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8:30PM

Draymond Green on KD: ‘His defense is spectacular’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the opponent, it’s the old question against the young but experienced Warriors. Which poison do you pick: Triple Double (Draymond Green, of course) or Double Trouble (Kevin Durant)?

It’s a numbers game you’re destined to lose.

Green got his threesome on Christmas day at the Oracle (12 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), Durant his double (25 points, five blocked shots). What the Warriors got on the holiday was less a gift than a well-earned victory over the only other team the fans seem to care about, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-92.

The NBA wants to put on a show every December 25, five games from morning to night, and the prime attraction, a noon start Pacific time, 3 p.m. on the East Coast, is the matchup between the franchises that faced each other in the last three NBA finals, the Cavs and Dubs. As Hollywood knows, sequels sell.

So does the Big D, defense, particularly by KD, Durant.

The chant? It’s not “offense, offense.” Hardly anyone needs encouragement to let fly a 15-footer or roar in for a dunk. Scoring points is fun. Keeping the other team from scoring them is work. And the Warriors have been working. Especially Durant.

Nobody doubts what he can do with the ball. He’s averaging 28.4 points a game. With Steph Curry missing, Durant was the guy who kept throwing in the winners, against the Lakers, against everyone, as the streak went to 11 in a row. Whoever dreamed that someone 6-foot-10 had the touch of someone 5-10? Swish.

Or who sensed Durant would use his wingspan (something around seven feet) to stymie and swat? Not Green, who a couple years back, when Durant was at Oklahoma City, went against him in the playoffs.

“He always made some defensive moves,” Green said of Durant, a teammate now for a second year, “but he never really seemed to care. When he was guarding me, I knew how good he was, his length, how hard it was to get a shot off. When he came here, we talked about him getting better. From that point last year, he’s become a great defender.”

Durant almost agrees. But hold off on the word "great."

“I’m getting close to where I want to be,” said Durant. “But I’m not quite there.”

Durant on Monday defended the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, because that’s what Kevin wanted to do. James had 20 points (Kevin Love led the Cavs with 31 and 18 rebounds) but also a game-high seven turnovers.

“He’s one of the leaders in blocked shots per game,” James said of Durant. “He’s been doing a heck of a job first of all taking (the) individual matchup and then protecting the rim, too. They have a good, maybe great They kicked our butts in transition.

“(Durant’s) right up there, if not the best, with Kawhi (Leonard), Russ (Westbrook), James (Harden). There’s a pretty long list. To play the same position, with me and KD being small forwards and with Kawhi, we do a great job of going at it.”

Durant’s only problem, if it can be considered as such, is that from afar, the fans, the press, he’s known as a shooter and scorer, no matter how many shots he blocks.

“If he just played defense,” said Draymond of Durant, “he’d be spectacular. But it will never overshadow his offense, which is spectacular.”

Durant was involved in yet another “call it the way you want it” play in the final seconds when the Warriors were ahead, blocking a LeBron shot and also it appeared getting a bit of LeBron’s hand. The officials studied replay after replay, then determined there was no foul.

“I just like guarding my position,” Durant said of taking on James. “A small forward is supposed to defend a small forward.”

Even if both small forwards, at 6-8, are taller than the big forward and occasional center, the 6-7 Green.

“You just can’t stop those guys like LeBron,” said Durant. ”They make good plays. They make shots at the rim. You can’t get discouraged.”

As one of the stars on a day of basketball stardom, Durant was anything but discouraged.

“It’s Christmas,” he reminded. ”There are so many people here happy. The spirit moves us.”

Fortunately, the spirit didn’t try to go inside against Durant or Draymond. He would have stopped moving.

9:37AM

For Warriors, new faces, old result; ‘This team is the NBA champ’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — No Steph? No Draymond? No Zaza? Three starters missing because of injuries? Ehhh. Maybe if the entire lineup was on the bench, the Warriors might be in trouble. Repeat: might.

But as one of the guys who did play, Kevin Durant, reminded us après game, “This team is the NBA champion.” And, one implies, believes it will be again, a third time in four years.

But we get ahead of ourselves, a legitimate failing when dealing with the Dubs. No matter who’s on court or who isn’t, the script seems wonderfully boring — wonderfully if you’re a Warriors partisan.

On Monday, with three-fifths of the normal starting lineup unable to take part, the Dubs whipped the Portland Trail Blazers, 111-104, at the Oracle.

It was a bit of a bummer that Nick Young was elbowed in the head in the third quarter and incurred a concussion. Not to make light of the matter. Concussions are serious, but somehow a blow to the head, sprained ankles (Steph Curry) and sore shoulders (Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia) have little effect.

Not when there’s a rookie name Jordan Bell. Or veterans such as David West or Omri Casspi.

Strength in numbers. You’ve heard it and read it ad infinitum. But that’s what the Warriors have. Just swallow hard and accept the repetition. And the success.

That was the Dubs’ seventh win in a row, the previous six, of course, coming on an historic (for them) road trip when they swept through the country from La-La Land (Lakers) to the Atlantic (Miami) without a loss, if you don’t count losing Curry when he stepped not lightly but on an opponent’s foot.

The Warriors were up by 20 much of the second half Monday against the Blazers, but as so often happens in a sport governed by a 24-second clock, big leads are difficult to retain, especially when Portland has that Oakland kid, Damian Lillard, who scored 39.

Durant had 28, nine rebounds and three blocks. Bell had the block of the night and 11 points. Klay Thompson had 24 points, And the NBA's most senior player, 37-year-old West — “I like competing,” was his reason not to retire — had 10 points.

“David’s had a spectacular season,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach. “Every night he makes five or six shots and blocks shots. He’s one of the smartest players on the floor. A guy who’s a been a star, this late in a career, is like playing with house money.”

At 22, Bell is 15 years younger than West, but as Kerr said when asked about integrating young and old(er), experienced and inexperienced, “It’s not hard when you have people with talent who are willing to work.”

Said West, about Bell, Young and Casspi, new this season, “Those guys figure it out. Bell is learning quickly. He’s been getting a crash course from all the coaches and the veterans. It’s a golden opportunity just being around such great players.”

Kerr said using Bell — the coach teased pre-game and waited to announce him as his fifth starter — becomes a trade-off between youthful exuberance and youthful mistakes. “We point them out,” the coach explained. “He’s been coming on fast.”

Kerr was particularly enthused by the Warriors’ defense, especially without Draymond, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for 2016-17. “Jordan was really powerful," he said. "That makes him feel good. That makes us feel good.”

Teams occasionally get sloppy in the first home game after a long trip. There’s a tendency to relax. But Durant said the two days off between the Friday night game at Detroit and Monday night game in Oakland allowed time to refocus.

He also pointed out that, no matter who couldn’t play, the people who did play were 6-foot-11, 6-7 and 6-6 and with plenty of reach. “We know how to play defense,” said Durant. “We’re not going to give up how we approach a game.”

No matter who can play or can’t.

6:57AM

Warriors: No Steph, No Kevin, no defense down the stretch

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — The slogan is "Strength in Numbers." But the Warriors didn’t have enough numbers from their strength. Plenty of people on the court Monday night. However, two of them weren’t named Kevin Durant or Steph Curry.

“Without those two guys,” conceded Draymond Green, “it’s tougher. Sixty points. And they draw so many people to them. They get so much attention. Things were so much more closed down.”

An exaggeration about the points, if slight. Curry is averaging 26 a game, Durant 24.7, meaning the Warriors were missing 50.7 points against Sacramento. But hey, don’t the Warriors always beat the Kings, especially at Oracle? Of course. Until Monday night. Until they lost, 110-106.

The Kings, who had won only five of 19 games? “Give them some credit,” said Draymond. “They definitely executed well. Our defense just wasn’t that great.”

It was lousy. The Kings shot 53 percent, the first time in 37 games, win or lose, that an opponent had made 50 percent against the Dubs. A lot of easy drives to the basket, and nine 3-pointers.

So, off they go, the Warriors, on another road trip, the longest of the season, six games, starting Wednesday against the Lakers, then crossing the continent, flummoxed and well educated. Not that they believed any differently, but now they — and their somewhat spoiled fans — know that every team in the NBA has talent and potential.

The guy who did in the Warriors was Willie Cauley-Stein, the sixth pick overall in the 2016 draft. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks. “He put a lot of pressure on us with his drives,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors' coach.

The Kings have other guys, too. They have Vince Carter, old “Vinsanity,” in his 19th season, who is 40, or 16 years older than Cauley-Stein. And they have Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose driving bank shot with 2.4 seconds left broke a 106-106 tie.

And the Warriors didn’t have Steph or K.D. “That changes the dynamics down the stretch,” said Kerr. ”We had a few plays we knew we wanted. We just didn’t get great looks at the basket. They (the Kings) did a good job defensing us down there.”

Curry could have played if this were April or May. Or June. If it were the playoffs. He has a right hand contusion. But Durant’s left ankle is a problem. “Been lingering,” said Kerr, “but it’s not a huge level of concern.”

Strength in numbers. The Warriors roll because of their depth, men off the bench to sub for the starters. But when the men off the bench become the starters, then what? Then Omri Casspi gets 30 minutes (and nine points) and Patrick McCaw gets 16 points and seven assists.

“On a night like this, when Steph is out,” said Kerr, “it’s a good opportunity for Patrick. And even though it was a loss, there were some positives.”

Beginning some two weeks ago, November 16, the Warriors played at Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Oklahoma City, losing two of four. Then they came to Oakland for three games in four nights, losing the last. Now it’s more travel.

“It’s almost like we never came home,” said Draymond, “but it is what it is.” What it is, is pro basketball, too many games in too few days. But that’s not why the Warriors, twice with 10-point leads, lost to the Kings.

“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” he reminded. ”We should have put ourselves in better position to score.”

Jordan Bell, the rookie from Oregon, the defensive whiz, played 16 minutes, made four of six shots for eight points and grabbed five rebounds. When someone asked Draymond whether Bell should get more time, he said, “It’s not my job to say. What I will say is when he’s out there, some things happen.”

What happened to the Warriors was they tried to win a game without Steph and KD — and failed.

8:23AM

No team as exciting to watch — or play for — as the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — There have been other great basketball teams, probably in the minds of some, particularly those in the east, better basketball teams. But for the here and now, if not the forever, there is no team as enjoyable to watch and cheer — and play for, verifies Klay Thompson — as the Golden State Warriors of 2017-18.

OK, the Celtics had Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones and Tom Heinsohn, and won seven championships in row and nine in 10 years, still unequaled. And those Lakers teams of the recent past, Magic, Shaq and Kobe — and James Worthy — well deserved the embellishing, copyrighted label, “Showtime.”

But the NBA now, top to bottom, is better than it’s ever been, and at the top, the very top, are the Warriors, the team of a dozen stars, if you’ll pardon just a slight exaggeration, and a thousand moves. But of only one direction.

You want to know about these Warriors? Their gunner, their spark, their two-time MVP, Steph Curry, was unable to play Monday night because of a leg contusion.

“What that means,” said Shaun Livingston, who started in Steph’s spot, “is we’re missing 25 to 50 points a game.” But they didn’t miss a chance to win their seventh in a row, defeating the Orlando Magic, 110-100, at the Oracle, if failing for the first time to win by 17 points or more.

“This experience is good for us,” said Livingston of victory without Curry. “I know it sucks for the fans. They want to see Steph.”

Of course. He’s a star. He’s an attraction. He makes commercials. He makes three-pointers. He makes a ton of money. But sometimes the chorus, the people in the back of the stage, carry the show. Only, on the Warriors, the subs, the role players, are people like Andre Iguodala, an NBA finals MVP, and Livingston, who had it not been for a terrible injury to his left knee 10 years ago might have been one of the greats.

We haven’t heard that slogan “Strength in numbers,” much in the opening weeks of this season. But the numbers are stronger than they’ve ever been. What a roster. What a problem for head coach Steve Kerr, trying to get the subs off the bench or off the inactive list and onto the court.

Kerr’s own background was as a backup. “I sometimes didn’t play for three weeks,” he said of his days with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. “I didn’t feel part of the team. I learned from (head coach) Phil Jackson the real power is playing a lot of people. I just know we are lucky to have such talent we can win games without Steph Curry.”

Talent such as Kevin Durant, also a league MVP, who Monday night had 21 points and eight assists, and Draymond Green, 20 points and five assists. Livingston scored 16 points and had six assists. Thompson had 15 and five.

Nick Young, a starter for the Lakers but a role player for the Warriors, scored nine. David West had 11 rebounds. Iguodala was in nearly half the game, 23 minutes, 9 seconds, passing, shooting and, perhaps most significantly, defending. Yes, the Warriors are loaded.

Thompson said it’s as much fun watching these Warriors as playing for them. "It doesn’t matter if it’s the finals or preseason,” he pointed out. "The fans are great. It’s like that every night.”

