Is Monta Ellis back?

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In the 2007-08 season, Monta Ellis was one of the most explosive and efficient young scorers in basketball. Thanks to his blazing speed, explosiveness, and deadly mid-range game, Ellis was able to score 22.3 points per game while shooting 54% from the field in 2007-08, a nearly unheard of field goal percentage for a high-volume backcourt player. Ellis was particularly unstoppable in the month of February, when he scored 26 points per game while shooting 60% from the field.

Thanks in large part to Ellis’ contributions, the Warriors won 48 games in 2007-08, barely missing the playoffs in one of the strongest Western conferences ever. The team lost Baron Davis the following off-season, but it looked like Ellis’ emergence as an elite scorer would soften that blow and allow the Warriors to remain competitive.

Then Monta got on that moped, and things went downhill fast. Monta’s injury limited him to 25 games in 08-09; when Ellis returned to the lineup for the 09-10 season, he wasn’t the same player he had been in 07-08. Thanks to lingering effects from his injury, Don Nelson’s apparent apathy, the Warriors’ lack of ball movement or an offensive system, and Monta’s own lack of discipline, Monta went from being one of the most efficient scorers in the league to one of its most notorious chuckers. Ellis scored 25.5 points per game last season, but took 22 shots and 6 free throws a game to get those points, and would often huck a three or contested deep two with 18 seconds on the shot clock just to see if Don Nelson was paying enough attention to tell him not to do it. The once-dynamic and fearsome Warriors had become a boring, ineffective team that happened to shoot a lot, and Ellis’ game was the clearest symbol of how far they’d fallen.

Flash-forward to Wednesday night, when the Warriors buried the Rockets with 132 points, with 46 of those 132 coming from Ellis. More importantly, Ellis was hyper-efficient, getting his points on only 24 shots and 12 free throws, resulting in a True Shooting percentage of 78.6%.

What did Ellis do so well on Wednesday night? First of all, he attacked the rim often, and was successful when he did so; Ellis took 7 shots inside of 10 feet against the Rockets, and made all of them. Second, Ellis and Steph Curry, who struggled to figure each other out last season, appear to have developed a chemistry — Curry handled the passing (11 assists to Ellis’ two) and outside shooting (all nine of Curry’s field goals came from 16 feet or deeper), and Ellis was given free reign to slash and score.

Most importantly, Monta found his mid-range game again. Monta seemed to think he was a great shooter in 09-10, but he isn’t one; Ellis’ stroke isn’t very smooth, and he doesn’t have natural range out to the three-point line. What Ellis does excel at is using his speed to make his man back up, pulling up on a dime, and sticking jumpers from the 15-20 foot range. It’s no coincidence that Ellis all but gave up shooting threes during his 07-08 efficiency renaissance — Ellis can knock down jumpers, but they have to be ones he sets up with his driving ability.

Ellis put on a mid-range clinic in the Warriors’ season opener, shooting 3-3 from 10-15 feet and 7-12 from the 16-23 foot range. The important thing to note is that all of Ellis’ shots were from what I call “actual” mid-range, not shots taken with a foot on the line or one step inside of it. Ellis only took two mid-range jumpers longer than 20 feet on Wednesday, and missed both of them. The rest of his jumpers were taken from Ellis’ sweet spot between the top of the circle and the free throw line extended, a step inside the free throw line, or the wings. It was a return to form for Ellis, who was once one of the NBA’s best at the lost art of the mid-range jumper.

Ellis won’t make two-thirds of his jumpers every game, but Wednesday night was a great sign for Ellis and the Warriors nonetheless. If Ellis and Curry can keep playing like they did against the Rockets, it won’t be long before the Warriors are both fun to watch and dangerous to play against again.

Steve Kerr “uncertain” if he will coach in NBA Finals

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The Warriors have gone 12-0 through the playoffs, the first team to sweep the first three rounds of the playoffs since the NBA went to a best-of-7 in all three rounds (a couple Lakers teams did it when the first round was best-of-5).

That doesn’t mean they haven’t missed Steve Kerr as coach, but they haven’t needed him. Yet. Mike Brown has done the job quite well.

Will Kerr be back for the NBA Finals? He told Marc Spears of ESPN he doesn’t know.

Kerr had back surgeries two summers ago, and that caused him to miss the start of the 2015-16 season (Luke Walton ran the show). Kerr coached through pain caused by a slow leak of spinal fluid until nausea and pain became too much at the start of this postseason. Kerr has had a new procedure — one that is apparently promising, one that we hope works to end the leak — but he’s understandably cautious about jumping back in.

