Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson (11)

Breaking down last three minutes of Warriors 106-105 win over Nuggets.

6 Comments

This game was crazy. And fun. Both teams had and gave up double-digit leads. The end involved missed shots, replay and about as close to a game going the other way as it can.

For something a little different, rather than a traditional recap, let’s just recap in some detail the final three minutes of this game and how that showed the trends of the entire night:

102-102 tie, 2:56 left (Warriors ball): David Lee is working at the elbow extended draws and the defense out then makes a nifty pass to Klay Thompson who had cut from the weakside along the baseline to get the ball on the strong side low post. His problem is Kenneth Faried switches onto him quickly and now lords over him. Thompson tries to swing into the middle for a shot but Faried rejects it. This is what Faried did all night — he seemed to be everywhere grabbing rebounds, playing good defense and just working harder than everyone. Like Manimal always does. He is just fun to watch and this was a good game from him.

Denver takes the ball off the blocked shot and pushes the pace in transition, and while the defense is focused on not giving Ty Lawson a lane to drive — something they struggled to do all night, he carved them up — Andre Iguodala runs to the arc on the right side and after a pass steps into a wide-open three that rims out. Golden State gets the rebound.

After taking some time off the clock, Jarrett Jack and Lee run a side pick-and-roll, both defenders go with Jack and he hits the rolling Lee feet from he rim. Faried is a split-second late on the rotation and Lee both makes the bucket and gets an and-1 chance (he missed the free throw). Lee was on top of his offensive game all night — he played smart on offense and just scored, putting up 31 points. He made shots isolated in the post, off the pick-and-roll, in transition, he was 13-of-15 shooting and had a fantastic offensive game. (If we knock Lee’s defense we would have to knock everyone’s in this game. The fans got their money’s worth of offense but no D.)

104-102 Golden State, 2:07: Lawson brings it up off the missed free throw and the Warriors defense isn’t set, so Lawson finds a wide-open Corey Brewer in the left corner corner but Brewer misses the shot.

Warriors don’t run much of an offensive set, Curry just hangs out up high and eventually fires up and misses a three, but Jack gets and offensive rebound. Curry tried to pass inside this time but Denver deflects it out of bounds. Then on the inbounds pass Jack just throws it to nobody and it is a turnover.

Denver takes the turnover and it is off to the races. In transition Lawson passes to Brewer who is fouled going to the rim. But Brewer only hits one of two free throws.

104-103 Golden State, 1:26 left: Jack runs a high pick-and-roll with Lee and Denver handles it about as poorly as you can — Lawson can’t fight over the top but Danilo Gallinari doesn’t show out, or really do much of anything but stand there like a marble Italian statue, so Jack drives into the wide open lane. Faried is the help but he is late and Jack hits a layup high off the glass. With that Jack had 18 points on the night.

106-103 Golden State, 1:12 left: Early in the clock Lawson decides to just drive on Stephen Curry, Lawson tried to initiate contact he didn’t get the foul call and the ball just goes off him out of bounds. That would be Denver’s fifth turnover of the quarter

Jack is in control of the offensive set for Golden State and he keeps going off picks until he can find a little daylight in the lane, but not much. The result is him driving the right side then trying an awkward looking 11-foot fadeaway that airballs.

Denver works it around but the ball eventually goes to Gallinari who tries to take Carl Landry off the dribble and he almost does, but his three-foot runner rims out.

Again, it’s Jarrett Jack with the ball. Not Stephen Curry. Jack uses up some clock then again drives and this time uses some hesitation moves to get himself a nice 15-foot look, but that won’t go down either, it is off the back rim.

Gallinari gets the rebound and pushes it up (I love that George Karl didn’t call a timeout here, he told his team to play) and Gallinari passes to Iguodala. The Warriors have a foul to give and Jack tries to use it while Iguodala tries to go into the shooting motion. The referees called it a shooting foul and while they reviewed this all they can review is if it is a three or not. Which is good for Denver because the replay showed it was not a shooting foul, but the refs can’t reverse that.

So Iguodala has three free throws to tie the game with just 3.4 seconds left. He drains the first. He drains the second. But the third clangs off the rim, however it goes out of bounds of Lee. And Denver gets a last chance.

