Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors - Game Six

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.

Evan Fournier “hated” being left off the French national team

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic sets up the offense during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center on November 11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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One of the most surprising developments of the summer came when Evan Fournier, coming off an excellent year with the Magic, was left off the French national team that went to Rio to compete in the Olympics. Fournier himself doesn’t have a good answer for why he wasn’t included, according to an interview with the French magazine L’Equipe (translation via EuroHoops.net).

“I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Fournier said he didn’t have much communication with the national team, except for when head coach Vincent Collet asked him for tickets to a Magic game.

“The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was from an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That i’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

It’s a little bizarre that Fournier, at 23 years old and one of the better basketball players from France, isn’t on the team and a clear reason hasn’t been given. But it sounds like that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Jamal Crawford rocks Seattle pro-am defender with fake behind-the-back dribble (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Jamal Crawford #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts to a foul called on his team in a 108-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Seattle pro-am always produces great highlights.

Here’s another.

Jamal Crawford pretends to go behind his back with his dribble, leaving his defender off balance and whining about a carry. In a pro-am. However you can try to preserve your dignity, I guess.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.