee (8 of 13 for 24 points) did the damage. He hit some shots that were unbelievable.”

The Warriors may get a better sense of their skill level and future when Thursday night, in what amounts to a round-robin among the three teams, they play the Clippers in Los Angeles. Maybe the Clips win, and then Golden State and both L.A. franchises are all 1-1.

“We have to get better,” said D’Antoni. “That’s all it is.”

But no matter how much better, in this era when the Lakers are tumbling from the heights, they won’t be as good as the Warriors. Or, despite Tuesday night’s result, the Clippers.

Thompson was a starter and not the sixth man because 6-8 Harrison Barnes has a foot injury. Although he’s only an inch shorter than Barnes, Thompson, the Warriors' first-round pick from Washington State two seasons ago, is a different sort, a bomber who can go inside when needed.

“There’s no secret that Klay Thompson is a phenomenal shooter,” emphasized Jackson. “I don’t think enough credit is given that he’s a heck of a basketball player. Not only did he shoot the lights out, but he defended — first line of defense on (guard) Steve Blake.

“Our overall defense was awfully impressive. Obviously that is a team that is coming off a big win (Tuesday) night, but we did the job we are supposed to do.”

This was the first game, certainly, for the Warriors' huge off-season acquisition, Andre Iguodala. Although Iguodala had only seven points and four rebounds, Jackson, the coach, said those numbers are to be ignored.

“When you look at (Iguodala) as a basketball player," he said, "you appreciate everything he does on the floor from rebounding to playmaking. He’s a guy with a high (basketball) IQ, and he impacts the game without scoring . . .  You look at Andrew Bogut’s game the same way.”

The 7-foot Bogut, his ankle finally healed after surgeries and therapy, played 18 minutes and scored only two points. But he jammed up the middle and had eight rebounds.

D’Antoni was enthralled with Thompson’s performance.

“There’s not much more you can tell (the Lakers) than to get on him," he said. "That’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen in a long time. The guy’s good.”

And the guy knows he’s good.

“That’s what we live for,” said Thompson of his big night. “It’s crazy. I never imagined I’d have 38 points in three quarters, but you surprise yourself sometimes.  After my third three, I was locked in. I knew. Actually I knew in pregame. I was hitting everything.”

11:08AM

Warriors live up to their name

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Such a perfect name. Warriors. Because they were. Warriors. Fighters, Battlers. Their coach called them “an inspiration.” The other coach called them really competitive. High praise, and that counts, if not as much as the final score in what for the Golden State Warriors the season of 2012-13 would be the final game.
   
It is done now, finished. Or has it just begun? The future looks wonderful for the Warriors. Yet that doesn’t ease the pain. It is the here and now that was important for the W’s, the game Thursday night at Oracle in front of fans so enthusiastic and loud it seemed they could will Golden State to a victory. They couldn’t.
  
The San Antonio Spurs, the old guys, the four-time champions, were too much for the Warriors, resilient as champions always are, and holding on to a 94-82 victory.
   
So the Spurs win the NBA Western Conference semifinal, four games to two. They go on to play the Memphis Grizzlies in the next round. The Warriors needed this one to keep the season alive. They didn’t get it. There will be no seventh game.
   
There will be only thoughts of what could have been. Those and the chants of the passionate 19,956 at Oracle.
  
Disappointment, certainly, for Mark Jackson, the coach; for the players; maybe most of all for the fans, clad in their yellow T-shirts and limitless hopes. They wouldn’t leave, serenading the players and no less themselves with the rolling, repetitive word, “Warr-iors . . . Warr-iors.”
   
A salute to the season, maybe to reason. The Spurs figured out this series quickly. If they were going to win, they had to stop Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And after Game 2, mostly they did.
  
They jammed the middle and fought through the picks. They shoved and clawed. And, as in Thursday night’s game, even when their own offense was ineffective — Tony Parker, the San Antonio guard, was 3 for 16, while teammate Manu Ginobili was 1 for 6 — the Spurs stayed in and on top. Only briefly in the first quarter, and only by two points, did the Warriors ever lead.
 
“Defense,” said Gregg Popovich, the Spurs coach. “Yeah, if we can hold them in the 80s, we should have a decent chance at the end of the game . . . Down the stretch, we made a couple of shots and they didn’t.”
  
Down the stretch is where 90 percent of all NBA games are won. Down the stretch, the Warriors closed from seven points to four to two. Yes, two, 77-75, with 4:52 left, and regaining the ball and Oracle going mad, a cauldron of sound. But then Curry missed a 3-pointer and Parker made one. Then Kawhi Leonard made a 2-pointer.
   
Reality. The Spurs would win. The deed was done. Except for the fans.
 
“As an announcer,” said Jackson, the Warriors coach who did NBA games for ESPN, “I can recall calling the (Oklahoma City) Thunder game in the playoffs. They got knocked out. We’re sitting there closing on the air, and the fans are chanting, acknowledging the great season. I’m sitting there as an announcer thinking, ‘This is cool.’
    
“We’ve got the best fans in the business. It was an incredible moment for them to acknowledge what took place this year and also for my guys to acknowledge that we don’t take these fans for granted. It’s been a great ride.”
  
If Thursday night a wobbly one. Center Andrew Bogut’s bad ankle, surgically repaired more than a year ago when he still was with Milwaukee, was sore even before the game, and he played only some six minutes in the second half.
  
Forward Harrison Barnes, just named to the all-rookie team, caught an elbow above an eye near the end of the first half, went down for the longest while, had to helped to the locker room and was given six stitches. He returned after intermission but was unable to stay in the game.
  
David Lee, of course, had torn a hip flexor in the first game of the Denver series and was declared out until next season. His courageous comeback was part of the story, but he was limited.
  
Curry’s right ankle, a chronic problem, was tweaked in Game 3, and he wasn’t completely right in the last three games. Even then, he ended up with 22 Thursday night, the best of either team.
  
So when Jackson insisted, “My guys gave me everything they had,” it wasn’t fiction.
  
“It was incredible. I can go out and win championships, and I will not be any prouder of any group that I ever coached than this group. At the end of the day, our tank will be empty and the light will be beaming bright.”
   
The light has been dimmed. The season has been concluded. But it was a joy. “Warr-iors, Warr-iors.”

8:08AM

Warriors went from underdogs to favorites – to winners

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — They kept using the underdog card, telling us nobody expected them to win this first-round NBA playoff series, which is more fiction than fact because once the thing got rolling, and rocking, it was obvious the Golden State Warriors should have been the favorite.
  
Sports is like that, full of people who seem more intent on showing us, proving to the world, that they can succeed than actually succeeding. It’s a crutch many use, so if they fail, well, then they concede, “We weren’t supposed to win anyway.”
  
But on this wild Thursday night, in this sixth game of a first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, the Warriors in truth weren’t supposed to lose. They weren’t going to lose. And after a 92-88 victory at Oracle Arena that gave them the series, four games to two, it’s time to contemplate the reason as provided by Nuggets coach George Karl.
   
“We didn’t lose the series tonight,” said Karl. His team was the third seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors the sixth seed.
  
“We lost the series in Game 1 and 2. We didn’t play well enough to sustain some confidence. In Game 1, we won a close game. In Game 2, we gave everything back that we worked for 57 (regular season) games to get . . .  We didn’t play well in Game 1. We played worse in Game 2. Then we came in here and fought pretty hard.”
  
Sounds like the underdog, doesn’t it? In retrospect, the way the Warriors performed, turning the odds, upside down, maybe Denver was. The Warriors were exposed, in a positive way, as a team that belongs, a team that deserved to win.
  
Game 6 was a perfect reflection of the series and the NBA, the Warriors coming from behind, the Warriors going far ahead — 18 points — and finally the Warriors holding on.
   
Confetti poured down. Deafening screams resounded, but in truth there surely was as much relief as of elation. Underdog? Favorite? The optimum word might be survivor.
   
“I get emotional,” said Warriors coach Mark Jackson. He is a pastor. He is religious. He had been fined $25,000 earlier in the day for what the league said were remarks intended to influence the officials.
   
“I think God has a sense of humor,” said the coach-pastor, “because he wanted to show folks at the end as we threw the ball all over the place, and it’s only a miracle that we advanced.”
   
Jackson, who went from a position as a TV commentator to the Warriors job, tends to deal in the dramatic. More often than not he uses the phrase “at the end of the day.” And for this game he brought back forward David Lee, who a couple of weeks ago Warriors management said wouldn’t play again this year because of an injury.
   
A New Yorker, Jackson grew up on the tale of Willis Reed hobbling out of the Madison Square Garden locker room in the 1970 NBA finals, moving into the Knicks lineup and beating the Lakers. Jackson was only five when that occurred, but if he didn’t see it, he heard about it.
 
“I guess the New York City in me,” said Jackson, explaining his decision to use Lee — if only for fewer than two minutes. “The Willis Reed impact as a kid really played a role. Not only did I put Lee in, bit I ran a play for him for a shot, just about where Willis hit his shot.”
    
Great theater, but it was, as always, super guard Stephen Curry and finally hulking 7-foot center Andrew Bogut, who made the difference. In Game 4, Curry scored 22 points in the third quarter. In Game 6 he scored 14 in the third quarter, 22 for the game.
   
Bogut, obtained in a trade a year ago from Milwaukee but seemly recovering forever from a fractured ankle, had 21 rebounds, a career high, 14 points, four blocked shots and three assists.
   
“Bogut,” said Karl, “I’m not worried about him offensively. I mean, he would be their second most valuable player in the series. Curry was fantastic. Bogut’s ability to clog up the middle, you know, I’d forgotten how good he was at it. He’s a veteran player that I think showed a lot of professional class tonight.”
   
The Nuggets, who led by 11 in the first half, had Curry stymied. He had taken a mere six shots and made only one. But then, once more, the telling third quarter. Three 3-pointers, and the small deficit had become a large lead.
   
“I’m just trying to be patient,” said Curry. “The way Denver was defending me, they were trying to run me off the 3-point line a lot, blitzing, a lot of pick-and-rolls, trying to get the ball out of my hands. I try to be aggressive. I don’t want to force any possessions. Third quarter, I got my rhythm.”
   
Curry was asked what went through his mind as the 18-point lead kept shrinking. “Each possession,” he said, “it can’t get any worse than this. Then it does . . . But we got to learn from it.”
   
Underdogs always do. Even when they’re not underdogs.

9:31AM

To the Nuggets, the Warriors are magic

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The other coach, George Karl, and he’s an experienced coach, a winning coach, made a reference to the mystical, as if this first-round NBA playoff was being determined by factors other than suffocating defense and offense that does at times seem otherworldly.
  
“They’ve found some magic,” Karl said of the Golden State Warriors, “and we’ve got to take it away.” But time and games are running out for Karl’s Denver Nuggets. Time, games and history.
  
The Warriors did it again to the Nuggets on Sunday night, a Sabbath of bewilderment and not faith for Denver, figuratively run off the court at Oracle Arena, 115-101, by the Warriors, who now are one game away from the series everyone presumed would belong to the Nuggets.
 
Three games to one, the Warriors lead now, after three straight victories. They broke the curse — maybe it was magic — last week, winning at Denver where the Nuggets had lost only three times in 41 games during the regular season.
  
Sunday night, they broke Denver’s back.
   
It was Andrew Bogut, rattling rims — and maybe Karl’s senses — dominating in the first half and then, on a sore ankle, Stephen Curry, with 22 points in the third quarter and 31 for the game, in the second half.
   
It was defense that had the Nuggets throwing away passes and rushing shots.
  
It was basketball played by the book and by the heart, basketball that had a sellout crowd of 19,596 in a three-hour frenzy.
  
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, while enthralled, was also wary, offering the obligatory, “It’s not over yet” when we know it is — even if a year ago Denver rallied to beat the Lakers.
  
But the Warriors are the better team, the hotter team, the growing team. They might drop Game 5 Tuesday night at Denver, but they certainly will not lose Game 6 back in Oakland.
   
There’s no fear in the Warriors, and no reluctance either. They are believers and competitors. They swarm when the opponent has the ball — in the second quarter, the Nuggets made 10 turnovers to the Warriors one. The connect when they have the ball.
  
“God bless Steph Curry,” said Karl, “but there’s Jarrett Jack and (Carl) Landry. They also score. Turnovers gave (the Warriors) control of the ball. But it takes one game to turn it around, to regain our confidence.”
  
The Warriors are the confident ones. They’ve always been confident. It’s an expression of youth and fantasy. To the Warriors, anything is possible. Even shooting 75 percent, which they did in the third period, hitting 13 of 17 from the field.
    
Curry, naturally, was the catalyst. The right ankle, the one that’s troubled him for years, the one that required surgery, was sore even before the game, and so he received an injection, a pain killer.  
  
However, the hurt remained early on, and so Jackson thought of benching his star and did take him off the court for a long while.
  
Finally the pain subsided after intermission. Curry was able to flee the Nuggets’ trapping defense. A shot went in. Then another. Then another. In the last 4 minutes 22 seconds of the third quarter, Curry scored 19. Game, set and virtually match.
   
“He put the team on his back,” said Jackson, repeating a comment he’s used frequently, and for good reason. After that, someone from the Nuggets put a finger in Curry’s eye. With the Warriors up by 20 or so, Jackson smartly pulled Curry.
   
“I was considering shutting him down in the first half,” said Jackson, “and I told him that. It was almost like a boxer who knew he was on the ropes, because it was a matter of time. I told him I didn’t need him to be a hero. Smart coaching, huh? I guess he realized and sensed that, and he captured the moment and embraced the moment.
  
“The thing that stood out to me, it’s almost like he was waiting for this moment his entire career and wasn’t going to allow his body to tell him that he was too hurt to match the moment. It was an incredible, incredible performance by him once again.”
  
It was a performance reminiscent of that by Sleepy Floyd, who for the Warriors in a 1987 playoff against the Lakers scored 51 points, a record 29 in the third quarter. The Warriors coach that game: George Karl.
  
“They were definitely the quality offensive team,” Karl said of these Warriors on Sunday night. “They have shooters like they have, and Bogut played well.”
  
The 7-foot Bogut, acquired in a trade a year ago but not entirely recovered from ankle surgery that predated the swap, was aggressive and mean in the first half. He had several dunks, going to the basket as Denver trapped Curry, and one, reshown on the big screen again and again, was the stuff — literally — that brought fans to their feet hollering in delight.
  
“He was off the charts,” Jackson said of Bogut. “I thought he was the key to keeping us in the ball game, setting screens, rebounding, playing physical.”
  
Curry was on the charts, taking 16 shots and making 10, going 6 of 11 on 3-pointers. He also had seven assists, numbers that have to be displayed.
  
“The way I explain it,” said Jackson, a who has his own church, “(Curry) is blessed.”
   
If you choose to describe that as magic, all well and good.