Getty

Kevin Durant shines in Warriors playoff debut in Game 1 win over Blazers

Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Kevin Durant had 32 points and 10 rebounds in his Golden State playoff debut, Stephen Curry scored 29 points, and the Warriors withstood a sensational day by Portland duo CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard to beat the Trail Blazers 121-109 on Sunday in Game 1 of the first-round series.

McCollum scored a playoff career-best 41 points, and Lillard had 34, but the Warriors made the crucial big plays on both ends down the stretch with Portland playing without injured center Jusuf Nurkic.

Draymond Green contributed 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five blocked shots to help last season’s second-place team take the first step in what it is counting on to be a championship run.

Durant shot 12 for 20, showing no issues with a recent left knee injury that sidelined him 19 games before he returned for the final three regular-season contests with the NBA-best Warriors. He patted his chest after two straight fourth-quarter baskets and said, “I got this!”

Game 2 is Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

The opener in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference semifinals won in five games by Golden State didn’t disappoint featuring two of the NBA’s best backcourt duos. There was a little of everything: physical play, trash talk, deep 3-pointers, monster blocked shots and dazzling dunks. After one flurry of a third-quarter sequence when several players on both teams hit the floor trying to secure a loose ball, four towel guys frantically wiped down the court from the sweat.

Durant got going fast. KD drove the lane for a one-handed slam midway through the first then knocked down a 3 from the top about a minute later. After missing a dunk but getting fouled, Durant pounded the basket stanchion with his right fist in frustration.

He vowed to take his game to another level as a new season begins – not to mention the quest for his first title.

Curry’s baseline 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the third followed by Durant’s driving layup and three-point play got Golden State going at last, and the teams headed into the final quarter tied at 88.

Curry reached his hand in the air to further ignite the sellout crowd, thrilled to be inside raucous Oracle Arena on a rainy day that postponed the Astros-Athletics game next-door.

As the final period got underway, Ian Clark did what he often does to give the Blazers fits. The 6-foot-3 guard scored a putback off his own miss in the paint one possession then knocked down a 3-pointer the next as Golden State went ahead 97-90 with 8:59 remaining.

McCollum shot 11 of 15 in the first half then began the second 2 for 7 and finished his day 16 of 28 while Lillard shot 12 for 26.

The shot-making tandem combined for 48 of their team’s 56 points through halftime as was tied. They averaged an NBA-best for backcourts this season with 50 points per game between them.

McCollum’s 27 first-half points matched a Portland playoff record for a half.

Meanwhile, Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson went 12 of 29 in the first half. Thompson wound up with 15 points.

Two-time reigning NBA MVP Curry missed the initial three games against the Blazers last year following a fluke sprained right knee injury suffered in Game 4 at Houston when he slipped on a wet spot.

Green emphatically blocked a shot by Noah Vonleh in the third as the Portland center was going up with one hand to dunk.

Lillard only played one game at Oracle this season because of an injury.

But he was part of a 135-90 debacle on Dec. 17 here – the Warriors’ largest margin of victory in the rivalry – that prompted coach Terry Stotts to say afterward, “It’s embarrassing to get beat by 45.”

NO NURKIC

Stotts figures Nurkic might return at some point this series but isn’t predicting. The big man from Bosnia missed the final seven games of the regular season with a nondisplaced fracture in his right leg, depleting the Blazers’ already thin frontcourt.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard has scored 25 or more points in his last seven playoff games – first to do so since Clyde Drexler from April 29-May 14, 1992 – and McCollum 20 or more in the past five, all vs. the Warriors. … Portland has lost 11 of the last 12 including playoffs to Golden State.

Warriors: Curry moved by Wilt Chamberlain (507) for second place on the Warriors list for career playoff field goals. … Curry hit a 3-pointer in his NBA record 59th consecutive playoff game, making his first 1:17 into the game.

UP NEXT

The Warriors hope to get forward Matt Barnes back from a sprained right ankle and foot for Wednesday night’s Game 2, while the Blazers were uncertain when Nurkic might be ready to return.

Bucks’ Khris Middleton, dealing with illness, misses practice

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — Bucks wing Khris Middleton missed practice with an illness that has been bothering the Bucks’ second-leading scorer (14.7 points) all week.

Middleton was 3 of 8 for eight points in 35 minutes in the 118-93 Game 5 loss in Toronto that gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd said he didn’t think the illness was a factor, and that Middleton had good looks and played well defensively. He expected Middleton to start on Thursday and said he wasn’t pondering any lineup changes for Game 6.

The Bucks got a day off from practice then returned to practice Wednesday after a brief break from what has been an increasingly rugged series.

After getting blown out in Game 3 by the Bucks, the Raptors won the next two games in part by being more physical and slowing down Milwaukee.

Sometimes, a young team needs to learn from failure to get better.

Kidd hopes his players build on the lessons learned from a stinker of a Game 5 in their opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. They need to regroup quickly to avoid elimination when the Raptors and Bucks meet Thursday night at the Bradley Center.

“Yeah, I hope so,” Kidd said when asked about whether his players learned from the blowout loss. “Today, I thought guys were focused, understanding what we have to do. It’s not hard, but for us the process of being able to be consistent is the one thing that we struggle with.”

Workaholic forward Giannis Antetokounmpo might have been the only player who didn’t want a breather.

“I don’t know, for me, I didn’t need an off-day. But for sure some guys played a lot of minutes, their bodies are sore,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think for some guys it’s good to get some rest so we can bring more energy tomorrow.”

For all of his athleticism, the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo lacks playoff experience when compared to the postseason-tested Raptors.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton are playing in their second career playoff series after the Bucks lost in six games to top-seeded Chicago in 2015. Antetokounmpo’s role has changed now that he’s the focal point of the offense, so he faces more defensive scrutiny.

The team surrounding Antetokounmpo and Middleton has been almost completely made over since then, with injured forward Jabari Parker and center John Henson the only other holdovers. Henson has only played three minutes against Toronto.

Two other starters, guard Malcolm Brogdon and center Thon Maker, are rookies. Even center Greg Monroe, a seven-year veteran who provides scoring punch off the bench, is making his playoff debut. Fourth-year players Tony Snell (Bulls) and Matthew Dellavedova (Cavaliers) joined the Bucks this season, brought to Milwaukee in part because of their postseason experience.

In contrast, the Raptors have been through about every conceivable playoff situation after losing to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Led by one of the best backcourts in the game in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, Toronto is no stranger to adversity.

“You definitely see that experience come into play and we just understand the moment probably a little bit more than them. That’s not to take away (anything) from them,” DeRozan said. “They are a great team, a young team and this is definitely going to be an experience they will learn from and carry over but for now it’s something we have to keep in mind and understand the moment of going into every single game … to try and close this thing out.”

Milwaukee’s transition game is off track with 31 turnovers over the last two contests.

“That’s the physicality part, because it’s the playoffs, because it’s more intense. You get away with slaps, holds, grabs and that’s a trick of the trade,” said Jason Terry, a 17-year veteran who is averaging about 10 minutes a game off the bench for the Bucks this series.

“If you haven’t (been) through that, you don’t know it until you face it,” Terry said. “I think for us being a young team, now that we’ve seen it four or five games consecutively, hopefully now we can adjust.”

NOTES:

 

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Leave a comment

Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

Leave a comment

If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty: