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10:40AM

Another win for the Warriors, “the best team in the world”

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The other coach called them the best team in the world. Before the game.

Then the Warriors made Igor Kokoskov look very good by making themselves look like, well, if not the best team in the world then at least the best team in Oakland, which certainly is where the world of basketball has been located the past few years.

You know what the Warriors can do. So does Kokoskov. And Monday night, for the first time in the four games they’ve played in a season that has months and miles to go, they played that way.

Like the best team in the world, crushing Kokoskov’s Phoenix Suns.

The final score was only 123-103, but at one time the Dubs were up 88-58, by 30 points, with 5:23 to play — in the third quarter.

“That looked like our team,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “They had a purpose with each possession. They tried to get the guys better shots, and they got the threes together. It was a good night.”

A night the rest of the NBA knew was possible — and probable.

You’ve got these back-to-back champions, as the Warriors' slogan goes, and then you add this ever-improving 7-foot, 245-pounder, Damian Jones, who’s not only tall but wide — and well, thoughts of a three-peat, Pat Riley’s copyrighted term, seem quite realistic.

In effect, the Warriors, now 3-1 — if that matters, and it doesn’t — stopped fouling and started shooting.

“When you foul,” reminded Kerr, “you can’t get out in transition and run, so they go hand in hand. For the most part, we did a good job defending without fouling.”

It was Kokoskov, born a Serbian, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, in his first year as the Suns' head coach, who before tipoff said, “We are playing the best team in the world. We think about them, but we focus on ourselves. We know what we have to do to compete with these guys.”

But they couldn’t. Steph Curry had 29 points, after scoring 30 or more in the other three games. Kevin Durant had 22 and Klay Thompson, a bit off the other three games, scored 16, if hitting only 1-of-6 on threes. Jones, who has spent most of his previous two NBA seasons in the G-League (nee D-League), scored 13 in 20 minutes.

“This is why we have to have Damian,” said Kerr, who has been questioned as to why he starts Jones at center ahead of Jordan Bell. “We’ve gone against Steven Adams. Rudy Gobert, (Nikola) Jokic and tonight Deandre Jordan. Damian passed this week’s test with flying colors.”

Even though Jones’ game-tying attempt against Denver on Sunday night was blocked at the final buzzer.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the other guys trying to set up Damian,” said Kerr. “He’s fun to play with. He takes up that vertical space and makes it tough to guard him. He was better tonight, and he still can get better. He’s so physically imposing. He makes people shoot over him.”

Jones understands his role and also understands he’s in a lineup with four All-Stars, which can be humbling if not intimidating. But the teammates have embraced him, and DeMarcus Cousins, the other 7-footer, who continues to rehab his torn Achilles, has been coaching Jones.

“Little tidbits,” said Jones of the advice. “Scouting reports. Reminding me to attack the boards. I have to stay within myself. I have confidence in my abilities.”

Why wouldn’t he, teaming with Curry, Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green? Like the lyric about New York, if you can make it on the Warriors you can make it anywhere.

The words about Jones help balance all the speculation about what will happen to the Warriors. Whether indeed they can take a third straight championship and fourth in five years. Whether Durant, a free agent at the end of the season, will stay or depart.

Now the talk has been replaced by action.

Asked about playing on consecutive nights in different cities (Denver on Sunday and Oakland on Monday), Curry said, “In the NBA everybody has back-to-backs. We’ve been around the block enough to prepare ourselves. We didn’t like the way we played (Sunday) night. We were going to try not to lose two in a row.”

They succeeded like world-beaters.

8:05PM

The Warriors own the NBA. Who would have believed?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Another championship, and shortly another parade. Old hat, as they say, but not if you know about the old days, when the Warriors not only didn’t have a chance to win a title, they barely had a chance to win a game.

Those haunting years, when half the crowd at the Oracle, or as it used to be called, Oakland Coliseum Arena, seemed to be cheering for the other guys, mainly the Lakers. Before that, the Bulls. Before that, the Celtics.

Those awful seasons, 2000-01, when the Warriors won only 17 games; the others with 19 wins or 21 wins, when you knew Kobe or Shaq — or Derek Fisher, for heaven’s sake — would break a tie and break your heart. Hopeless.

Now the Warriors are in command. The NBA has become their league, pro basketball their game.

