Golden State Warriors v Denver Nuggets - Game One

Nuggets, Andre Miller use second half surge to defeat Warriors

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Game one proved to be the perfect example of why this series has a chance to be the best of the first round match ups. Both teams dueled down the stretch with some fantastic shot making, but it was Andre Miller’s lay up in the final seconds that lifted the Nuggets to a 97-95 win over the Warriors to take a 1-0 series lead.

If there was any surprise to this game it wasn’t that there was a fantastic finish, but that it took so long for both teams to find their stride. The first half featured better defense than anticipated, but also both teams missing shots that they would normally make.

Stephen Curry seemed particularly off his game early on, hitting only 1 of his 10 first half shots while scoring 4 points. But he wasn’t alone. Off the bench, Carl Landry also had 4 first half points on 1-6 shooting and Jarrett Jack had 8 points on 3-7 shooting. Were it not for Klay Thompson’s 15 points on 7-11 shooting, the Warriors would have found themselves behind rather than up by 4 at the half.

But the Warriors did have the lead, mostly because the Nuggets were equally out of sorts. The Warriors did a very good job of mixing up their defense and keeping the Nuggets’ offense off balance. Golden State flashed several possessions of zone defense, inviting the Nuggets to shoot long jumpers rather than getting into the paint. The Warriors also did a good job of sending multiple players back in transition defense to avoid the run outs the Nuggets rely on for easy points.

In the 2nd half, however, the Nuggets finally started to find their stride by sorting out how to attack the Dubs’ defense. In the third quarter Ty Lawson got aggressive going to the basket, Corey Brewer got a few shots to fall, and even JaVale McGee got into the act with a couple of baskets. The Nuggets were became the team they’ve been all season, getting to the rim for baskets and using better energy to fuel their attack.

They also picked up their defensive intensity. Denver forced 5 turnovers in the third period, and while that didn’t translate to fast break points it did help them hold the Warriors to only 16 points in the period and turn the tide of the game.

It was the final frame, though, that provided the real fireworks. Golden State battled to make this a game when they just as easily could have folded in the face of a Denver team that typically dominates at home. Curry started to hit some shots, Carl Landry found some cracks in Denver’s interior defense for some baskets, and Andrew Bogut combined stellar defense with solid scoring. So even though David Lee went down with an injury early in the period, the Warriors were able to persevere and keep the game close enough that they could steal it at the end.

But those hopes were dashed by Andre Miller’s fantastic fourth quarter. Miller scored 18 of his game high 28 points in the final 12 minutes, getting into the paint. His old-man game was on full display as he posted up whichever defender happened to be on him and scored at will when the double team never came. His combination of step throughs, turnaround jumpers, and lay-ins at the rim  were simply fantastic. And when the game was on the line, there was Miller again, driving from the top of the key and hitting a nifty lay-in around Andrew Bogut’s challenge to win the game.

If it wasn’t clear coming into this series, this game showed that the Warriors have what it takes to play with the Nuggets regardless of where the game is played. The Nuggets needed a fantastic finish from Miller to claim this game and that was only enough after several Warriors struggled more than anyone could have expected.

That said, while the Warriors should be confident, they should also be kicking themselves for losing such a winnable game. Denver isn’t likely to give them so many chances in the rest of the games that are played in their home arena and with David Lee’s prospects up in the air and Kenneth Faried likely to make his return soon, the Warriors’ uphill climb may have gotten a lot steeper.

We’ll see what adjustments Warriors’ coach Mark Jackson has up his sleeve and whether or not his team can claim some of the momentum back after surrendering it in the 2nd half. But, after one game, they still have as many questions as they do answers while the Nuggets can simply regroup from a position of strength.

As for the fans, we all just hope we can get six more games just like this one.

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.

Three questions to answer: Cavaliers vs. Warriors rematch (plus notes on other MLK Day games)

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It’s the best rivalry going in the NBA — the game that matters most to both teams. Even if they try to deny it. This is a rematch of the last two NBA Finals and a likely preview of the next one, and this January game is a measuring stick. Here are three things to watch for, and after that notes on the other nationally televised games on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

1) Can the Warriors break the Cavaliers’ mental advantage in this series? The Warriors will say the Cavaliers are not in their heads, because that’s not just what competitors say, it’s what they have to believe. However, The Cavaliers have won four straight games against the Warriors dating back to last year’s Finals — Cleveland came from 3-1 down on basketball’s biggest stage to take the title, then came from 14 down to beat the Warriors on Christmas Day. In those games, LeBron James has been nothing short of brilliant and Kyrie Irving has been a late-game killer.

January games don’t decide June series, but the Warriors certainly could use the confidence boost against the Cavs. David West was honest about that speaking to CSNBayArea.com.

“This is a very important game for us,” West said Sunday, “because this is the last time we’re going to be able to measure ourselves against these guys. The only other time we’d get to face them would be in The Finals.”

Two straight Finals meetings means these teams know each other and their sets very well. There are no secrets. That’s an advantage for Cleveland: Golden State runs a lot of deception, fake screens, relatively meaningless actions designed to distract from what they really want to do. But by now the Cavs have seen it all. They aren’t fooled. The Warriors need to beat the Cavs one-on-one occasionally. That is what’s at the core of the Cavaliers game plan — we’re going to force Stephen Curry onto LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (via a switch on a pick), then isolate and bet he can’t stop them. It’s simple but it works, and the Warriors have not had an answer.

Being at home should help the Warriors. The bottom line is they can say the Cavaliers are not in their heads all they want, the Warriors could use a confidence-boosting win to convince themselves of that.

2) Kevin Durant was the best player on the court on Christmas, can Stephen Curry be? There is another way to phrase that question (which ties into the first one): Are the Cavaliers in Curry’s head? He had a rough Finals at points. Curry was a relatively passive 4-of-11 for 15 points on Christmas Day, and immediately after said he needed to be more aggressive.

In the Cavaliers’ four straight wins over the Warriors, Curry has shot  37 percent overall (36 percent from three) and has 15 turnovers to 10 assists. Cavaliers use physical defenders and are aggressive against Curry, they try to trap him and bait him into the flashy, playground-style passes that ignite the Warriors — except the Cavaliers have the defenders to turn those passes into steals and transition buckets. It’s the reason Durant was the best player on the Warriors on Christmas Day (36 points on 26 shots) — the Cavaliers are a very good help/schematic defensive team, but they have guys who can be beaten in isolation. Durant thrives in isolation.

Curry needs not to be baited into bad passes, be aggressive looking for his shot but pick his spots, get to the line a little more, and just knock down some shots.

3) How do the Warriors handle Kyle Korver? This is the one change after the Christmas day matchup. After they finally got a practice under their belts to figure things out, Tyron Lue slid Korver into the “LeBron and the bench” lineup —LeBron James, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Korver, and Channing Frye. It worked well, as you might expect LeBron surrounded by shooters would work, and Kover had 18 against the Kings. How well this works against the Warriors though could be different — it’s not easy for the Cavs to keep Frye on the court against the Warriors matchups.

That said, the fact defenders can’t leave Korver to help is a boost to the Cavs when they start to run picks to get Curry switched onto Irving or LeBron. Either Korver is going to get some “butt-naked looks” (Tyronn Lue’s words) or he’s going to open it up for teammates. Either way, it will be interesting to see if the Warriors go with Shaun Livingston or someone else off the bench to counter Korver Sunday.

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There are other interesting games on Martin Luther King day, here’s a few things to watch (all times Eastern):

Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks, (1 p.m. NBA TV). The Hawks have won 8-of-9 and are defending incredibly well. The Knicks have won 2-of-12 and have defended very poorly — and that has led to all kinds of speculation and rumors around the team. Another loss would just stoke that fire.

Orlando Magic at Denver Nuggets (5 p.m. NBA TV). The teams have struggled but there are two players worth watching here. Denver’s Nikola Jokic is one of the best sophomores in the league, averaging 13.3 points a game on 58 percent shooting, plus he is a gifted passer. Orlando’s Aaron Gordon is struggling in his adjustment to playing the three, but he’s a good perimeter defender and the games he is aggressive on offense good things happen.

Oklahoma City Thunder at LA Clippers (10:30 p.m. TNT). The Clippers have won six in a row, and Chris Paul has been phenomenal since his return. Russell Westbrook has been phenomenal all season, 18 triple-doubles in 40 games, but the Thunder are on the second night of a back-to-back.

James Harden’s 12th triple-double helps Rockets end 2-game skid

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NEW YORK (AP) James Harden had 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in his 12th triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets easily ended their first losing streak of the season by beating the Brooklyn Nets 137-112 on Sunday night.

Held to 105 points in losses to Minnesota and Memphis, the Rockets bounced back with 104 after three quarters and handed the Nets their 10th straight loss.

Eric Gordon led the Rockets with 24 points and Trevor Ariza added 23. Houston made 21 3-pointers and had five players with at least 16 points.

Houston shot just 40.8 percent during its two losses, well below its 46.8 season average, while being held nearly 10 points below its season scoring average. But the Rockets had no trouble bouncing back against the Nets, who allow an NBA-worst 114.3 per game.