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9:44AM

Warriors against the Rockets? ‘Been there,’ says Gentry

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — They’ve been there. That was Alvin Gentry’s observation about the Warriors. But Gentry also has been there, an assistant with the Dubs in their championship season of 2015, and he was there — literally — Tuesday night when the Warriors beat Gentry’s current team, the New Orleans Pelicans.

Painful for Gentry, the Warriors’ 113-104 win that gave them the NBA Western Conference semifinal, four games to one. But also, in a way, joyous. Yes, the Pelicans have been his team for three seasons. But the Warriors used to be his team, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr is one of Gentry’s closest friends. So for him, call the result bittersweet.

And for the Warriors and their fans, the usual sellout at Oracle Arena, call it expected.

Now the question is what they should expect the next round, the conference finals, against Houston.

For the first time in four years, the Warriors don’t have the home-court advantage, the Rockets finishing with a better record. The first two games are in Houston, and the Dubs could come home down 0-2. More significantly, if it goes that far, Game 7 will be in Houston.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” said Gentry of what the Warriors face in the Rockets, who Tuesday night also clinched their place in the conference final, beating Utah.

“But,” reminded Gentry of the Warriors, “they’ve been there before.”

So have the Rockets, three years ago — when they lost to the Warriors. And so there’s been talk of revenge, if a bit delayed.

“They have made it known their team is built to beat us,” said Draymond Green, who for all intents and all positions, from center — which he played Tuesday night at times against Anthony Davis — to guard, has been the Warriors' two-round playoff MVP.

“Kind of their, like you said, obsession,” Green agreed, “or whatever you want to call it. It is what it is. Like I’ve said before, that stuff is cool. Obviously you want to build your team to beat the defending champs, because that’s usually how you have to go to win a championship. That stuff has been said for about a year now. It’s time to play.”

The 6-foot-7 Green had 19 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, and although he missed a triple double by that one assist, he averaged a triple double in the five games against the Pelicans.

“He’s such an amazing player,” Kerr said of Green. “Defense, offense, he was our most valuable player.” Also at times, the most pixyish. Once, during a time out, he went to the Pelicans’ huddle.

“That should have surprised me,” said Gentry, “but I didn’t see any reason to get upset.”

The Warriors at times looked like the team we have come to know: Steph Curry, playing 37 minutes, the longest since his return after the knee injury, scored 28 points, Kevin Durant 24 and Klay Thompson 23, 19 of them in the first half.

The Warriors, as it has become standard, unloaded in the third quarter, leading 95-75 at the end of the quarter. But they got sloppy near the end, and the Pelicans got close. Not that the Dubs were in danger of losing.

They did lose two out of three to the Rockets in the regular season, but the last game, a 116-109 loss on Jan. 20, was at the end of a five-game road trip to places such as Toronto, Milwaukee and Cleveland, and the Dubs won the first four.

“That game was so long ago,” said Durant. “We know what they do. They know what we do.”

“You can’t believe the hype,” said Thompson. “Everybody is already talking about Warriors-Rockets.”

Even Kerr, after the game.

“We’re going to need some contributions from our bench,” said Kerr. “It’s a series where you’re going to have a lot of shooting out there for Houston, a lot of one-on-one play. We have to stay in front of them.”

Even if some think, at the start, the Warriors are behind them.

9:44AM

Steph’s back; Draymond never left

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was Steph Curry’s night, as we knew it would be when he finally was able to play after these long weeks of rehabilitation. But it was also Draymond Green’s night because, even with all the other talent, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and once more Steph Curry, the Warriors are Draymond Green’s team.

He is the fire. He is the persistence. He is leader. He is the man who makes the pieces fit, who rides herd on the defense, who crashes the boards, who forces the issue.

Who made sure the Dubs would not squander the home-court advantage they held over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, Golden State winning 121-116, the night Curry played for the first time in weeks.

That gave them a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven NBA Western Conference semifinals, but the next two games are at New Orleans. “And when their crowd gets into it,” said Curry, “it’s a different environment.”

Roughly six weeks Curry had missed with a knee injury. When he finally got the chance to play, he didn’t miss too many shots, immediately connecting on a 3-pointer and scoring 28 points in all, one fewer than Durant.

“You know,” said Draymond, “it was kind of electric in there, and for him to hit that 3 that fast, it brought a lot of life to the building, and a kind of light, spirit. Pretty fitting for sure.”

Spoken by a man who knows spirit, knows intensity, knows what’s lacking when the Warriors, as they did in the first quarter, don’t play all that well, particularly on defense.

“I had to bring some force,” said Green. “We were playing soft that first quarter. The second quarter, we needed to bring some intensity to the game, and that’s my job.”

As Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who knows Green quite well as a former Warriors assistant coach, said, “Draymond can play every position.” And play the school principal if needed.

Green yelled at the Pelicans' Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, which didn’t displease Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who appreciates the edginess with which Draymond plays.

“I do like to see it as long as there’s no technical involved,” said Kerr. “But you know I thought those two 3s he hit to start the fourth quarter were probably the two biggest shots of the game, because we were kind of struggling, and the ball found its way to Draymond, so those were big shots that gave us a bit of a lead.”

The consecutive 3-pointers, the first 16 seconds into the fourth quarter, the next 16 seconds after that, put Golden State in front, 94-86.

Green had 20 points and team highs of 12 assists and nine rebounds.

“Draymond has been phenomenal throughout the playoffs,” said Kerr. “He’s been saving himself for the playoffs. It’s a long regular season, especially after three straight trips to the finals. And you can tell the difference in the intensity from a lot of our guys, but Draymond in particular.”

Green said about the same thing.

“I live for playoff basketball,” said Draymond. ”It’s the most fun time of the year for me, just locking in and focusing, kind of taking what the defense gives me. You know, just trying to create for my teammates in any way I possibly can.

“When you’re playing a great team like (New Orleans), a team with so many options and weapons, I have to be a threat. I think I’ve done a decent job so far.”

Curry’s return was special, of course. You can’t lose a two-time MVP and not be affected. There were games when others had the same deep open shots as Curry gets but failed to connect.

“I’ve been real eager of late to get back out with my teammates,” said Curry. To play some playoff basketball and get a big win. It was huge.”

He wasn’t in the starting lineup. “Seemed like it was forever,” Curry said of finally getting into the game. “It was a good feeling.”

Durant was asked what Curry was like when he can’t play basketball.

“That’s a good question,” said Durant. “Very anxious. Couple days ago in practice, he couldn’t stop running and jumping and making weird noises. So I’m glad he’s back. I was a little worried about him for a second.”

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.

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