It used to belong to Boston or the Lakers. To Bird and Magic. Then to Kobe and Shaq. The power and glory have been grabbed away by Steph and KD and Klay — and others on the team that clearly has become the ruler of the sport.

We know what to expect, Draymond in an opponent’s face, Andre orchestrating, Kevin — and think how fortunate the Dubs are to get him — throwing them in when he isn’t stuffing them down, and the Splash Brothers, Curry and Thompson, hitting from here, there and everywhere.

Nobody equated Northern California with basketball success. The rest of the nation still doubts. It’s like, this must be a mistake. Weren’t the Celtics supposed to surprise? They play in ESPN’s figurative backyard. If a California team is involved, isn’t it going to be the Lakers? 

It isn’t that the A’s, Giants, Raiders and 49ers went unnoticed when they won their championships, but as a man once proclaimed on the radio, “Unless it’s the Lakers, Dodgers or USC football, nobody in the east pays attention.”

Do we, in the state with largest population, with five major league baseball teams, with four NFL teams, with three NBA and three NHL teams, care? Sure we do. But it’s not going to change.

So we’re grateful that the fate of the Warriors changed. Pleased that Joe Lacob and Peter Guber showed proper leadership; pleased that Bob Myers understands how to create a great NBA team and that Steve Kerr and his assistants, particularly Mike Brown, who a year ago became the interim man, know how to coach that team; grateful that a varied, diverse and delightfully likable group of athletes compose that team.

Basketball is game of few secrets. There’s no dugout into which a player can retreat, no helmets under which one can hide. In effect, these guys are running about in their underwear, only a few feet from the nearest spectator. We know every move LeBron made. Or J.R. Smith didn’t make.

You own up to your mistakes and gleefully — but not arrogantly — accept the accolades. Humility is only a game away. Curry sets a record with nine three-pointers, then goes 1-for-11 on 3-pointers. Hey, he has that third title. So does Northern Cal.

Perspective again. Four straight NBA Finals, three of those resulting in trophies. Did anyone believe, when the Warriors had 12 consecutive losing seasons, ’96 through ’08, and 16 of 18, that this could ever happen?

That the Warriors emerged from the agony of being one of the worst to become the very best is a tale that must be told and retold. Warrior fans deserve the chance to smile and cheer as the parade passes by. They filled the seats when it was the other team filling the baskets with jump shots and layups.

Who knows if the Warriors are a dynasty? The Celtics won eight in a row, nine out of 10; the Bulls three in a row twice, six of eight; the Lakers three in a row and numerous times in the finals as losers. So maybe the Warriors need a couple more championships before the “D” word legitimately can be applied.

No matter. They are a tremendous team, king of the hill, top of the heap, where we never thought they’d be.

 

9:18AM

Kerr on record-setting Curry: ‘He was tremendous’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — He makes tough shots, that’s what he does. Always has, always will. Warriors fans knew it. Hey, the basketball world knew it. 

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue just confirmed it.

Swish, swoosh. From downtown. From uptown. From here to eternity. Steph Curry was on fire, was on target, was, well, being Steph Curry, falling backwards, driving forwards, shooting, scoring.

Oh, what a night on Sunday at Oracle. The Warriors were focused. Steph was fabulous. Nine 3-pointers, an NBA Finals record, 33 points total. “It’s hard to look back at all his games,” said Steve Kerr, the Warriors' coach, “but he was tremendous.” 

So were the Warriors. They never trailed. Not once. They beat the Cavaliers 122-103, and with a 2-0 advantage in the best of seven-game series they are more than halfway to their third championship in four seasons.

You had to try to make Steph shoot twos. Cavs forward Kevin Love said that. But saying is not doing. “It’s tough,” Love conceded, “really tough to guard Steph anywhere out there on the floor. He’s just so good at finding himself open.”

Especially with teammates such as Kevin Durant, 26 points, and Klay Thompson, playing with that sore ankle from Thursday’s game, 20 points. Especially with Draymond Green anchoring a defense that a satisfied Kerr said was more intense than in Game 1.

Oh, those Warriors in full flight, when they are forcing turnovers and missed shots and racing the ball down court. Basketball at its most beautiful. For an opponent, even one as great as Cleveland, even one with arguably the best player in history, LeBron James, who had 29 points, 13 assists and 9 rebounds, it can be basketball at its most frustrating.

Remember what John Madden said about those great 49ers teams of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Steve Young et al? “Too many weapons.” So apt a description for the Warriors.