That said, the next round, against the Cavaliers (barring the most improbable comeback in NBA history), is when the Warriors will need Kerr’s creative mind and solutions to the challenges Cleveland presents.

He’s also got more than a week to decide since the Finals don’t start until June 1.

Manu Ginobili receives standing ovation upon exiting what may be his final game

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Manu Ginobili is a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-NBA player,  two-time All-Star, and a Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s also the most popular Spur of his generation — walk around San Antonio, even at the peak of the Spurs runs, and you saw more Ginobili jerseys than Duncan or Parker or Robinson or anyone else. Ginobili is beloved.

When he was taken out near the end of Game 4, maybe his final game as a Spur, the fans erupted into a standing ovation (joined by Stephen Curry, who stepped away from the free throw line to let the moment happen).

Ginobili hinted during the season this would be his last, but has said repeatedly during the playoffs he didn’t know what he would do during the season. He looked like he had game left in the tank during the Western Conference Finals (he had 15 points in Game 4 and was one of the Spurs best players in the series). The question is, at age 40 next season, will he want to go through all the work it takes to get physically ready for the next season.

Warriors take control early, hold off Spurs to sweep series, advance to NBA Finals

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This series was decided early in the second half of Game 1, when Kawhi Leonard’s ankle rolled. He never got back on the court in the next three games, the Spurs were +21 when he was on in that first game and -85 the rest of the way. Without his defense on one end and shot creation on the other the Spurs could not match up.

The Spurs didn’t play like it was over Monday night — while the Warriors would hit threes and go on runs, the Spurs would answer back never let them completely pull away. They got buckets from Kyle Anderson (20 points off the bench) and 15 from Manu Ginobili in what may have been his final NBA game (he got the start, and the crowd erupted when he was taken out near the end).

It wasn’t enough. The Golden State Warriors were the better team — maybe even if Leonard had played — and they were in control of this game the entire way, getting 36 points from Stephen Curry and 29 from Kevin Durant.

The Warriors went on to win 125-110 and sweep the Spurs 4-0. Golden State swept through the West undefeated at 12-0, and they will take on the winner of the East (we all know it will be Cleveland). The Finals don’t begin until June 1.

This is the Warriors third straight trip to the Finals.

“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said after the game. “We’re going to need it even more in the next series, whoever we play, we’re just looking forward to it. I’m glad we got this done.”

There was a lot of respect between the teams after the series, particularly for Ginobili.

“Somebody I grew up watching, amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him,” Durant said after the game. “I got nothing but love and respect for him, plus he wear my shoes every year so that’s a plus. He was phenomenal this series.”

There also was a feeling among fans that we were robbed of a good series by the injury to Leonard (and the cheap play by Zaza Pachulia that caused it). Without Leonard (and Tony Parker) the Spurs struggled to create shots and generate consistent offense against a stout Warriors defense.

It was evident at the start of Game 4. San Antonio opened game 3-of-16 shooting, but the bigger issue is they went 1-of-8 in the paint against a Warriors team that started small (Patrick McCaw instead of JaVale McGee). Meanwhile, the Spurs were 7-of-7 in the paint to start the game. That is why the Warriors raced out to a quick 12 point lead midway through the first quarter.

The game hung around the 10-point era until an 11-0 Warriors run midway through the second quarter. The Spurs kept fighting, they had 13 more shots than the Warriors in the first half — thanks to 9 Golden State turnovers and 8 San Antonio offensive boards — but the Spurs shot 34.5 percent in the first half, and it wasn’t enough because the Warriors shot 60 percent. The Warriors shot 74 percent (14-of-19) in the second quarter. Because of that it was Warriors 65, Spurs 51 at the half, and Curry and Durant each had 18 for Golden State; Kyle Anderson has 10 points to lead the Spurs.

The second half saw the lead bounce between 10 and 20 most of the time, the Spurs would make a little run and the Warriors would answer with some crisp ball movement and a three. Curry was 5-of-13 from three on the night to lead the way.

Draymond Green added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists for the Warriors.

Now the Warriors get more than a week off to rest and prepare for the Finals.

Kevin Durant blocks Dejounte Murray twice on one shot (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant was doing it all in the first half — he had 18 points to lead the Warriors (tied with Stephen Curry) and was making plays all over the court.

That includes racing back on this play and blocking Dejounte Murray‘s layup. Twice. On one shot.

The Warriors have led by 20 and been in control through the start of the third quarter. KD was at the heart of that.