Boston Celtics

Curry scores 13 points over final 1:42, Warriors beat Boston

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 49 points with 13 of those over the final 1:42 and hit eight 3-pointers, lifting the Golden State Warriors past the Boston Celtics 109-105 on Saturday night in what is already being hyped as a potential NBA Finals matchup come June.

Curry made a go-ahead 3 with 1:42 to play, scored on a driving layup the next time down before eight late free throws. He also made three of his 3s over the final 4:20 of the third quarter for the Warriors, who had lost the last two matchups to the Celtics and two in a row at home. The Warriors fell 92-88 at Boston on Nov. 16 in which they squandered a 17-point lead.

Kyrie Irving scored 37 points on 13-for-18 shooting with five 3s, but Boston failed to build momentum from a win at the Clippers on Wednesday night, losing for the fifth time in six games.

Kevin Durant added 20 points and nine rebounds for the Warriors, who haven’t lost to the same Eastern Conference opponent twice in the same season during fourth-year coach Steve Kerr’s tenure. Draymond Green had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

Daniel Theis hit a 3-pointer to just beat the shot clock buzzer with 6:59 left that got Boston within four, then Irving connected from deep 70 seconds later. Irving’s two free throws at 4:53 made it 92-91.

Curry’s 3-pointer with 4:20 left in the third put Golden State up 70-63, he hit another at the 2:52 mark then connected once more at 2:12 as Golden State grabbed momentum heading into the final period up 80-73.

He missed from 3 off the front of the rim with 3:42 left in the game. Durant missed the first of two free throws with 2:40 to play and a jumper under pressure at 2:03.

The two-time NBA MVP, Curry scored 18 points in the third, shot 16 for 24 and 8 of 13 from long range while notching his second 40-point game of the season and 29th of his career in the regular season. Fans chanted “M-V-P!” as he made two free throws with 43 seconds left, two more at the 10.3 mark, another pair with 6.9 seconds left and two more at 1.6.

Irving was sensational himself.

Plenty familiar with Golden State from three straight Finals matchups with the Cavaliers, he hit his first seven shots with three 3-pointers while Jaylen Brown converted his first four field goals including two 3s. Boston built a 34-24 lead late in the opening quarter and stayed ahead by 10 going into the second.

He didn’t miss his first shot until a driving floater 4:16 before halftime.

Celtics center Al Horford was back in the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game at the Clippers as a precaution a day after he hit his head in a loose-ball scramble in the closing seconds against the Lakers. While he didn’t have a concussion Boston took no chances because he has a history of head injuries.

HAYWARD PROGRESS

Coach Brad Stevens still doesn’t expect Gordon Hayward to play again for Boston this season as he recovers from a gruesome broken left ankle suffered early in his Celtics debut last October.

Hayward hasn’t lost his shooting stroke as he rehabs.

“He makes a lot of shots standing still. I mean a lot. He’s a heck of a stand-still shooter now,” Stevens said. “He’s really good in a chair too. Nothing new. We don’t anticipate him being back this season.”

Kerr has been so impressed with the Celtics’ resiliency without the star guard.

“I was devastated for him and I’m happy to see he’s recovering well,” Kerr said. “Their recovery as a team without him has been amazing. Two losses to start the year and then they just took off.”

TIP-INS

Celtics: Second-year F Jaylen Brown, who played collegiately at nearby Cal, scored 20 points. Durant hit a 3 from the top of the arc over Brown midway through the first quarter. … Boston shot just 32.9 percent in beating the Warriors last time, including 7 of 32 from deep, but made 14 of 27 3s on Saturday.

Warriors: Curry has made at least five 3-pointers in five straight games. … G Patrick McCaw missed his second straight game but said he is improving from a strained mid-back and hopes a few days before the next game will give him time to be ready. … Rookie F Jordan Bell missed his fourth straight game with left ankle inflammation. … C Damian Jones was recalled from the G League Santa Cruz Warriors, who will play their second ever game at Oracle on Sunday night against the Austin Spurs. So Jones could play again in Oakland on Sunday if sent down again.

UP NEXT

Celtics: At Denver on Monday to conclude a four-game road trip.

Warriors: At Utah on Tuesday looking for a fourth straight road win in the series.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

51 Q: Which team takes biggest step back this season?

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51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

WHICH TEAM WILL TAKE THE BIGGEST STEP BACK THIS SEASON?

Kurt Helin: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is the clear and obvious choice — they lost or traded LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and Nicolas Batum. That’s four starters out the door (plus guys like Arron Afflalo), and the guys they brought in are not of the same quality — many are not good jump shooters. When Aldridge chose to take his talents to San Antonio, the Blazers wisely decided to rebuild — and it’s a lot easier to rebuild when you start with a piece like Damian Lillard. But it’s going to be a process, at times a painful one. What they do offensively now must change — they loved the pick-and-pop with Aldridge, but now their big guys can’t shoot with range, so they are going to roll and that will draw defenders into the paint, meaning things will get clogged. It’s going to be a rough season in Portland.

One team that will push Portland for the crown? The Atlanta Hawks. They won 60 games last season and I expect a healthy step back for a few reasons: 1) They weren’t as good as their record last year, they had the point differential of a 56-win team; 2) They are going to miss DeMarre Carroll on the wing, especially with Thabo Sefolosha still trying to come back from injury; 3) Last season in the regular season they were fortunate to be largely healthy, odds say they will not be that lucky again. The Hawks are still a quality playoff team, they made some quality pickups in the offseason such as Tiago Splitter, but they will fall back to reality this season.


Dan Feldman: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland — largely by design, once LaMarcus Aldridge left — has chosen to take a step back. And it should be a large step. The Trail Blazers SLUMPED to a 51-31 finish last season. When everyone was healthy, they at least belonged in the championship-contender conversation. Now, it’d be a minor miracle if they won 51 games, let alone seriously enter the playoff race. They let Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo walk in free agency, and they traded Nicolas Batum. That’s just too much attrition from a team that values continuity, especially when the replacements are so young and unproven. I like what the Trail Blazers are doing. I just don’t expect them to win much this season.

Sean Highkin: Boston Celtics

Boston was the surprise of the second half of last season, going 20-11 after the All-Star break and sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed. It’s to Brad Stevens’ enormous credit that this roster of mostly spare parts played as well as it did down the stretch. And none of the moves they made this summer were bad, per se — it’s just hard to see where they got definitively better, at least to the point where they can definitely be penciled in as a definite playoff team. They re-signed Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko to good value contracts and signed Amir Johnson to fortify the paint, but they still lack an identity beyond “scrappy overachievers.” They have four point guards now, and none of them (save for maybe Marcus Smart) are the clear long-term answer. Danny Ainge is still waiting for the day when the years of asset collecting translate into a star. It’s certainly not anybody on this roster, which is full of players who are the fourth or fifth-best player on a good team. Boston should be right around where they were last season: in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the East, but without a clear path forward.

Brad Stevens hints he will explore taller, more traditional lineups

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Last season down the stretch, Boston went small more and more often, using Jae Crowder as a four. Small ball works (see the NBA champs) and the league is trending that way.

But Brad Stevens may have his Celtics working against the grain this season. Or at least he’s going to explore it.

With the additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee to go with Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk, Stevens has options. He told Jay King of MassLive.com that he’s going to experiment a little.

This is the smart move to make — you have to adjust your system to the players, not go Mike D’Antoni and try to jam square pegs into round holes. (He eventually adjusted some with the Lakers, but not until it was too late.)

Plus, going against the grain can often be successful.

Small ball works — if you have the right players to execute it. Golden State went small but thanks to Draymond Green their defense didn’t suffer. Miami’s defense was quite good with Bosh as a center when they were winning. But those two teams have elite talent, and teams that do it and don’t have the talent can be exposed.

Meanwhile, guys like Lee, Jared Sullinger, Zeller, Olynyk, and crew could feast on small lineups. Stevens is smart enough to figure out what works best.

Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas: “I wanna be the best little guy to ever play the game of basketball”

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Isaiah Thomas is one of the most entertaining players in the NBA. He is fearless, a little guy (5’9″) driving and scoring among the trees in the NBA — he finishes well, a career 65% inside the restricted area. He plays hard all the time. He’s once and always the Pizza Guy. He was the No. 1 scoring option for the Celtics when he arrived, a time when the team’s offense was in flux last season. He’s a guy Celtics fans are pumped to see back.

Thomas likely comes off the bench behind Marcus Smart — which is the perfect role for him. He’s not a good enough defender to start, but as a scoring spark plug off the bench that changes the game he’s perfect.

Just don’t expect him to be happy with that role — he has much bigger aspirations for himself. That’s what he told Jay King of MassLive.com.

You have to love his confidence. But the little guy mountain is a tough one to climb.

If we define “little guy” by NBA terms to mean 5’11” or under, then who is the best ever in the NBA?

I think Calvin Murphy sets that bar. The Hall of Famer and All-Star was a 5’9″ point guard who averaged 17.9 points a game in his 15-year NBA career, all with the Rockets. He had a career PER of 18.  It’s an impressive resume. (For the record, Allen Iverson was officially 6’0″ and “Tiny” Archibald was 6’1″.) Even the best player 5’11” and under in the NBA right now is Ty Lawson, not Thomas.

But I wouldn’t expect anything less of him than to try to climb that mountain.

Anthony Bennett has looked good playing for Canada. Will that carry over to NBA?

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Canada opens its FIBA Americas play today (Tuesday) taking on Argentina, in what should be one of the more attractive Group B matches in the tournament. It’s a game of contrasts. Argentina is the old guard, they have had international success — gold at the 2004 Olympics — but their golden generation has aged out (Manu Ginobili isn’t playing for them, for example). Canada is the young team on the rise, a squad loaded with young NBA talent — Andrew Wiggins, Andrew Nicholson, Cory Joseph, Nik Stauskas, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, and…

Anthony Bennett.

The former No. 1 pick, a guy panned as a bust, has looked good for Canada in warmups for the tournament. He was a starter and key part of Canada winning the FIBA Americas’ tuneup event, the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup. Against Brazil, he scored 11 straight points and finished with 16 points in 15 minutes in that tournament.

He was asked about what is different after that win, as reported by Josh Lewenberg at TSN.

“[I’m] just playing with confidence, pretty much,” the 22-year-old forward responded. “Just going out there, playing defense, running the court. Just doing the little things first and trying to make offense come to me.”

“Anthony has been exemplary this summer,” said (Canada GM Steve) Nash, the two-time NBA MVP and future hall of fame point guard. “He’s had a tough first two years in the league but his attitude’s been amazing. His talent has never been in question but his attitude, willingness to learn and attention to detail… not that his attitude was ever an issue, but for him to come, to play in the Pan Am Games, to partake in a whole summer with us, it shows he has a real willingness to learn and get better and a want to be a great player.”

Bennett is also healthy, which has not happened a lot through his first two years in the NBA, and those injuries impacted his conditioning.

The question is, can Bennett bring this same level of play to Minnesota next season?

Bennett has had moments where he’s looked improved before — 2014 Summer League, for example — but it hasn’t translated once the NBA tipped off. Bennett was better last season in Minnesota than he was as a rookie, but he still needs to make strides to become a regular rotation player an improving Timberwolves team can count on.

That’s the ceiling for Bennett, it seem — solid rotation player. That’s nowhere near what is expected out of a No. 1 pick, but that anchor around him is more about Cleveland’s misread than it is Bennett’s game (notice the Cavs changed GMs). Bennett is what he is.

Canadian coach Jay Triano told Bennett to simplify the game — find a thing or two you’re good at and focus on doing those things exceptionally well. Crash the boards, run the floor. Everything else will fall into place.

If it falls into place for the Timberwolves, it will be one more piece in their puzzle.