Steph and Klay, Kevin and Draymond. And then Sunday night, JaVale McGee, a sort-of-surprise starter at center (12 points), and off the bench, Shaun Livingston (10 points).

“I mean, when you’re trying to take away Klay, Steph and Durant,” said Lue, when asked about McGee’s 6-for 6 and Livingston’s 5-for-5, “other guys are going to be open. So you’ve got to make those guys beat you. But guys are locking in, paying attention to Klay, Steph and Durant.”

For as much good as that did.

Kerr was asked how deflating it is for an opposing team when Curry makes circus shots, the ones where he escapes the defense and is going sideways or the ones where he takes a step or three across halfcourt or the ones he barely gets away before the 24-second clock expires.

“I don’t know,” said Kerr, trying not to sound arrogant. “I’ve never played or coached against Steph. We feel a lot of joy when he makes them, so that’s not a question for me.”

The question for Steph is no question at all. He just does it. Always has done it. There are other parts to his game, passing, dribbling, mobility, but the shooting was the reason he was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player two years running.

The joke that he comes out of the locker room shooting is no joke. Just before he leaves the concourse to step on the court, Curry tosses up — and usually in — a shot that seems to have been launched from some place east of Sacramento.

“He’s a big shot taker, a big shot maker,” Draymond said of his teammate. “Tough shot maker. He did that tonight. The one where he was falling away, I wouldn’t necessarily say (I was) surprised, but it was oh, man, he’s really got it going.

“But we’ve seen this before, and he completely takes the game over with his scoring ability, and he did that tonight, and it came at a great time for us.”

Curry is fearless, which is a characteristic of great shooters. Also tireless. In practice he’ll hit 30 or 40 consecutive 3-pointers.

“I try all sorts of shots at one time or another,” said Curry. “But at that point (the fallback with about seven seconds on the shot clock), it’s just feel and letting it go. And thankfully it went in.”

As on this record night, so did eight others.

6:47AM

Warriors-Cavs: ‘Robbery,’ replay and brilliance by LeBron

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — J.R. Smith had the ball but didn’t know what to do with it. The officials had the call and, according to the Cavaliers, did too much with it.

Oh, those NBA finals, a place where individual brilliance (the virtually unstoppable LeBron James had 51), collective disappointment (“To come up robbed, it’s just not right,” sighed Cavs coach Tyronn Lue) and an extended conclusion (those final seconds seemed to last forever) merged to create a game that, depending on one’s viewpoint, either was memorable or forgettable.

For sure, it was exciting.

The Warriors won, 124-114, but since it was in overtime, and with Cleveland in control most of the game, the scenario defied that of forecasters who had Golden State easily winning both this opener of the best-of-seven matchup and the title.

In summary, it was a bit of lunacy ensnared in a lot of confusion.

“The finals, man,” said the Warriors' Steph Curry. “Anything is liable to happen.”

Especially when it’s the same two teams for a fourth straight year; especially when, as underdogs, they both won their conference championships in seven games, the seventh one on the road — only a few days before the Thursday night start of the Finals.

You could say the game had everything: athleticism, harsh words, a key instant replay with 36 seconds left in regulation and not least that perplexing move — or non-move — by Smith when he grabbed a rebound with 4.5 seconds to play.

George Hill had hit a free throw to tie the game, 107-107. He missed the second, however, and when Smith grabbed the offensive rebound — all game, Cleveland dominated the boards with 53 rebounds to 38 for the Dubs — Smith dribbled toward halfcourt instead of shooting.

It was an awful miscalculation. “He thought it was over,” said Lue. “He thought we were one up.”

Instead they were on their way to overtime, where they would be outscored 17-7, James unable to get more than two free throws in the period.

“I knew it was tied,” Smith insisted. “I thought were going to take a timeout because I got the rebound. I’m pretty sure everybody didn’t think I was going to shoot over KD (Kevin Durant) right there. I tried to get out and get enough space. I looked over at LeBron, and he looked like he was trying to get a timeout.”

Minutes after play ended, what James was trying to do was get away from the media’s questions, which finally he did by cutting off the interview and walking away.

He perhaps was still irritated by the officials’ decision late in regulation when he planted himself inside near the Cleveland basket and — he thought — was run into by Durant. But replays did appear to show James had moved his feet as Durant approached. The call originally was charging, which would have given Cleveland the ball. Then it became a defensive foul.

