Kyrie Irving scores 34 points, named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge

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Kyrie Irving was the number one overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, but he was largely selected there for his ability to create for his teammates first, with his scoring being an afterthought. In the Rising Stars Challenge, which kicked off All-Star weekend on Friday, he showcased what’s possible for him offensively, scoring 34 points on just 13 shots to take home the event’s MVP trophy, while leading his team to an easy 146-133 victory at the Amway Center in Orlando.

Irving finished the night 12-for-13 from the field, while making all eight of his three-point attempts. It was a great performance, but one that he wish had occurred in a game that actually counted in the standings.

“It’s never occurred in my career,” he said of his shooting. “It’s kind of unfortunate that it comes in an All-Star game, but at the end of the day, it was fun to get out there with those talented guys. It was a great experience.”

While Irving’s shooting display was fantastic, overall the game was lacking in any real interest. The players largely played at half-speed or worse for the majority of the night, and the highlights — even when they were spectacular, as Ricky Rubio was in going through the legs of DeMarcus Cousins with the dribble before finding Blake Griffin for the alley-oop slam — weren’t frequent enough to keep the crowd from breaking its silence for most of the night.

This event has historically been a game which had stars of the Rookie and Sophomore classes playing against one another, but the league tried to infuse some life into it this year by having Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley mix the two classes, and draft the teams ahead of time playground-style. It may have generated additional interest in the days leading up to the event, but ultimately, with nothing on the line and with the fans in the building having no loyalty except to individual players, there was little-to-no effort made by either team to actually compete.

As usual, the game devolved into a slam dunk show in the final couple of minutes, with most players standing around while players took turns attempting ridiculous dunks. Last year’s MVP, John Wall, converted the best of the bunch, going behind his back with the ball while in mid-air before throwing it down one-handed — a dunk he said he’s converted only two times previously.

“I tried it once before in the Chris Paul All-Star game,” Wall said. “I just wanted to try it again, and luckily I made it. It was only my third time ever doing it, so I was shocked.”

Wall also had one of his dunk attempts thwarted by Greg Monroe, who surprised everyone by intercepting Wall’s bounce pass of the floor to himself while everyone else stood and watched.

There were other highlights, of course, but none as consistently satisfying as Irving’s stellar shooting. He knew it was a special night even while it was happening, doing the Jordan shrug a few times after knocking down three-pointer number eight.

“In the first half, when I hit four threes in a row, I just kept telling ’em, I’m feeling it,” Irving said. “I’m proud of them for actually having confidence in me.

“It’s fun getting hot, especially in an All-Star game where millions of people are watching. It was an enjoyable game.”

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.