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8:20AM

For Warriors, Klay is back — and soon Cousins will be too

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was a night when the Warriors remembered what they had — not that anyone would have been irreverent enough to forget — and also learned what they soon would have.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

10:09AM

The game was great, but down the stretch the Warriors were not

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant studied the final stat sheet and listened to the questions. “I thought both teams played great,” he said, as much to himself as to the media facing him.

That they did. It was just that the Houston Rockets played a little greater.

Give Durant credit. He was out there, in the middle, so to speak, making baskets, missing shots, running, leaping, falling and, with his teammates, losing.

And yet he was moved by more than the final result, the Houston Rockets defeating the Warriors 135-134 on a 3-point basket with one second left by, whom else, James Harden.

Say what you want, that the Dubs, who were up by 20 in the first minute of the third quarter, blew the game; that Harden with yet another triple double (44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) is unstoppable; that Golden State will be in trouble in the playoffs.

But if you love basketball, you have to appreciate what took place in the Dubs’ first home appearance of the new year, a meeting of the two teams who battled for seven games in last year’s Western Conference final — the change in momentum, the big baskets down the stretch, the reminder that in sports nothing is certain, even a huge second-half lead by the back-to-back NBA champions.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr was less magnanimous than Durant. “I thought we had control of the game,” said Kerr. “We had a six-point lead with the ball and would have liked to have seen us get better shots.”

And have liked to have seen the Rockets, who now have won both games on the season schedule, get less successful shots.

“They came out swinging,” Kerr said of the Rockets after intermission. “They scored, I think, 18 points in the first four minutes. Our defense was really poor. Our offensive execution was really lacking.” 

And Harden, the bearded wonder who had his fifth straight 40-point game and second triple double of the week, was really, well, being James Harden.

“He just did what he always does,” said Kerr. “He’s the master of isolation, the step-back three and drawing fouls. I thought we did a really good job of keeping him off the line (Harden was 8-of-9 on free throws) for the most part. He made an impossible shot at the end. Just an incredible performance. Give him all the credit he deserves.”

And give the Warriors another loss in a meaningful game at the Oracle, where in some two-plus months they’ve flopped against Oklahoma City, Toronto, Milwaukee, the Lakers and now Houston.

“Down the stretch we were missing shots,” said Durant, who scored 26 points but only two in the third quarter. Steph Curry led the Warriors with 35, while Klay Thompson had 26.

“But I don’t think down the stretch is the reason we lost,” Durant added. “I just felt we let our foot off the gas a little bit in the third quarter. They knocked down some shots. But James shot 23 threes tonight. That’s a lot of three pointers.”

Including the game winner. “James wouldn’t have had to make that shot,” said Thompson, “if we just played the way we were supposed to in the second half. The ball movement got stagnant.”

For the Rockets, the ball moves in Harden’s hands.

“He can get any shot he wants,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “His threat is getting to the rim any time he wants. I don’t think we’ve seen the likes of this offense and the explosion he has.”

Harden got pummeled in the first quarter and left the game for a few minutes. “I was a little dizzy in the beginning,” he said, “but it’s a big-time game for us.”

During the day, broadcasters at ESPN debated whether the game was more important for the Warriors or for the Rockets, a bit silly but time-filling.

Asked why he’s so difficult to guard, Harden candidly pointed out, “I think it’s the separation I create, and once I create the separation you can’t really recover. You have to let me shoot or hit my elbow. There’s not much you can do about it.”

Except, as did Kevin Durant, contend that you played in a great game.

9:48AM

Curry on rout by Lakers: ‘We just laid an egg’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The head coach said this is the normal NBA, good teams playing bad games, coming out on the home floor when the opponent is a huge rival — in a contest that had been advertised every 10 minutes by ESPN — and for the most part performing so poorly it bordered on embarrassment.

In fact, embarrassing is the term Steph Curry used after the Warriors, his team, coach Steve Kerr’s team, had been crushed 127-101 on Christmas night by the Lakers, who for most of the second half were without an injured LeBron James, supposedly their only star. Ha!

“It was just one of those nights we just got outplayed from the jump,” said Curry. “Pretty embarrassing. Tough night obviously in front of a national stage. Christmas Day. A lot of hype, playing the Lakers. We were looking forward to the opportunity to get out there and play a lot better.

“And we just laid an egg.”

Not for the first time this season at Oracle Arena, where in the three months the NBA has been going this 2018-19 season, the one Golden State again was going to dominate, the Warriors have been overwhelmed by Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Toronto and now the Lakers.

It can be shrugged off as just another game, one of 80 on the schedule, a game that in the great scheme of NBA things means little. Hey, the playoffs don’t begin until April. And in effect, that’s how Kerr judged it.

“We got off to a great start,” said Kerr, alluding to the year — the Dubs started out 6-0 — and not specifically to this game.

“But it’s a long year and a long haul. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. What we did a few years was the exception. This is the rule. We are second place in the Western Conference. You lose some games. You lose some home games. The bar has been set exceptionally high by our players ... as a team, we have to fight through the adversity that hits, like a game like tonight, and keep moving forward.”

The Warriors played a few minutes of what has been known as Warriors basketball, rallying in the third quarter — yes, after James left with a groin injury — trimming a 12-point deficit to two points. But, wham, moments later they were behind by 18.

They shot terribly. There had to be at least five air balls, maybe six. On three-pointers they were 25 percent. The defense was worse than the offense. The Lakers shot 55 percent. Disgraceful.

James had 17 points in the 21 minutes he played, Kyle Kuzma 19, Ivica Zubec 18. The Lakers played the game the Warriors usually play, shooting and making threes, 13 of 33.

“We’ve definitely been inconsistent in our play,” said Kevin Durant. He scored 21 — two fewer than Andre Iguodala, who had his biggest point total since March 2017. You’d think any night Iguodala gets 23 points, the Warriors would be easy winners. Sure. And you’d think any time LeBron gets hurt, the Lakers would be finished.

Curry, who never does well in these Christmas games, made 5 of 17 and had 15 points. Klay Thompson, who hasn’t been scoring well since getting 52 against Chicago on Oct. 29, scored 5 points, taking only seven shots, making two.

“We can all play better,” said Curry. “Be more decisive.”

Luke Walton, the Lakers' coach, was once Kerr’s assistant. He knows what the Warriors can do. And can’t do. “I thought (the Lakers) had a great game plan tonight,” said Durant. “They used two players to guard Steph and Klay the majority of the night. I thought we made the right play and had some great shots. We just didn’t knock them down, and things snowballed from there.”

An apt description of a winter holiday game.

“We’ve definitely been inconsistent with our play,” agreed Durant, “and our record is 23-12. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story. We can definitely be better communicating on defense, moving without the basketball, just being aggressive to score a little more than we are.”

Curry sounded unworried but at the same time concerned.

“You can feel terrible about it leaving the arena,” Curry commented about the loss, “but you got to understand it’s December. And we are in a decent spot. We got to get better though, and we know that. We are not going to win a championship playing like we did tonight.”

10:03AM

Kerr on Warriors' effort in huge loss: ‘I can’t explain it’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Maybe this is the year the Dubs become the flubs. Maybe they’ve lost a little something — for sure Wednesday night, they lost something in a big way, a game.

Or maybe what happens in November and December doesn’t matter all that much, even when you get overwhelmed.

Tim Legler, the onetime player and now an NBA analyst for ESPN, pointed out that for the Warriors, champions three of the past four years, what counts is how they play in April and May, the playoffs. And June, certainly.

And yet the way the Toronto Raptors, with the best record in the league, crushed the Warriors 113-93 has to mean something, to the Raptors and the rest of the NBA — and perhaps the Warriors. Ouch!

“I can’t explain it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, alluding to what he perceived was a lack of effort.

A couple of weeks ago on the other side of the border, Toronto edged the Warriors in overtime, and one could argue that, hey, you get to OT on the other team’s home court, just wait ‘til they meet in Oakland. OK, we waited. Wow!

The Warriors couldn’t score — they were 6 of 26 on three-point attempts. The Warriors couldn’t stop the other team from scoring. The Raptors shot 48 percent overall and were 9 of 28 on threes.

This was the Dubs' single worst game since Kevin Durant signed up in the summer of ’16. And a good thing he was there. Kevin was the only one of the Dubs able to do anything offensively, going 13 of 22 for 30 points.

Steph Curry? He was 3 of 12, 10 points; Klay Thompson, 7 of 17, 14 points.

“Came out with right intentions,” said Curry. And the right history. The Warriors had won 13 straight over Toronto at the Oracle. But outside of a brief 7-4 lead, they didn’t have a chance.

“Didn’t make shots early in the game,” said Steph, “and I think it affected our energy a little bit. We tried to talk our way through it, but they played well. They played aggressive. They got into us early. Most of our open shots didn’t go down. We didn’t have any rhythm.”

Or much else.

“We really didn’t bring the level of intensity that we needed until the start of the third quarter,” said Kerr. “That was the first sign of life with our defense, but at that point we were swimming upstream.”

Lifeguard, help.

The Raptors didn’t even have their best player, Kawhi Leonard, who was ill, and someone wondered if the Dubs let their guard down, albeit Leonard is a forward.

“No, I don’t think that was the case,” said Kerr. “I just think we didn’t quite have it. I was just one of those nights you would hope you would be more engaged and more energetic playing against this team.

“We are in a place where we are defending a title and defending sort of a mantle that we have had for several years. It’s a different vibe. It’s a different feeling when you are on the climb like Toronto is, like Milwaukee is.”

Indeed, the Milwaukee Bucks also were able to destroy the Dubs, 134-111, also at Oracle, at the beginning of November. Draymond Green was missing from that one. He was present and accounted for Wednesday.

“They played better,” said Green, who had only two points but also seven assists against Toronto. “They made shots. We were taking the ball out of the net every time. It’s kind of hard to get pace that way. Their defense was really good. A big part of their defense was the offense.

“They just broke our defense down. We just got to be a little better making an adjustment. That’s not on the coaching. That’s on us as players.”

The assumption is that, by defeating the Warriors in the only two games they’ll play during the regular schedule, the Raptors would have the advantage if they meet in the NBA finals.

“I would think we had the edge at this point,” countered Kerr, “now that they kicked our butts twice.”

Maybe when swimming upstream, one loses a sense of perspective.

10:28AM

Of moonshots, awards, Draymond and a Warriors win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Steph doesn’t believe America ever made it to the moon. Yes, Mr. Curry, who launches his own figurative moonshots, said he doubts the United States reached the lunar surface.

Just like the movie, “Capricorn One,” starring, back in the days before he went on trial and to prison, O.J. Simpson.

The film was built on skepticism, that what we saw on TV one July day in 1969, Neil Armstrong strolling on the moon, was in fact a video fraud, created on a sound stage in Hollywood.

That was long before Steph was born, but on a podcast with some other NBA types the other day, Curry just happened to ask, “We ever been to the moon?” Others on the panel, including technologically minded Andre Iguodala, answered in unison, “No.”

The guess is they were joking. But there’s no joking about Curry’s game. On Monday night, with the Warriors back to the Oracle after a five-game road trip, and with Draymond Green back in the lineup, Curry was back to, well, being Curry.

He started slowly, missing six of his first nine shots, but by the end he had 38 points, and the Warriors, whole again and roiling again, had a 116-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, their fourth in a row.

“He’s good at basketball,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr wonderfully understated when asked to describe Curry. “I get asked that every day, and I don’t know how to answer it anymore. Nothing he does surprises me. I guess I can say that. Even on a night he gets off to a slow start, he always finds a way.”

These are heady times for a notable team, a team — as Curry said, “is as close to full strength as we’ve been all year” — that has been chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Person of the Year,” even though it is not one person but many.

In the 65 occasions since the award was given, beginning with Roger Bannister in 1954, a team has been chosen four times — the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey champs; the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup champs; the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series winners; and now the Dubs.

For all the individual brilliance of Steph Curry — a selection whom few would have protested — the Warriors have always been most delightfully viewed through a collective prism,” said Sports Illustrated.

“There have been superteams that have forced us to reimagine how the game is played, but none perhaps in a generation, maybe two, are so beautifully choreographed as the Warriors. At the Dubs’ most golden, their movements and pieces seamlessly blur into each other to the point where it impossible to distinguish the magic of one player from another, even magic so singular as that of Curry or KD.” 

In the blur Monday night, KD, Kevin Durant, had 22 points and Klay Thompson had 26. And Draymond Green, out the previous 11 games because of a right toe sprain, had 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 points.

The Warriors agreed that Green’s return brought revitalization. So did Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, who insisted, “I’ve always said this about Draymond: he’s probably the most unique player in the league in terms of what he means to this team.”

What the team, the game of basketball, means to Draymond is clear.

“I miss the trash talking,” said Green, “the getting on the court. I felt like a kid in a candy store. That’s what we all miss when we leave the game, yelling at the guys, the refs.”

Asked his favorite play of the night, Green said it was just before the half. He took a pass, “but I was gassed. Not interested in going for a layup. I saw Klay was open. So I took the road less traveled. One more dribble probably would have taken me out.”

Durant said what he noticed with Draymond again in the lineup was not any disagreement such as the one when Green yelled at Durant to pass and Durant did not, but Draymond pushing the ball up and talking defense.

Four All-Stars once more together, one common goal.

“I think we play with a faster pace,” Kerr said, talking about how Draymond improves the Warriors. “That’s the main thing. He gives us a different dimension. I think we’re going to get much better. It was a good first step.”

You might say a small step for man, but not if you didn’t think we ever got to the moon. Come on, Steph.