“I thought I read that play just as well as any in my career, defensively,” said LeBron. “I saw the drive. I was outside the charge line. I stepped in and took the contact. It’s a huge play.”

The Warriors' inevitable threesome all were in the 20s: Curry with 29 points, Durant 26 and Klay Thompson 24. Despite going out for a while in the first half after a collision. Draymond Green had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Told that his coach, Steve Kerr, said the J.R. Smith bungle was lucky for the Warriors, Draymond said, “Sometimes you need a little bit of luck. So I’ll take it. I think when (Smith) got the rebound he probably could have laid it in. But nonetheless that’s part of the game. You got to know if you’re winning or losing or tied.”

Which Smith claimed he did know. He simply didn’t turn the knowledge into points. Or attempted points.

“Who knows if J.R. would have made the layup anyway?” said Lue. “We had a chance to win. We had to regroup. But they came out and played well in overtime.”

And won the game — the hard, lucky way.

4:32PM

Durant: I was in the league before I got to the Warriors

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — He was up there alone, confronting the questions, some that Kevin Durant obviously thought were unnecessary. Most times, he is joined for interviews after games by Steph Curry, and Durant will thumb through the stats while Curry ruminates.

But this was a day before the NBA finals, the fourth in succession for the Warriors — and Cavaliers — the second in a row for Durant. He was on his own, as in a way he was in Game 3 of last year’s finals when in the closing minutes Golden State trailed the Cavs.

Durant threw in a 3-pointer, the Cleveland lead was gone, and in a way so were the Warriors, headed to a 3-0 lead in games. It was as big a shot as Durant has made in his career, but as he emphatically reminded Wednesday, it hardly was the only shot.

Asked Wednesday whether he defined his career as divided before that game and after that game, Durant quickly answered, “No, no.”

For an excellent reason.

He was the league MVP in 2014, an all-star eight times.

He was so sought-after as a free agent in the summer of 2016, Warriors players met him in a residence on Long Island — the Hampton Five, they came to be named, including their quarry — to persuade him to sign with Golden State, which he did.

Then came another question that displayed his controlled impatience, one about developing a short memory about missed shots and other difficulties. “Was that something you picked up recently … something you had to learn over the course of your career?”

“Well, this is my 11th year,” he said with a trace of sarcasm. “I know a lot of people probably didn’t watch me play before I got to the Warriors. But I was in the league before I got here, and I learned a lot along that time. I actually won an MVP award. I went to the Olympics. Scored a couple of points.”

A couple. More like 20,000 plus. And as we learned the last couple years, Durant is an excellent defender. As certainly are Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and other Warriors, including the injured Andre Iguodala.

When Durant joined the Warriors, he had to know — and definitely knows now — it’s Steph Curry’s team. You see Curry’s No. 30 jerseys everywhere. You see him on commercials. Durant doesn’t seem to mind.

He plays his game — a 6-foot-9 forward who shoots and dribbles like a guard, and rebounds like a 7-footer. Against Houston in the Western Conference finals, when Curry wasn’t bringing the ball down court, it was Durant.

The story has been told. Growing up fatherless near Washington, D.C., Durant was mentored by a recreation director, Charles “Chucky“ Craig, who at age 35 was gunned down in one of those senseless killings. Durant wears that number, 35, in honor of Craig.

“Every time I see it, it’s an instant reminder,” Melvin McCray, another one of Durant’s childhood coaches, told the New York Times.

Every time we see Durant, we see an individual whose story is rarely heard, other than being offered in the numbers of basketball games. Durant is quiet. He lets others tell his tale. Until requested.

Some wondered whether it was good for the NBA to have the same two teams in the finals every year — it’s only been four straight years, but the thought is understood.

“Yeah,” he responded, “I think it’s great. It’s great. You want me to elaborate?”

Of course we did.

“Well,” Durant continued, “you get just get a great set of players on the court. I mean, it may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people want it to be or as drama-filled, but that's what you've got movies and music for.

“I think this is a great display of basketball on the court from both sides, and if you're a real lover of the game, you can enjoy how both teams play it, even though it may be different. It's still organic and true to the game, pure to the game. So if you enjoy basketball, I don't feel like you should have any complaints because it's a great set of players on both teams.”

One of whom is Kevin Durant.

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