Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years


If you’re going to win tough playoff games and advance to the NBA Finals a couple things have to happen.

First, your stars have to step up. For the Rockets that didn’t happen Wednesday night. After a brilliant season and playoff run, James Harden had an off night with 2-of-11 shooting and 13 turnovers.

Second, you need role players to step. Golden State had Harrison Barnes score 13 points in the fourth quarter (and 24 on the night). Festus Ezeli had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Andre Iguodala stepped up with his best game of the season playing great defense on Harden.

The result was Golden State winning a playoff-style, grinding, at times sloppy but still entertaining game 104-90. The Warriors don’t care how it looked; they will take it, they won the series 4-1.

“I thought the defensive performance was brilliant…” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I would say in many ways this was a very Warriors’ like performance.”

Golden State is through to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years. They will face the Cleveland Cavaliers starting on June 4 at Oracle Arena.

If you think the Warriors are just a jump-shooting team that can’t win when the shots don’t fall, Game 5 was the example of why you’re wrong. The Warriors shot less than 40 percent for most of the game (they finished at 40.7) but they had 19 offensive rebounds and played strong defense all night — they won because they could be scrappy.

As you would expect, Houston came out battling, being physical (in a game the referees largely let them play), and trying to get the ball inside. On the other side, Curry missed four of his first five shots and his teammates followed suit. Dwight Howard had eight points in the first quarter but, unlike Game 4, the Rockets could not take advantage of the Golden State miscues.

“We didn’t finish very well at the rim, they got too many offensive rebounds, and we had too many live-ball turnovers at the top of the floor,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “Those three things really doomed us.”

Both teams just looked tired in this one. After three quarters the Rockets had shot 34 percent, the Warriors 37.7 percent. Both teams had 15 turnovers. There was certainly some good defense, but there was also just some slop. Throw in some hack-a-Howard — and some hack-a-Festus — and the game was not always pretty.

For the Warriors, part of the challenge was Klay Thompson being in foul trouble — he had 15 first half points (20 in the game), but missed extended time in the third quarter due to picking up two quick fouls early in the third to give him five. Then Thompson missed time in the fourth after taking a Trevor Ariza knee to the head (he had a cut on his ear that required stitches, but there was no concussion according to the team).

It was never easy for Golden State, Houston just hung around and hung around — Corey Brewer had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as he showed no quit.

But then Barnes happened.

The Warriors pushed their lead up to 15 as Barnes had a nine straight points (including a right corner three off a defensive mistake by the Rockets and a couple of dunks).

“Harrison was brilliant,” Kerr said. “He gets 24 points, and on a night when Klay goes down after his big first half… so Harrison steps up and takes care of the scoring.”

Houston tried but it was just too much — the depth of the Warriors was too much.

And it gave a passionate and starving fan base a trip back to the Finals.

Vince Carter mocks Blake Griffin complaining to ref (video)

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What goes around came around for Blake Griffin, who hysterically impersonated Austin Rivers while both played for the Clippers.

As Griffin argued a foul he drew should have been a shooting foul during the Pistons’ win over the Kings last night, Vince Carter imitated him – not so flatteringly:

Carter just became a hero to referees everywhere tired of Griffin’s incessant complaining.

Rumor: Mark Jackson “hot name” to be Knicks next head coach

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This summer is going to be nothing like last summer. Way back in the summer of 2017, while you were desperately trying to avoid hearing again dancing to “Despacito,” NBA coaches were feeling safe — there was not one coaching change in the offseason.

Already this season Earl Watson in Phoenix and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee both were fired, and both of those teams will be conducting coaching searches this summer. The buzz around the league is there will be an opening in Orlando, too, and possibly Detroit depending on whether Stan Van Gundy wants to pull a Doc Rivers from last summer.

Then there’s the Knicks — Jeff Hornacek would like to know his status. Understandably. The scuttlebutt around the league is he may want to sharpen his resume and get in touch with a realtor, but nothing is official.

Marc Stein of the New York Times took it one step further in his weekly newsletter, saying former Warriors coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator — not to mention Knicks player — Mark Jackson would be at the front of the line to get the Knicks coaching job.

The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.

Already there have been denials of a couple of things Stein had in his newsletter. The Pistons and Chauncey Billups both shot down the idea they have discussed a front office spot for him after Van Gundy is pushed out of the GM role, and Alex Lasry denied that the Bucks have a list that includes Jeff Van Gundy. So, use as much salt here as you would like with the Jackson rumor.

The Jackson-to-the-Knicks rumor makes some sense — Jackson built the defensive foundation on which the Warriors have won titles, and he’d be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have a say in the matter. However, the Knicks would be wise to do a broad search and get the best possible guy, not just the guy easiest to sell. Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons, all of which must be considered. Talk to the highly respected David Fizdale. Bring in Monty Williams. That’s just the top of the list, but the Knicks need to nail this — they have the hardest thing to get in building a team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but they need to do a better job of creating a culture/foundation/system, and putting players that fit said system around KP. Also, once they pick a system, stick with it fully for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe.

It’s too early to call this anything other than a rumor, but it’s something to watch as we head to summer.


Report: With his knee not progressing as hoped, Kyrie Irving to get second opinion

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Kyrie Irving has missed the last three Celtics games — two of them losses — due to a sore knee. This is the same knee where he fractured a kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and GM Danny Ainge admitted that in the next few years Irving may need a maintenance surgery to keep the issues down.

Now comes a report that just time off has not yet had the desired effect on Irving’s knee, so he will seek a second opinion, Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story and Brad Stevens of the Celtics confirmed it (with some more details by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).

There is no timetable for Irving’s return, but he will not be on the Celtics’ four-game road swing through the West that starts Friday.

Getting a second opinion is the smart move. NBA team doctors are very good at their jobs, but as with any serious medical issue, a second opinion is a good idea (plus, team doctors are paid by the team, which can create a conflict of interest). Most likely the second doctor says “rest is all you need,” but better to be safe than sorry.

Boston is going to be ultra conservative in bringing Irving back. The simple fact is that in the wake of injuries to Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart (who maybe could return in the second round of the playoffs), it’s unlikely the Celtics get out of the Eastern Conference this season. They lack a high-level secondary playmaker on offense after Irving (Boston’s offense is eight points per 100 possessions worse when Irving is not on the court this season) and with the injuries their defense can’t carry them far enough. Boston has always played the long game with this rebuild, and they will do it with Irving as well.

Jordan Clarkson says he believes dinosaurs were pets of bigger people

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Kyrie Irving debuted his flat-earth beliefs on Channing Frye‘s and Richard Jefferson‘s podcast.

Now, another Cavaliers guard is following in those footsteps with another zany theory.

Jordan Clarkson on Road Trippin’:

I don’t believe in dinosaurs, either. Well no, I actually do. I believe that – this is gonna get a little crazy, alright? I’m gonna take y’all a little left on this. OK, so y’all know how we got dogs and stuff, right?

So, I think it was bigger people in the world before us, and, like, the dinosaurs was their pets.

How big were these people? Clarkson:

Oh, you look at a dinosaur. They got to be three times bigger than them.

I too have seen The Flintstones: