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8:23AM

For Warriors it was one game — but what a game

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — One game. That’s all it was, as Alvin Gentry, the New Orleans Pelicans coach, reminded.

So they got routed. Didn’t the Sharks lose one playoff game, 7-0, to Vegas and win the next in double overtime? Didn’t the Giants lose one game, 15-6, to the Dodgers and then win the next?

It doesn’t matter if you get outscored by 24-2 in a stretch of the second quarter — well, it does, because that’s the reason the Warriors were able to crush the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-101, Saturday night in the opener of their NBA Western Conference semifinal.

But you get the idea. It you lose by 20 or lose by two, it’s just one. It’s basketball, not golf. Your differential isn’t carried over. The points aren’t cumulative. The series is best of seven. This was just one game.

But what a game, one in which the Warriors, still without Steph Curry — but almost certainly he’ll be back Tuesday night when the teams meet once again at the Oracle, the “Roarcle,” and more about that later — were the team we had come to know: Focused, defensive, explosive, awesome.

“They’re still the champions,” Garry St. Jean, the former coach and general manager who’s now a TV commentator, told me before tipoff when I wondered how Golden State might respond. Wise words.

They played like champions. Particularly in the second quarter. The Warriors and Pelicans were tied, 39-39, a minute into the period. Then zap, flash, or as John Madden used to say, “Boom.” In the next 10 minutes, give a few seconds or so, the Dubs built a 76-48 lead.

“Well,” said Gentry, a former Warriors assistant, ”that didn’t go as planned.”

It did for the Warriors, who as Gentry conceded “are so disciplined in what they do, if you turn the ball over they are going to make you pay.”

Collecting at the cash box were guys such as Klay Thompson (27 points), Kevin Durant (26 points) and Draymond Green (16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists).

“They get out in the open court,” said Gentry, “and that’s what makes it tough.”

What helped make the Warriors was sub center Kevon Looney. He only had 3 points, but he was plus 34, meaning when he was on the court the Warriors outscored the Pelicans by 34.

“The stats sheet may not know it,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “unless you look at the plus-minus. That’s a good number, 34. Loon’s had a great year. He’s a smart player, and he did a job on Davis.”

That’s Anthony Davis, the 7-footer called the “Brow” because his two eyebrows nearly touch. In the Pelicans’ sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers, Davis averaged 33 points. On Saturday night, he had 21 and was minus 27.

“I thought Looney was the key for us,” said Kerr, “but I thought the defense in general was great and that was the most important aspect of the game.

“The defense allowed us to get going in the second quarter and get out in transition and break things open.”

That's when the usual sellout crowd of 19,596, the Warriors’ 284th straight, broke loose. After a couple of months of indifferent play, of play without (at times) Thompson, Curry, Durant and Green, the team was a bit of a mystery and the fans were a bit disenchanted. But as the Dubs opened up, so did the spectators.

“They really show up for the playoffs,” said Thompson. “It’s why we play. At the end of the day we’re entertainers, and when you get a crowd like that, it really uplifts our whole team.”

In an interesting move, Kerr, who later explained he wanted to go small to match the Pelicans’ quickness, started Nick Young at forward along with Durant. Green was at center, Thompson and Andre Iguodala at guards. Not that it matters a great deal with Warrior players shifting on defense.

“It all starts with the defense,” said Green, who at times covered Davis, the big man, and at times the point guard Rajon Rondo.

“Starts and stops and deflections,” said Green. “We can push the tempo. Klay was shooting lights out. My job is to be the catalyst, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

They were for one game. One game that was one tremendous game.

9:25AM

Warriors survive Spurs — and here come the Pelicans

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — They had it. Then they didn’t. Then somehow, from the chaos that is NBA playoff basketball, a game of push, shove and teeth-grinding tension, the Warriors took it — survived, really — which wasn’t what was expected but, hey, it was the Spurs out there, not just any opponent.

And now Saturday come the New Orleans Pelicans, who with the “Brow,” Anthony Davis, a big man and a huge presence, could very well end the Dubs’ reign as champions. 

But that’s the next series, the next act, and after Tuesday night’s gasping victory over San Antonio — with a lead trickling away from 15 points with 10 minutes left to 7 points with 1:40 left to 2 points with 42 seconds left, and the sellout crowd at Oracle agonizing, the Dubs eventually winning, 99-91 — the future can wait.

A few days at least.

The Warriors took the first-round series from San Antonio four games to one, and as they say in golf it ain’t how but how many. After a loss in Texas, the Dubs did what was necessary — playing defense (the Spurs shot only 31 percent in the first half, 37 percent for the game) and handling the ball well, 10 turnovers to 13 for meticulous Spurs.

Asked what he wanted to focus on practicing for the Pelicans, who stunningly swept the Portland Trail Blazers in their first-round series, Kerr said, “Just the basics. You’ve got to defend, rebound and take care of the ball. That’s what wins in the playoffs.”

That’s what has been winning for the Warriors the past three years, especially now with the absence of two-time MVP Steph Curry. Golden State has won 12 straight home playoff games, the longest such streak since the Lakers in the seasons of 2009-10.

“Guys have to step up and make shots and all that stuff,” agreed Kerr. “But what you can control is critical, and that means, you know, not skipping any steps, boxing out and making the rotations; knowing the game plan and just competing like crazy.”

Which is what the aging Spurs did, without their head coach, Gregg Popovich — who after his wife died between games two and three stepped way and turned control of the team to his lead assistant, Ettore Messina.

In a class move following his formal post-game interview Tuesday night, the Warriors' often contentious Draymond Green stood up and asked for prayers for the man known as Pop, a mentor to Kerr, the Warriors' coach, and respected and admired through all basketball.

This was a moment of reflection after a game of suspense. The Warriors were up 9-0 right away. Easy, right? Then they trailed by 18. “I think they have done an incredible job on a night when the shots weren’t falling,” Messina said of his Spurs.

They weren’t falling because the Warriors weren’t allowing them to fall, harassing the shooters. Only the brilliant center LaMarcus Aldridge, 30 points on 8 of 18 and 14 for 14 from the line, and Patty Mills, the St. Mary’s alum, 18 points, did anything offensively for San Antonio.

For the Warriors, Kevin Durant, who was a poor 4 of 12 for three quarters, warmed up near the end. He finished with 25 points, one more than Klay Thompson (11 of 22 from the floor). Green had 17 points — and 19 rebounds.

“Draymond can literally do everything,” said Thompson. “So these last two games, he’s been rebounding like a beast, and his ability to take the ball from the rim and push the break is what sparks the offense so much.

“We expect him to continue to play with this edge, because when he does — and he’s played with great emotion and passion — that’s when he’s at his best.”

Which is what the Warriors will have to be if they’re going to advance.

“I’ve seen Anthony Davis,” said Thompson, “I’ve seen plenty of highlights of what he’s doing this postseason, and it’s amazing. So it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”

One night in the regular season, Davis scored 58 against the Phoenix Suns.

“We got to take it one game at a time, like the cliché goes,” said Thompson. ‘You can’t look ahead to the West finals or (NBA) finals. You have to beat the Pelicans, and they are playing really well right now.”

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.

8:19AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Warriors defeat Spurs with recharged defense

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors went big in the lineup, and in their first playoff game in defense of their NBA championship, went big on the scoreboard.

With 6-6 Andre Iguodala at guard in place of the injured Steph Curry, the Warriors controlled the ball and the boards and overwhelmed the Spurs, 113-92, in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series Saturday. They outrebounded San Antonio 51-30.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2018 Newsday. All rights reserved. 

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.