Kerr, in effect, has been given the key (players) to the kingdom, and he’s making the very best of the opportunity — while determined to give everyone on the squad an opportunity.

“It’s a luxury to have Shaun Livingston,” said the coach. “He was headed for an All-Star career before that severe injury. It’s amazing how he’s stayed himself since the injury.  He’s one of our most mature teammates. He has an incredible basketball IQ.”

And he’s a reserve.

It was a different look without Curry, although there was not a different pattern. The Warriors were behind early, caught up and then blew the game apart in the third quarter, as they seem to do night after night.

“Teams come out and play great against us in the first half,” said Durant. “Then we play defense, get a hand up, make them miss and score quick.”

Kerr has his own explanation: “We have such great talent, everybody is comfortable just treading water. Then we seem to pay more attention to detail.”

And win big, very big.

10:31AM

Kerr on losing Warriors: ‘At some point game has to matter’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — You want theories? They are almost as numerous as the Warriors' bad passes.

The Dubs are thinking that, as champions, they can win virtually by pulling off their warm-ups. That trip to China has cost them conditioning and timing. Each opposing squad plays its best against the team that everyone says is the best.

And, oh yeah, the season started two weeks earlier than in recent years. True, that doesn’t make them any different from the other teams in the NBA, of course, Nor does the inescapable fact that when they play as imprecisely as they did Sunday night — make it sloppily — they’re going to lose.

Which they did to the Detroit Pistons, 115-107, at home, at the Oracle.

Despite leading by 14 points in the third quarter.

Despite shooting 48 percent from the field.

Despite making more field goals than the Pistons.

Despite grabbing more rebounds.

Despite Klay Thompson getting 29 points, Kevin Durant 28 and Steph Curry 27.

But oh, those turnovers. Twenty-six of them. So unlike the Warriors. Last year’s Warriors. This year, this season, the Warriors are a team trying as much to find their old selves as find the ball on a pass.

A team that having lost two of its four home games, according to head coach Steve Kerr, lacks intensity, lacks focus — and certainly lacks the ability to throw a pass when and where it’s supposed to be thrown.

"At some point,” said Kerr, “the ball has to matter. The game has to matter enough for us to win. We must be leading the league in turnovers.”

Sure, it’s just one game out of 80. Sure, there’s another Monday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers, who Friday night were beaten by the Pistons, their first loss of the season. Sure it’s only October, and no one is supposed to care until May — or at the least, April.

But trends develop. Suddenly the team that was said to be unbeatable becomes very beatable. And maybe there’s an injury to one of the stars. And maybe the other team on the court begins to hit virtually every shot, as the Pistons did in the fourth quarter, when Detroit shot 63 percent.

“This has to do with a complete lack of focus and fundamentals,” said Kerr. The NBA champs, the team that dropped only one of 16 playoff games, unfocused, lacking fundamentals? How can that be?

“We are throwing the ball all over the place,” said Kerr. “Even some passes just hitting guys in the shoes ... I didn’t feel like most of the turnovers were because of their pressure. It just felt like more of them were just us throwing the ball around.”

It was a tough Sunday for the Bay. The Raiders lost. The 49ers lost. Then, at home, stunningly, the Warriors lost. Blowing a big lead.

“We finally started caring with six minutes,” said Kerr, “when we were threatened. We immediately cut it to three. But the right team won. Karma was in the right place tonight.”

Unlike many of the Warriors players trying to receive a pass.

“I think we care,” said Durant. “We’re just trying to squeeze the basketball into places that are not there. We care about the game. It’s the small details.”

That have become big mistakes. “They did a great job of converting our turnovers,” said Durant. “They made shots when they needed them.”

That happens more often than not in the NBA. These guys are the best in the world. Avery Bradley made 8 of 13 for the Pistons, scored 23 points. Reggie Jackson made 8 of 12, scored 22 points.

Detroit out-Warriored the Warriors, hitting on 12 of 27 3-pointers, while the Dubs were 10 of 27.

The fans who usually have that rolling chant, “War-rrr-iors,” instead were begging “Let’s go Warriors.“ First they were pleading and then, too quickly, the game was over and they were leaving.

"We won a championship on this floor,” Durant reminded. “There so much the crowd gives us. They were ready to explode. We didn’t take advantage of it.”

You might say they threw away the chance, just like they did the basketball.

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