106-105, 2.1 seconds left, Denver ball side out of bounds. Andre Miller is making the pass and while the rest of the Nuggets try to come to the ball Lawson runs basically a football curl route on the weakside and Miller tries to hit him with a pass so he is isolated but the entire thing never comes together or looks like it had a chance to. But the ball is off Golden with 0.5 seconds left.

Denver gets one last chance and somehow the Warriors and their spotty defense all night lose track of Iguodala who gets the pass catches and shoots and drains the three — but replay shows it still on his finger tips as the red lights go on and time expires. It was as close as can be but it was the right call.

The Warriors got lucky, and they got the win.

Doc Rivers calls anthem protests “the most patriotic thing we can do”

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 23:  Head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers shouts to his team during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 23, 2016 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

With the NBA season around the corner, there are a lot of eyes on how teams and players will handle the national anthem protests that have become prominent in the NFL. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wholeheartedly supports the notion of his players participating, and hopes the whole team can figure out a statement to make together. Via Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“Listen, we need social change. If anyone wants to deny that, they just need to study the history of our country,” he told the Southern California News Group on Friday. “… I’ve said it 100 times. There’s no more American thing to do than to protest. It’s the most patriotic thing we can do. There are protests I like and protests I don’t like. It doesn’t matter. …Protests are meant to start conversation. The conversation, you hope, leads to acknowledgement, and the acknowledgement leads to action. We’re, right now, still in the conversation.”

“I hope we do it as a group. I know whenever you protest as one solid group, the protest has more teeth if you want to protest,” he said. “… I’m supporting our guys’ right to protest. I’m saying that up front. My hope is you believe it and do it for the right reasons and not just because it’s a hot topic on Instagram.

Rivers has a unique perspective — his father was a police officer, but he’s seen plenty of racism in his life. This won’t be his first time leading a team when it comes to social issues — he was able to unite the Clippers in the spring of 2014 when the Donald Sterling racism scandal broke. It’s encouraging to see NBA coaches trending towards fostering open dialogue on their teams about these issues.

Harden focused on helping Rockets improve after tough season

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets warms up before playing the Golden State Warriors in game four of the first round playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

HOUSTON (AP) James Harden was second in the NBA with 29 points per game last season and his 7.5 rebounds were a career high.

Still, it was a disappointing year for Harden and the Houston Rockets, who were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Golden State, and the star knew he had to adjust things to take the team farther this year.

“Last year was frustrating, numbers individually was pretty solid, but just the love and excitement wasn’t there,” he said. “So I had to look in the mirror this summer and realize that I got to change and I got to get back to how I was.”

To that end, he refocused this offseason and put an emphasis on becoming a better leader. He organized players-only training and outings in both Miami and Las Vegas in an attempt to create cohesiveness within the group before camp.

“Just getting to know somebody and hanging out … it was really good,” he said. “That’s going to carry over onto the court.”

The way his embraced his role as the undisputed leader of this team has impressed everyone in the organization, starting with owner Leslie Alexander.

“It shows that James wants to win very badly,” Alexander said. “He’s a winning player … James is one of the top three or four players we’ve ever had here and he wants to win as much as (Hakeem) Olajuwon and (Clyde) Drexler and everybody else.”

Trevor Ariza is entering his 13th NBA season, but had the excitement of a rookie on Friday as he talked about how much better things feel entering this season than they did last year. It was a season that saw coach Kevin McHale fired after just 11 games and the Rockets take a step back after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2015.

“I think just last season was frustrating for everybody because we just couldn’t figure it out together,” Ariza said. “I don’t even know how to explain. It was just a weird, weird, weird year.”

So how have things changed now?

“The vibe has just been totally different,” Ariza said. “Everybody is excited to show what they’ve worked on and excited just to be around each other.”

These positive-attitude Rockets enter the season with new coach Mike D’Antoni and without eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. A big question for this team will be who will step in to make up for Howard’s absence.

Their top options are Clint Capela, a third-year player who saw limited action the past two seasons as Howard’s backup, and Nene, who played 53 games for Washington last year before joining Houston in the offseason.

General manager Daryl Morey raved about Capela’s improvement in his first year, but knows he’ll have to do more this season if the Rockets hope to be a force in the Western Conference.

“Clint is going to have to take a big step forward and it’s not an easy step,” Morey said. “To go from playing 15-20 minutes against often not the starting center to playing 25-plus minutes against front-line guys, that’s a big step forward. It’s more physical. It takes a big toll on your body to do that night-in and night-out.”

Along with Nene, the Rockets also added outside shooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon this offseason. Houston expects the addition of those two to fill a void that this team has had in recent years.

“We were able to upgrade our shooting … for the style we want to play,” Morey said. “I don’t feel like we had enough shooting (before). We do have that.”

Everyone is saying the right things and Morey believes he made the upgrades necessary for the team to succeed in D’Antoni’s system. But with all the improvements other teams made in the West, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team.

Alexander was confident, yet tempered when asked about his expectations.

“I think we’ll win more games than people anticipate,” he said. “But when the season rolls on we’ll see how well we do.”

Front desk at new Sixers practice facility made out of court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Ben Simmons walks on stage after being drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
4 Comments

The Philadelphia 76ers have just opened a new, state-of-the-art practice facility, and maybe the coolest part is a unique touch that nods to one of the iconic moments in the history of Philadelphia basketball. The reception desk in the lobby of the building is made out of hardwood, but not just any hardwood — it’s a part of the court from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962. Here’s a photo, via CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato:

When Chamberlain scored 100 points, it was for the Philadelphia Warriors, not the 76ers, but it’s still a piece of the city’s sports history, and this is a cool, unique way to honor it.

51 Q: Will Tom Thibodeau fast-track the Timberwolves’ ascension?

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 05:  Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is congratulated by Ricky Rubio #9 after he made a basket against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on April 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The Minnesota Timberwolves won just 29 games last season, but few teams have more crowded bandwagons right now, or brighter futures. In many ways, their position isn’t too dissimilar to the Oklahoma City Thunder circa 2009 — still a lottery team, but the talent of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was obvious. The Wolves have a similarly promising young core with the last two Rookie of the Year winners, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the latter of whom has all the makings of a once-in-a-generation, MVP-caliber big man and an unbelievable amount of poise and polish for his age.

Young teams take time to come together, but the Timberwolves set themselves up to make a leap with their biggest offseason move, parting ways with interim head coach Sam Mitchell (who filled in admirably following the passing of Flip Saunders before last season) and hiring Tom Thibodeau. Because of this alone, the Timberwolves will win more games than they did last year. That’s what Thibodeau does — he wins games, no matter what his roster looks like. He does this by treating every game like it’s Game 7 of the Finals, and unlike the injury-riddled Bulls teams he got to overachieve, this Wolves group is young, healthy and unproven.

But even though any group with Wiggins, Towns and Thibodeau projects long-term to be in the title race, it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect contention overnight. Even Thibodeau, who expects the absolute most out of any group he coaches, is fully aware of that. Here’s what he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in July:

“We like our young core a lot,” Thibodeau said, “and I would say this: We’re also not fooling ourselves. We know we’re in a very competitive conference. We won 29 games last year.”

Short of the kind of offseason haul of superstars that transforms a roster (think the Celtics getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, or the Cavaliers getting LeBron James and Kevin Love in 2014), going from a bottom-tier lottery team to a contender overnight just doesn’t happen. A more realistic expectation of a best-case scenario for the Timberwolves under the first year of Thibodeau would be the 2009-10 Thunder. After winning just 23 games in 2009, Oklahoma City went 50-32 in 2009-10, grabbed the eighth seed in the Western Conference and lost to the eventual champion Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. A playoff berth and a competitive first-round loss to the Warriors or Spurs is only incremental progress, but considering what the starting point is, and the fact that the Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, a similar season would be a resounding success for the first year under Thibodeau.

The bottom of the Western Conference playoff race is going to be an uphill battle for the Wolves to break into. Beyond the top tier (Golden State, San Antonio and the Clippers), it seems to be a safe bet that the Jazz, Blazers, Thunder and Grizzlies will be in the playoffs. The Timberwolves will be one of the teams fighting for the final spot, but they’ll have stiff competition with the Rockets, Pelicans and Mavericks in the hunt. It’s not hard to picture the Wolves edging those teams out, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Long-term, it’s hard to think of a team with a higher ceiling than this Timberwolves group. In the here and now, though, it’s best to keep expectations in check.