With a gut-check overtime win, Warriors even series with Spurs

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If you listen to head coach Mark Jackson talk about his Warriors one thing becomes abundantly clear about the identity he wants his team to have. Jackson wants his team to play defense first and let the offense take care of itself via the virtues of his high potent outside shooting attack.

Today, Jackson got the first part of that equation in spades as his Warriors held the Spurs to 33 makes on 93 shots (35.5%), including a miserable 1-10 effort in overtime, en route to a series evening 97-87 win.

With the Warriors not shooting well either (35-92 from the floor), this game wasn’t a pretty one to watch. Both teams struggled early to find the rhythm of the game as the refs called a tight contest that needed adjusting to. Be it offensive fouls on moving picks, bumps on post ups, or hand checks on the perimeter, the flow of the game was choppy and neither team ever seemed to be able to get into a flow on offense.

With the whistle blowing frequently, the Spurs were able to capitalize when the entire Warriors’ big man rotation found themselves in foul trouble. Andrew Bogut picked up three fouls in the first period and with the Golden State’s defensive anchor on the bench San Antonio was able to carve out a lead heading into the 2nd half.

But, even with the Spurs taking advantage of a thin Warriors’ front-line they weren’t able to create the type of separation they needed to really break the game open. With the Warriors going small to compensate, they were able to better rotate around the perimeter and dig down into the post to keep the game closer than it should have been. When combined with a solid offensive output from Jarrett Jack (10 of his 24 points in the first half) and a few timely shots from Harrison Barnes the Warriors were able to hang around

And that was really the Spurs’ biggest issue in this game. While they showed early that they could build an advantage, the Warriors just continued to scrap and stay within striking distance. And by the time the 2nd half came around, all the Warriors needed was one sustained offensive push and they found themselves right back in the game.

This is where the ability of the Warriors to get contributions from multiple players on their roster was so huge. As mentioned, Jack was a key performer by scoring  24 points, including several big baskets in the 2nd half and overtime. Barnes, while not scoring that efficiently, was also important scoring a team high 26 points on a variety of post ups, pull up jumpers, and drives to the rim. Barnes didn’t score that efficiently — he needed 26 shots to get his 26 points — but his ability to work as a post up option in the half court gave his team a steadiness that they sorely needed.

One of the reasons they needed Barnes and Jack was because Curry simply couldn’t be the ball dominant human torch he’s made his name on these playoffs. Curry was still able to pour in 22 points on 7-15 shooting, but had to pick his spots more carefully as he was clearly still hampered by his bad left ankle. Don’t get me wrong, his points and shot making were still huge for his team, but those other guys gave the Warriors a balance and diversity that was so important.

Meanwhile, the Spurs simply couldn’t muster the offense they needed to hold off the Dubs. Manu Ginobili was mostly fantastic in scoring 21 points on 8-18 shooting but did most of his damage in the 1st half. Tim Duncan never did establish a good flow, only hitting 7 of his 22 shots to score his 19 points. And Tony Parker, who was also clearly still bothered by his bad calf, needed 17 shots to score his 17 points and wasn’t as aggressive in getting into the paint.

So here the Warriors are, tied 2-2 heading back to Texas where they’ve already proven they can win. If this series has taught us anything about them it’s that they play well beyond their years and have enough talent to hang with the old guard Spurs. Whether they can actually pull off the upset in this series remains to be seen, but this game at least showed they’re not going to fold anytime soon.

Hornets’ GM slips up, introduces Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade

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It’s a slip that would have made Freud proud.

Charlotte had a good draft night. In the first round, Kentucky shooter Malik Monk fell to them at 11 and they grabbed him. In the second round, they took a smart risk with Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon.

Friday came the usual team press conference with the GM introducing his players and Charlotte GM Rich Cho made a mistake, introducing Bacon as “Dwyane Wade.”

I love Bacon’s reaction.

Cho instantly realized his mistake and laughed it off, then later said: “Actually, I think they have some similarities.” Hornets fans can only hope.

Kevin Durant trolls Westbrook, haters with cupcake hat — now topped with a ring

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Back when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were breaking into the NBA together and learning how to win together, one of their veteran mentors was tough guy Kendrick Perkins. When Perkins thought someone was acting soft, he called that player a “cupcake.”

When news broke on the Fourth of July last summer that Durant was leaving OKC for Golden State, the NBA world freaked out. Except for Westbrook. He just posted one Instagram photo that day — a tiered tray of red, white, and blue cupcakes. It was meant as a subtle jab at Durant, but when word got out (via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated) what it meant, Thunder fans embraced it and had cupcake signs and clothing made for Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

Durant had the last laugh — he’s got a new hat with a cupcake on it, topped by a ring.

Well played Durant. Well played.

Another report Rockets “aggressively” trying to clear cap space to chase Chris Paul

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Daryl Morey is big game hunting. Again.

The Rockets, with James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense, made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season — then landed with a playoff thud. The team should be better the second season in the same system, but to get past the Warriors, the Rockets need more talent.

Hence the Rockets are going to chase Chris Paul. That’s not new news to anyone paying attention, but Chris Haynes laid it out in more detail in on SportsCenter.

The Rockets need talent and Chris Paul is unquestionably that. He and James Harden could figure out how to play together.

The problem is money. Chris Paul is going to demand max or near-max money, so close to $30 million. The Rockets enter the summer with about $10 million. The Rockets need to clear cap space and are ready to deal so long as they don’t take contracts back. Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and Patrick Beverley is not enough to land a Chris Paul or Paul Millsap. Moving Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million) or Eric Gordon ($12.9 million) helps much more.

That Morey is being aggressive isn’t the news, the question is can he find a willing partner to lower some money off his cap and give him a sense of what is to come. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams, but the Clippers do have advantages and are the favorites to retain him.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.