Stephen Curry ready to take back championship that got away

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Sure, Stephen Curry heard the scrutiny. It was deafening. It was everywhere. Even the two-time reigning NBA MVP wasn’t immune.

Curry’s forgettable NBA Finals last year ended with Kyrie Irving hitting the deciding 3-pointer in his face and Curry unable to shake Kevin Love as Cleveland took Game 7 to complete a masterful comeback and steal a championship on Golden State’s home court.

A month later, Steph was stepping back again as the Warriors welcomed Kevin Durant to their star-studded roster. When the season began last fall, Curry unselfishly gave up some of his own scoring chances so Durant could seamlessly find his way, not making as many 3s – or half-court buzzer beaters for that matter – and lacking the same efficiency and flair.

Curry is fully healthy this postseason and ready to reclaim that championship that got away last June as the Finals begin with Thursday’s Game 1.

“I thought it was kind of ridiculous to be honest,” Curry said of the critics. “Ignore is probably not the word. I heard it, reacted to it as almost like, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone type of situation. Because I know what I was doing on the floor and what my job is every night on this team, so I could go to sleep at night pretty proud of the way I was playing.”

Irving winning that matchup against the MVP rallied the Cavs, fueled a comeback from a 3-1 deficit as Cleveland captured its first major team sports title in 52 years.

Now, all the focus of this Finals is on LeBron and KD. And that might be just the opening Curry needs to shine brightest again on the big stage after the struggles last year, when he shot just 40 percent in the Finals and had more turnovers (30) than assists (26).

Lately, Curry and Durant have engaged in intense shooting competitions to stay sharp and have a little fun at the same time as the Warriors wait once more. They’re the first team to begin a postseason 12-0, so it has made for plenty of rest and downtime – far different than a year ago when Golden State went seven games in the Western Conference finals to Durant’s former Oklahoma City Thunder.

It has made a big difference for Curry, who missed six playoff games in 2016 because of ankle and knee injuries and was never 100 percent after that.

“He’s pretty sharp,” said player development coach Bruce Fraser, who passes to Curry daily. “He’s been shooting it pretty well. I would rather have him like this than like he was going into the last Final. He’s competitive and he wants to win, so you can bet that he’s not happy about last year and he’s going to go after this one.”

Curry wants to take back the championship that got away, and help KD and so many other veterans without a title earn their ring.

He has scored 20 or more points in 10 straight playoff games and led the Warriors in scoring in eight of their 12 postseason contests. Twice he has dished out eight assists.

“It’s just been such better progression for Steph this postseason,” coach Steve Kerr said. “I mean last year, right from Game 1 against Houston he was injured and fighting an uphill battle. I thought he was amazing under the circumstances of his injury but to me he looks fresher, faster, stronger than he did a year ago.”

Curry made a point to do everything necessary for Durant to make a smooth transition incorporating into the offense, even if that meant his own numbers were down a year after his second MVP and another record 402 3-pointers as Golden State topped the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ wins record going 73-9.

He took two fewer shots per game, his scoring average dropped from a league-leading 30.1 to 25.3 and his 46.8 percent shooting was his worst since 2012-13. But he still hit 324 3s for the second most in NBA history to his 402 a year ago and paced himself so he is peaking now.

“That’s a part of maturing and getting older in this league is you’ve got to realize every year you’re a year older so you’ve got to tweak some things,” teammate David West said. “I thought he did a good job of that. He took some flak for it early from the outside noise but I just thought he was intent on making sure he was playing his best ball late. He’s put us in a great position.”

The 29-year-old Curry has remained his unflappable, playful, perfectionist self, yelling “finish strong!” to himself the other day as tried for a 10th straight made 3 from the baseline. He missed, letting out a loud “ahhhh!”

“I’m just playing aggressive, playing confident. Obviously shots are falling. I’m trying to do other things other than just scoring so I can help my team put us in the best situations to win,” Curry said. “That’s it, really. The moment is bright right now and you’ve kind of got to live up to it. This is what we live for as basketball players to be playing in these type of games that matter the most. We have four wins left, we have to do whatever we can to get them.”

 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.