Warriors win a wild Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead over Nuggets

9 Comments

The Warriors shot the lights out in Denver to steal Game 2 from the Nuggets, and home court advantage in the best of seven first round series right along with it.

In Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Friday, Golden State didn’t need an otherworldly performance to seal the victory; they only needed the Nuggets to implode.

Denver gave back all of a 13-point third quarter lead, and squandered the chances the Warriors gave them late. As a result, Golden State came away with the 110-108 victory to take a two games to one lead in the series.

This wasn’t one of the best played games of the playoffs, but it certainly was one of the more exciting. Credit the atmosphere in Oakland, and credit the willingness of both teams to play an uptempo style that’s almost oblivious to shifts in momentum and what the actual score and situation was at any given point throughout the night.

Defense wasn’t exactly stressed by either team, which led to plenty of easy looks at the rim, as well as from beyond the three-point arc.

Ty Lawson pushed the tempo for the Nuggets, and led his team with 35 points and 10 assists — just a monster effort in keeping Denver in the driver’s seat for most of this game. Corey Brewer, Andre Iguodala, and Kenneth Faried were all effective too, while Andre Miller struggled to get going, and finished just 2-13 from the field with four assists against three turnovers in 27 minutes off the bench.

Miller’s ‘old man game’ can be plenty effective in certain situations, and it was the main reason that the Nuggets escaped with the Game 1 victory in this series. But it had no place on this night, in what was an up-and-down affair that rewarded tempo and athleticism above all else.

The fourth quarter was pure mayhem, and both teams made their fair share of mistakes down the stretch that could have cost them the game.

A free throw from Jarrett Jack put the Warriors up four with 22 seconds to play. It was a two-possession lead that should have been enough given the time remaining on the clock. But in a game with hardly any strong defensive play, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Denver was able to get a wide open look at a corner three from Wilson Chandler that cut the lead to one with 16 seconds remaining.

Here’s where it got crazy: After a timeout, the Warriors were inbounding the ball at center court with nine seconds remaining while clinging to that one-point lead. Jack was the passer, but as no one could free themselves to receive the pass, he waited too long to call the timeout, so the referee blew the whistle on the rare five second call, giving possession back to the Nuggets.

On the ensuing possession, Lawson, while guarded closely by Festus Ezeli, dribbled the ball out of bounds, turning it back over to the Warriors with just five seconds remaining. Denver fouled to send Harrison Barnes to the free throw line, where he made one of two to put the Warriors back up two with three seconds left.

Iguodala launched a prayer from beyond half court as time expired that hit the front of the rim, but ultimately wasn’t answered.

Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points and 11 assists, and Jack finished with 23 points, but with as many assists (7) as turnovers.

The Nuggets can’t afford to get into another track meet with the Warriors in Game 4, especially not at Oracle Arena where Golden State’s home court advantage in the playoffs seems to be every bit as formidable as the one that Denver enjoyed during the regular season.

To escape with the series tied at two games apiece, the Nuggets are going to have to be much smarter with their possessions, and play at least some measure of defense to limit the Warriors offensively. Either way, Game 4 of this series is a must-watch.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

Leave a comment

Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

1 Comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.