Warriors break game open in the 3rd, hold on late to clinch series over Nuggets

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There will be no game 7. The Warriors did what many, including me, thought they could not do before this series started. By holding on to beat the Nuggets 92-88 in game 6, they clinched the series and head to the 2nd round where they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs for the right to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The Nuggets didn’t make it easy, however. In the first half, Denver struggled make shots but picked up their defensive intensity to force some turnovers while also pounding the Warriors on the offensive glass to take control of the game. Combined with an assertive Ty Lawson, the Nuggets jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead early, flashing signs that they would carry over their energy and effectiveness from their game 5 win.

The Warriors, meanwhile, didn’t look ready to deal with a Nugget team that was clearly ready to fight for their playoff lives. Golden State was sloppy in executing their offense and couldn’t find ways to free up their back court for the open looks that fuels their effectiveness. And even though they got a nice emotional boost from David Lee playing a short stint in the 2nd quarter, it didn’t translate into them being more accurate from the floor as they only hit 15 of their 39 first half shots and a two point deficit heading into halftime.

In the 3rd quarter that all changed however. After the game Stephen Curry said that head coach Mark Jackson kept telling him  that it was his time and that he needed to find a way to raise his game. Curry must have taken those words to heart because when the 2nd half started he was a changed player.

In that 3rd period, Curry was nearly unstoppable scoring 14 points on 4-6 shooting with all of his makes coming from behind the arc. Beyond his shot making, Curry also dished out 3 assists and roasted the Denver defense when they tried to overcommit to him in the the open court.

Joining Curry as a difference maker in the period was Andrew Bogut, who scored 6 of his 14 points and grabbed 7 of his game high 21 rebounds in those 12 minutes. Bogut was masterful on defense, contesting shots at the rim and closing out possessions with his strong work on the glass. Further, when Curry drew attention on the perimeter, it was Bogut who slipped open around  the rim and was able to finish inside.

With Curry rolling as both a scorer and distributor, the Warriors broke the game open, turning that 2 point halftime deficit into an 11 point lead heading into the final period.

However, the Nuggets weren’t simply going to go quietly with their season on the line. In the 4th quarter they rallied to pull the game within striking distance, even after falling behind by as many as 18 points. Led by a masterful Andre Iguodala (24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists for the game), the Nuggets scratched and clawed their way back into the game by turning up the defensive pressure and then feasting on the Warriors mistakes. In the 4th quarter alone, the Warriors turned the ball over 10 times — many of them on careless plays where they simply didn’t value possession of the ball.

As the game got close and closer, you could sense the Warriors tightening up and the mistakes continued to hurt them. But a few calls in their favor — including a dicey blocking call on JaVale McGee — and some big free throws from Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack were enough to allow them to hold on down the stretch. It certainly wasn’t their best effort to close a game, but it was enough. Moving forward, they’ll have to clean things up if they’re to hang with the Spurs but that’s a topic for another day.

Meanwhile the Nuggets are going to have a long summer to think about all the things that went wrong in this series. From the lack of adjustments in the first few games to some bad mistakes on individual possessions in the clincher, there’s a lot for them to contemplate. The injury to Danilo Gallinari certainly didn’t help, but they had many good chances in this series and couldn’t find a way to get it done. And now, for the 9th time in 10 seasons, their playoffs end in the first round.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.